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Popo versus Chico: Beauty versus the Banger
By Alex Pierpaoli (August 7, 2004) 
Together they represent the most dangerous duo of power punchers in boxing today and when the smoke clears tonight at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, CT it’s quite possible that only one man will remain on his feet.

When Diego “Chico” Corrales and Acelino “Popo” Freitas square off in Showtime’s Main Event, more than just Freitas’ WBO 135 pound title will be at stake. Both men carry a bone-crunching knockout percentage into tonight’s match-up, meaning that of their victories more than 80 percent of either man’s opponents have never heard the final bell. When two fighters share that kind of power, the result when they face each other is sure to be explosive and will leave fans talking about the victor in hyperbolic terms traditionally used for heavyweight punchers only. At only one hundred and thirty five pounds, Corrales and Freitas battle over a lightweight alpha-belt and, more importantly, bragging rights as the best puncher pound-for-pound in boxing today.

Both of these brawlers must consider Foxwoods, the Connecticut casino, a celebrated home away from home as they have both enjoyed big victories at the venue this year. In January, Freitas, one of the few champions in boxing that remains undefeated, looked less than impressive in his cautious points victory over Artur Grigorian, with which Freitas moved up from 130 and added the WBO Lightweight belt to the spoils of his boxing life. While Corrales is riding a well deserved career high, coming off his close but strategic win over Joel Casamayor in March.

Freitas spent much of his early career blasting through his opponents with a wide swinging aggressive style, but as he’s stepped up in class of opposition he has become more of a puncher on the move, using lots of lateral movement peppered with leaping in from the outside behind well-aimed bombs. His knockdown drag-out with Jorge Rodrigo Barrios being the exception, some have even started to deride the Brazilian Freitas’ courage and willingness to stand and fight, which seemed the case against the light-punching Grigorian in January. But in his war against Barrios, Freitas proved he could dig deep when it mattered and he rallied late in a brutal fight with the young Argentine tough-guy. Tonight versus Corrales, Freitas faces an opponent with grit and toughness as well as underrated boxing skills.

In March, Chico Corrales evened the score with Joel Casamayor, avenging his October stoppage loss to the Cuban defector with a strategic points win predicated on a busy jab and the tutelage of trainer Joe Goosen. After Corrales was stopped due to grisly mouth and facial wounds in the first Casamayor bout, he became irate with ringside physician Margaret Goodman for refusing him one last round to go for a kayo win. Such is the courage of Diego Corrales and it is unlikely Freitas will be able to do anything to break his spirit.

Despite the physical differences between the tall, lean Corrales and the shorter, more muscular Freitas, these brawlers have similar power but a very different approach to their own safety and well-being. Corrales is the workingman’s brawler, more than willing to dirty his hands and have his face bloodied or scarred in hopes of closing the distance on a foe before he can take him out. While Freitas is in the mold of the Max Baer type puncher, a handsome fighter with exceptional power but lots of question marks about his willingness to get down and dirty in the trenches. In fact, the well-coiffed and bronzed, Brazilian idol that has chosen to box—translation:RUN—in some of his most important fights will be the one who will make or break tonight’s match-up. If the Brazilian is unwilling to trade with Corrales look for a long fight with Corrales stalking and jabbing at a retreating Freitas. But if we see a return to the younger bullish Freitas we are in for a shock-and-awe brawl.

At Thursday’s press conference, Corrales spoke with Doghouse about some of the contrasts between him and his opponent. This writer suggested it was Chico with more experience and more willingness to throw caution and thoughts of self-preservation to the wind should a war break out.

“Absolutely,” Corrales responded. “When it gets hot a lot of people fold. I don’t cherish my looks. I love the battle. It’s part of my blood.”

In the end, this writer has to lean towards substance over style; blood and guts over tanning oil and hair gel. I see Diego Corrales handing Freitas his first loss as a pro in a lop-sided points victory after 12.

Also on the Showtime card is a replay of Tyson-Williams, and highlights of 140 pound Sharmba Mitchell against Moises Pedroza in a ten rounder from the CT venue. Pedroza, who was added to the card late, should serve as little more than a stay busy type opponent for Mitchell while he awaits the return of his oft-injured nemesis, undisputed 140 champion, Kostya Tszyu. With the Tszyu rematch looming in November, Mitchell will have to be careful to keep from being cut or injured against Pedroza so that he will finally get a chance to finish what the two began in February of 2000 when Tszyu took Mitchell’s WBA title.

When Doghouse asked whether he felt his in-ring activity would be an insurmountable advantage when he finally faces Tszyu this fall, Mitchell set this reporter straight on the subject of who is superior at 140 pounds.

“I think the advantage was set at the beginning with my boxing skills; with me being the person I am, with my skill level; period.” In November we may finally see if Mitchell is right.

When Terrible Means Spectacular

Last Saturday’s Morales-Hernandez fight left little doubt in this writer’s mind that when it comes to pure action, no one out-does Erik Morales. How many boring fights has Morales ever been in? This guy is the Anti-Derrik Gainer if there ever was one. Saturday night it was clear El Terrible could have boxed well behind his jab and out-pointed Hernandez with ease from a distance. Instead, Morales absolutely insists on pleasing a crowd by standing in close with his always game and rugged opponents, trading power shots. Some fighters live on adrenaline and Morales is of that ilk. If a unification bout with Juan Diaz is put together at 135 only boxing will benefit from a match composed of two of the sport’s busiest and bravest bruisers.

End of an Era

This writer has yet to view the Tyson-Williams fight after a mix-up by Comcast left me with a 4 hour recording of a blank screen on my Tivo when I got home late last Friday night. I have to admit I was getting pretty hopeful about a Tyson title run even at his advanced age of 38. And yes, I dared dream about a potential Tyson-Toney bout for a heavyweight belt perhaps a year from now. But it seems far from likely now.

Mike Tyson was the heavyweight champion of my youth and like most boxing fans it’s unlikely you can even fathom, let alone accept, that the ring heroes you once cheered so wildly could ever get old and become so vulnerable.

Time and hard living are merciless and relentless opponents, like Tyson himself once was. Hopefully, Tyson won’t have to be knocked out again for the public to realize his fighting days are over. If money is the only reason he has left to fight for it’s time we find a less dangerous way for him to make it—any chance Mike Tyson could make the rounds on the reality show circuit? Queer Eye for the Ear Guy anyone?

Questions or comments,
Alex Pierpaoli at:
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