04.08.04 – By Janne Romppainen: Styles makes fights as one of the most used-up lines among boxing goes. Despite that the saying is old and oft-heard, it still is the truth in most cases. If a slugger fights a boxer, you often get an interesting tactical match-up, while two defensive wizards can put up boring, if brilliant, performance. Perhaps the most colourful and memorable wars are seen however when two aggressive and hard-punching but defensively leaky fighters go at it against each other. It is nearly impossible to pick the winner, a knockout can come at any second and either one could be the one going down. No boxing viewer, whether he is a hard-core fan or a occasional spectator, will leave his sofa during the bout.
This is just the situation when the WBO lightweight champion, Brazilian Acelino “Popo” Freitas (photo: Tom Casino) defends his crown against Diego “Chico” Corrales of the USA in the 7th of July. Both of the gladiators belong to the group of the warm-hearted fighters who usually give more than they take in the ring. Both are among the most dangerous knockout artists in boxing, but they both also have the habit of getting their own knees sore for rubbing the canvas with them. If you put the knockdowns scored by them and their opponents in their last two fights together, you get twelve in all, which means three counts per a fight on average. The viewers who will be in front of TVs in next Saturday know what to wait for.
The bout can be labelled as a world championship fight even though it is only sanctioned by the WBO. After the incomparable Floyd Mayweather moved up, there has not been a universally recognized champion in the division, but the defending champ Freitas is seen by most as the best fighter of the category.
Despite his relatively young age of 26, the challenger Diego Corrales has been through a lot both in- and outside of the ring. He won his first title belt already in 1999, and back then he was ranked among the best super feathers in the world after his impressive knockout wins over the likes of Angel Manfredy and Derrick Gainer. The first really big fight of his career ended into a disaster however as he was totally dominated and outclassed by his fellow-titlist Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2001. The bout was supposed to be an exciting one and the betting lines were almost even before it, but Corrales got dropped five times and won no rounds before he was saved by his corner. After the bout Corrales was sidelined for two years because of his personal troubles and his future did not look too promising. His comeback trail that was launched in 2003 has gone well though, after four warm-ups he fought the dangerous Cuban Joel Casamayor in last October. Casamayor won via controversial stoppage, but in the return earlier this year Corrales got a revenge with a close decision and took home the WBO title that was earlier vacated by Freitas.
Corrales, who is exceptionally tall for a lightweight standing at 6 feet, is without a question one of the biggest punchers in boxing today, perhaps even the best pound for pound. In weight categories this light you don’t see one-punch knockouts too often at highest level, but Corrales can produce them with either fist. He is well known for his explosive left hook, but his rangy right cross is equally dangerous, and despite having such long arms Corrales can punch effectively in short distance too. Corrales’ other strengths are his vast reach and also speed that looked especially good in his last Casamayor-fight.
Corrales’ most glaring weaknesses are his flimsy defence and rather soft chin. Corrales has always gotten hit a lot, and against hard-gloved opponents that habit has caused him problems. Corrales doesn’t lack any guts or recuperative powers however which he has demonstrated by getting always back on his feet after knockdowns. In the past Corrales has had trouble of getting off with his power punches too: to deliver shots and to be effective with them he has needed to be in full balance, and he has not been able to set up his shots with his jab. Because of these problems Mayweather and Casamayor were able to take away much of his dangerousness with their footwork. However Corrales has developed a great deal on these fields under the guidance of his excellent trainer Joe Goosen as was seen in his rematch with Casamayor: Corrales moved well, used the jab more and was able to let his hands go better than before.
Stylistically Corrales likes to be a forward-pressing KO artist, but he is able to turn to a boxer too as was seen the last time out. Corrales’ record stands at 38-2, 31 knockouts.
Corrales’ and Freitas’ careers have already skirted each other before and with better luck these two could have fought each other already few years back. The 28-year-old Freitas began his boxing career already in 1995, but he was brought up rather slowly, for the first years he fought mostly in his homeland. Freitas travelled between super featherweight and lightweight divisions and won a WBO-title in the former of them in 1999. Freitas gathered victories, but like the rest of super feathers he was overshadowed by the two leaders of the division, Corrales and Mayweather. Turn for better for him came in 2002 when Mayweather moved up and Corrales got sidelined. The title was left open and Freitas met Joel Casamayor in a bout for the vacant championship. The eagerly awaited contest turned out to be a very close one. Freitas scored one controversial knockdown and Casamayor lost one point questionably, and with these two points Freitas took home the decision.
Ever since that bout Freitas has received harsh criticism for avoiding tough fights. He has repeatedly denied a rematch from Casamayor and instead he has defended his title three times against lesser-known opponents. Freitas won all those bouts, but in two of them he had to listen to a count by referee. In the January of this year he moved up to lightweight again and conquered his recent title from an Uzbekistan veteran Arturo Grigorian. By taking on Corrales now he also proves that he is still ready to face hard challenges which some have questioned.
Early in his career the 5’7 Freitas was talked about as a miraculous knockout artist and his record gave a reason for these praises: his 30th opponent finally survived the full distance against him, all the earlier foes got stopped. He became especially famous for his knockout victory over Anatoly Alexandrov who in 1999, after getting hit by Freitas, was out cold for five minutes. The Brazilian himself told that he had gotten his magical punching power from his mother’s breast milk which he drank until he was nine years old.
The later times have demonstrated that, at the top level, Freitas is not that kind of a one-punch sandman that he was considered to be at first, but he does hit hard with both hands nevertheless. Freitas is also quick from his fists and he is able to put up effective if sometimes a bit wild combinations. His weaknesses are pretty much the same as with Corrales: brittle chin, 24/7 open defence and a bit clumsy footwork make him a vulnerable target for his opponents, although he too has the ability to get back up from the canvas. Also, again like Corrales, Freitas has shown signs of development lately, his performance against Grigorian was technically among the best of his career. There is nothing to criticize with his record so far either, which is still unblemished at 35-0, 31 knockouts.
As for how the clash of these two titans turns out, there are several options. Both of them are natural aggressors who love knockouts. Both also know that they are fighting a man who probably can’t take it to the chin very well. From this it would be plausible to suspect that either of them might challenge his opponent to a hard toe-to-toe exchange and go for an early solution one way or another. In this scenario predicting the outcome is very close to a coin-toss. Corrales has the edge in one-punch power and reach, but Freitas’ defence is a bit better and he has more than enough bullets to win the war too.
However, both men knowing their opponent’s strengths and aware of their own weaknesses can approach the fight more calmly. In boxing we have often seen too that two big punchers respect each other’s power and fight more cautiously than is their normal style. If this happens, the edge would seem to be on the more rangy Corrales’ side. If he is able to put up as disciplined performance as in the rematch against the skilful Casamayor, it will be very difficult for Freitas to get inside. In this kind of fight too the bout could end at any moment though, it only takes one error.
This is one of those cases where an expert can make himself look stupid by picking a guy who gets stretched early, but if I was rich, I’d place my bet on Corrales’ knockout victory after many turns in tide. Both of them have been down a lot, but Corrales has been downed only by top class opposition whereas Freitas has received counts against weaker men. Also Corrales has one big edge in his corner: his trainer Goosen is known as a great tactician and he will surely have a good winning plan worked out before the bell rings.
This could really go either way and neither result could not be considered as an upset, these two are so evenly matched. The biggest surprise of the evening would be if neither of them would go down during the fight at least once. Luckily for the boxing fans, that doesn’t sound like a thing we should be worried about.