28.04.06 – By Aaron King – It’s been over seven months since Zahir Raheem pulled off the biggest win of his career, easily out-pointing Erik Morales in September. The multi-million dollar paydays he thought were flood his phone lines never came. Acelino “Popo” Freitas fought only once in 2005 and only twice since suffering a devastating knockout loss to Diego Corrales in August of 2004.. Both of those fights were against little known fighters in his adoring homeland Brazil.
When Raheem and Freitas square off Saturday night at Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut, both will have a lot to prove.
The dramatic clashing of styles and the common necessity for a high-caliber win make this fight one of the most intriguing and anticipated matchups of the young 2006.
For Raheem (27-1, 16 KOs), he’s been searching for the opportunity to show that his win over Morales was no fluke. Unfortunately for the Philly native, most top fighters aren’t looking to get in the ring with a slick and tactical boxer. The 1996 Olympian has tremendous ability. The skills he put on display in the Morales fight were no joke, and he’ll have the chance to use them again Saturday night.
However, in Freitas (37-1, 32 KOs), Raheem will run into a fighter like none other he has faced before. “Popo” presents an obvious challenge with his power. Raheem has what it takes to keep away from most bigger, stronger fighters, but Freitas is a different animal: he has dangerously fast hands and good footwork. His fine mobility mixed with a smart gameplan could spell disaster for Raheem.
The question is, will Popo’s mobility be good enough? Will he be able to cut off the ring against such a slick boxer? Freitas showed the ability to adapt to and beat a good boxer when he outpointed Joel Casamayor in 2002.
But as far as pure boxing ability is concerned, Casamayor is not Zahir Raheem. But Raheem is also a businessman. He realizes that the win over Morales didn’t do him much good to legitimize him as an attraction. Chances are that if he wins another relatively easy decision, he still won’t get the marquee fights that he’ll believe, rightfully, he deserves.
Case and point, read this quote from Raheem’s manager Cameron Dunkin:
“This is the fight he has to win because if he does, people will realize it wasn’t a fluke. I think it gives him a chance for HBO to open their eyes to him. They will also see, like in the Morales fight, that he’s a fun guy to watch. He throws punches, he stays inside, he fights and he doesn’t run. He’s not afraid to get in there and exchange punches. But he has to do it with Freitas. This is the fight that puts him over the hump.”
If Dunkin’s guy does what he seems to be advocating, then go ahead and start betting on “Popo.” We all saw what happens when a boxer tries to fight with a puncher in the Byrd-Klitschko bout. If Raheem wants to prove he can bang, we might be seeing a replay of last weekend.
Therein lies the dichotomy for Zahir Raheem. Should he fight exclusively for the win or take the much riskier approach and go for paydays in the future?
If Raheem wants to prove he can punch, he should do it against somebody else. This isn’t going to be Morales all over again.
For Freitas, the question about his mentality still looms. If he hasn’t fully recovered from the Corrales debacle yet, it’ll show up Saturday night.
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