If you have no problem with quitters, Freitas is your man

Apr 25, 2006 12:08 AM

There is value here on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. I think they got the wrong guy as favorite next Saturday.

Since I’m not a professional gambler, I can take a pass and root for the chalk. I can’t root for my money if it is attached to a fighter for whom I’ve lost much respect. Acelino Freitas quit in his match against Diego (Chico) Corrales and I have not forgiven him.

It’s not that I had money on the Brazilian star. It was the almost unsportsmanlike way he quit that makes me want to see him lose to Zahir Raheem of Philadelphia in a battle for the vacant IBFelons lightweight title.

Freitas was battering Corrales early, but as soon as the tide turned (it appeared his turn to go through some hurtful times) he simply walked away and said the Brazilian equivalent of "no mas." When Roberto Duran quit against Sugar Ray Leonard a quarter-century earlier, it was one of the most macho things he ever did. In a perverse way he in effect said, "If you insist on boxing that way, the hell with you. We’ll fight again some other time when you feel more up to it."

Freitas, in effect, was saying, "It’s okay for me to hit you, but as soon as you hit me back, the game’s over." He simply turned and walked away in what was one of the more cowardly acts I’ve seen in the ring.

Freitas had already lost points with me when he refused to give Joel Casamayor a rematch after scoring a dubious decision over the Cuban southpaw. But saying all that does not diminish the fact that:

(a) It was a very close fight with the multitalented Casamayor.

(b) Early on, he was beating the multitalented Corrales.

Casamayor and Corrales are both legit pound-for-pound contenders; Freitas, if his heart weighed a bit more, would be also. He can fight. Raheem was from the same Olympic class as his fellow "Zed," Zab Judah. In fact, they were roommates at the 1996 Olympic Trials. But the kid from Philadelphia has languished as a professional for promotional reasons. It didn’t help that his style was hardly explosive. Boxing defensively wins fights; it seldom wins fans.

But in the two times he was able to step up to the major leagues, Raheem did well. He lost a dubious decision to Rocky Juarez, the guy who next month will be challenging Marco Antonio Barrera. Then, a year ago, he rather handily upset Erik Morales, a fixture in the pound-for-pound top 10s. I mean, it wasn’t close.

Okay, Morales obviously was not "up" for what he considered a no-name opponent in a tuneup before his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. But Raheem clearly was the better technician that night and I’m afraid the oddsmakers have gone a bit overboard in making him the 13-10 favorite against Freitas.

The Brazilian, who grew up in such poverty that he slept on a dirt floor and was breast-fed until age 5 to save on food bills, is the puncher in this matchup. His popular nickname, "Popo," is Brazilian for the sounds babies make while suckling.

Here’s his edge. Popo may also be the boxer. Raheem’s speed will not be an advantage against a slugger, who can be elusive, move brilliantly on the outside, and suddenly attack in inventive manners.

On paper, this figures to be a close fight. The result may hinge on who really wants it most. Raheem has been wrongly been kept on the outside looking in. Frankly forgetting about betting, I would love to see him parlay a victory over Freitas into something a lot more meaningful than an IBFelons belt. I think he would make a great opponent for Juan Diaz or Julio Diaz.

Either Diaz fighter vs. Freitas figures to be more fan-friendly. The question is whether Freitas can forget he now sleeps in silk and remembers that what made him so determined in his early career were memories of sleeping on dirt. He reached rock star status in Brazil. His wedding was televised nationally. Against Riff and Raff, he was able to sell out soccer stadiums.

If some semblance of athletic pride, or guilt for the way he dogged it against Corrales, is also present, he would be a worthy risk on Saturday night from the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. But sorry Popo, I can’t root for you. So I’ll try and make some money later. Hey, the Kentucky Derby is coming up. Where’s Go For Gin when I need him again?