25.10.05 – By Gabriel DeCrease: When Diego Corrales went to war with Acelino Freitas he gave everything and never quit. Chico took heavy fire and gave the same in a seesaw battle that found both men in frantic-control of the fight throughout the early rounds. Then the brutal ebb-and-flow broke and the tide began to roll in Diego’s favor. At some point in the fight Freitas realized that—for the first time in his career—he was facing an opponent who was simultaneously as courageous and as heavy handed as himself. This realization quickly turned the self-satisfied grin that Popo had worn for the length of his professional career into a look of stern worry. Corrales saw the change in his opponent as the bell started the eighth round, and so the comebacking Chico took it straight to Freitas who failed the gut-check and found the floor three times before waving off the referee and surrendering in the tenth round of his greatest test. This was the second time “No Mas” fired from a vanquished champion’s mouth like cannon fire signaling the shocking and sudden end to a war.
The gears of pugilism ground to a halt, if not for just a moment. Freitas had been down frequently and throughout his career, and he always came up smiling. In fact, getting knocked down was often the wake up call a playful, clowning Freitas needed to bring out his vicious side. He was down twice against a sadistically tough and motivated Jorge Barrios, and came storming eagerly back to stop La Hiena in the twelfth round. In 2000, Popo went down in the first against Lemuel Nelson and came back to drop Nelson twice on his way to a second round knockout. In every fight where he had touched the canvas, Freitas had an edge—maybe he was in better condition or age was on his side or he was a harder puncher or a more naturally gifted fighter, but the Brazilian champion always had something over on his opponents. Against Corrales he was locked in a dead heat, and he folded under pressure, his game plan was in shatters, so he quit where Corrales would never say die. The victory gave Corrales the world stage to act on and the confidence to use his raw talent and his heart to make great fights ever since. The failure sent a shiver through the boxing world and sent Freitas into a period of relative inactivity where he was miles away from a title fight or any reminder of his great loss.
Anyone who has been around the fight game for a few years looked at Freitas and immediately had flashback-visions of the collapse of Prince Naseem Hamed, and hoped that Popo would not end up another gifted champion whose talent was tossed long before its expiration date. Hamed was blazing hot when he stepped into the ring against Marco Antonio Barrera. By that point in his career The Prince had tallied recent wins over Kevin Kelley, Wayne McCullough, Paul Ingle, and come off the floor to trash a then-dangerous Augie Sanchez. Hamed also possessed a rock star mystique. He was loud, obnoxious overconfident, and incredibly flashy. The Naz show came complete with elaborate garb, a large celebrity entourage, and wild ring entrances on magic carpets and in showy sports cars. Hamed’s style in the ring reflected his lifestyle. He was ostentatious, reckless, often carrying his guard at his waist, and fought mostly in intense, and often inspired, bursts. He stole every show he put on, and was undefeated, until he squared-off with The Baby Faced Assassin. Barrera dominated Hamed throughout, and the Mexican’s strict, relentless assault overcame the Roy Jones inspired song-and-dance routine that usually deterred Hamed’s competition from putting real pressure on him. Barrera, always the consummate professional, was also in fantastic shape and came in utterly ready for a fight, while Hamed had grown distracted by his celebrity and was clearly out of condition and totally lacked intensity or focus. Hamed lost royally and was clearly incapable of dealing with a loss as part of a larger legacy. The Prince gave up on boxing and fought only once before spiraling into the obscurity where he now rests with no intention of fighting again. He had talent, there was no doubt of that, and he had all the right ingredients to sell boxing as a commodity to the masses, even to those outside the general boxing public.
Acelino Freitas possesses, to a degree, the same bankable celebrity appeal that Hamed had cornered the market on. Popo has a face that begs for media coverage and is also gifted athlete who makes exciting, fast-paced, hard-hitting fights. Freitas has the main stream appeal that can bring boxing to the forefront of the sporting world. Accordingly, the hope is that Popo was not permanently cracked by the thumping that was inflicted upon him by a sharp and driven Chico Corrales. Freitas should view his loss as a learning experience from which he can return stronger and wiser. He should recognize that all of the legends of boxing—with very few exceptions—tasted defeat several times on the way to cementing their legacies. Clearly, the case of Hamed demonstrates that it is likely better for a young fighter to face a setback before they become a champion at which time they begin to think of losing as an ugly impossibility. That is simply not the nature of the sport. Marco Antonio Barrera, the very man who banished Naseem Hamed from the ring, has himself come back from several crushing losses—not the least of which was a total meltdown against a peaking Manny Pacquiao—to win his rubbermatch with Erik Morales and begin collecting alphabet titles in a new division.
Freitas has his first fight at 140-pounds scheduled for the 19th of November against an unheralded prospect named Michael Katsidis. Katsidis, 18-0 (16), is untested against quality opposition, and will serve as a basic test to determine whether or not Freitas will ever return to the perch of near-greatness that he sat proudly upon before his loss to Barrera. Freitas is tall enough and has the spare room on his frame to support a move to 140, and those that have sorely missed his exhilarating fights—myself included—can only hope he will flourish in the junior-welterweight division. If all goes well and he gets by Katsidis, a bevy of great fights might await Popo in the division. A potential clash with a rebuilding Vivian Harris could be stellar, or an always-developing Mike Arnoutis. In a division that is home to Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Junior Witter there are certainly some dynamic matchups awaiting Freitas if he proves himself a contender, and not a “Prince.”