Greatest hits expected in this bout
Heading into Saturday night's lightweight showdown, combatants Acelino Freitas and Diego Corrales know that a dose of the medicine they give out could be coming their way, instead.
Big punchers both, they have combined to score 62 knockouts in a combined 73 victories -- a daunting 84 percent stoppage rate. It is a rare occurrence in boxing when two punchers, who inspire an extra degree of wariness in opponents, face someone like themselves.
In a Tuesday teleconference call with national media, both were respectful, but in that same way that a man holding a poker hand with a building pile of chips believes his cards will win. That's why their fight -- which is officially a contest for Freitas' 135-pound WBO belt -- is being tabbed as a strong candidate for Fight of the Year well before the opening bell. It's that good, and with excitement in the air, both men were guarded as to how willing they would be to initiate the shootout.
"You've got two of the biggest punchers in the world," Corrales said. "Both of us are at or near the height of our careers, and I think it's got the potential to be a historic fight."
Freitas' trainer, Oscar Suarez, says that his charge took the fight to prove he is the best at 135 pounds. Though "Popo" emerged as one of boxing's brightest stars in 1999, he has been hit with criticism for his opponents in recent years by media and fans who had hoped to see him matched against Floyd Mayweather, or rematch Joel Casamayor, whom Freitas decisioned in 2002.
"Diego is one of the best in the division. He could be one of the best junior welterweights in the world. I believe this fight is going to make the winner among the best, pound-for-pound," Suarez said. "That's the reason we decided to fight Diego, to prove to the critics that Acelino's not ducking anybody. It's going to make them or break them."
One could argue that Corrales, win or lose, has already beaten the long odds facing him when he entered prison in 2001 after pleading no contest to a spousal-abuse charge. He did 14 months in Deuel Vocational Center in Tracy, Calif. Too many people forgot about him there, except for James Prince, who earned his trust and became his manager, and his now-wife Michelle.
Michelle, in particular, is a source of strength for Corrales, who says she stuck by him while he was inside, and was there for him when he got out.
You find out who your friends are when you're in the joint, quick-fast. Corrales' strength and inspiration are drawn largely from knowing that he's got a second chance at redemption, and people close to him that cared when he was relegated as another kid from the ghetto gone wrong with fame and money readily available in a second trip up the mountain, he knows too well how quickly it can go south.
Since his release from prison, Corrales' body of work has been impressive. After four comeback fights against low-level opposition, he battled Casamayor in October in one of the year's most explosive bouts. Both men went down in a wild fight, before the match was stopped. Bleeding profusely through a hole in his cheek, Corrales lost while standing up, something he can't accept in his warrior's code.
As in his loss to Floyd Mayweather -- where weight killed him at the scales before Mayweather's fists and five knockdowns brought the towel from his corner in the 10th -- Corrales' mind doesn't see those setbacks as losses. You can beat him, knock him down, but he's always gotten up.
"I think fans enjoy my style, for the heart that I have, and the will to take anything and keep on truckin' That's why they really enjoy watching me," Corrales said.
Freitas is Brazil's equivalent to David Beckham, Britain's superstar athlete whose every move is fodder for media and a public that worships him. His wedding was on television, and "Popo" is Brazil's best-known boxer in the world. In a nation where soccer and jiu-jitsu are the most popular sports, Freitas has the weight of a country on his capable shoulders, and in recent fights, has had to dig down to win, sometimes ugly, to keep his unbeaten record.
He is not worried about Corrales being the bigger puncher, he says. And Freitas says he's not changing his preparation despite Diego's vaunted power.
"You have to go through pain and sacrifice, as in every other training camp. We'll show who the devastating puncher is Saturday," he said in Portugese, while Suarez translated.
Both men have added wrinkles to their game recently. Freitas has become more of a boxer-puncher, utilizing more of his movement and natural athleticism. Corrales added the long-overlooked jab to his arsenal in the rematch with Casamayor, where he took a hard-fought decision.
While Freitas' new style is open to debate as to its effectiveness, Corrales' jab is something he has needed and neglected for too long. Enamored with his destructive power punches, he overlooked the jab and squandered his height advantages by overlooking the simplest punch, which proved an effective tool in beating Casamayor, who simply couldn't work around it as effectively as he did in their first fight.
Trainer Joe Goossen helped instill the jab into his arsenal, Corrales explained.
"We worked on it all the time. We really drilled it," he said.
Yet, despite facing a 6-foot opponent who will stand four inches taller, Freitas says that it's just a fight when the bell rings. Numbers, statistics, and stylistic nuances are welcome company in passing the prefight hours amongst fans, but in the end, it's just mano a mano.
"He's a person with two hands and two legs," Freitas said.
Both hedged on the prospect of a war, saying that they wouldn't back down from one, but may not necessarily look to initiate one either. But you get the feeling that both are confident a shootout would favor them in the end.
Corrales explains that while his new style of jabbing and using his range is a plus, "you have to control the inside" to control the fight.
"I want to stick to my game plan, but at some point you want to be able to control [going] in and out. In order to dictate the pace you've got to be able to control the inside or outside. You have to have the ability to work inside when things get close," Corrales said. "I think [the war] unfolds itself. I don't feel any pressure to make it anything it's not gonna be. I'm gonna stick to my job and my game plan. If it goes to a war, which I believe it most likely will, then that's what we have," he said. "Those are the nights where you have to bring out the best. It's not the skill or the strength, it's not any of those attributes you can work on.. It's what you have inside you."
Both men have made other fighters find that out, and both have been thrown into the well at varying depths. Saturday night, whoever is willing to go deeper and come back out should make the difference between victor and vanquished.
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