Character will lift Diaz
ast harder hitting Freitas

Apr 24, 2007 5:00 AM

Character is more than welcome, especially inside the ring.

We shouldn’t question someone’s heart or guts if he’s willing to climb those stairs to expose himself to danger and humiliation. But character (what we really mean when we say "heart,") is something else.

Remember the scene in "The Hustler," a great movie made from a greater novel, where Paul Newman as ”˜Fast Eddie’ Felson tells Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) that maybe he won’t win tonight, but he’s still the better shooter. That’s when the George C. Scott character (Bert Gordon) says, "Stick with him, Fats. He’s a loser."

Losers look for ways to excuse their defeats instead of ways to win. It is why, despite the adage that styles make fights, I have to go with Juan Diaz next Saturday. Diaz is a little better than 2/1 over the much harder hitting Acelino Freitas.

Character.

Freitas quit when the tide turned against him. Instead of battering Diego Corrales, Chico was starting to lay the hurt on him. So he just upped and quit. That 2004 surrender is still his only loss.

Acelino said he was going to quit. He had come from sleeping on a dirt floor to lying next to one of Brazil’s most beautiful stars. Freitas didn’t need the game anymore, not when it was beginning to get tough. He since has come back, but in his only sighting here, looked just as weary of it all in getting a questionable decision over Zahir Raheem.

Zahir can’t punch, but neither can Diaz. Unlike the Philadelphia southpaw, the Baby Bull lives up to his nickname and charges forward in a crowd-pleasing manner. In terms of style, it’s a wonderful matchup for HBO viewers The undefeated and personable Diaz putting constant pressure on the big-punching Popo.

You would think Freitas would, sooner or later, have a chance to land one of his home run punches. Diaz is not exactly the reincarnation of Willie Pep. Freitas, it would seem, might be worth a bet at +185. Alas, even this underdog lover has to demur. Diaz has character — a college student and dedicated boxer who won an alphabet title almost three years ago at age 21.

Now 23 with five successful defenses, he can make things very uncomfortable for a reluctant fighter. I believe Freitas now is reluctant. I am not certain I want to lay the odds, but I certainly don’t advise betting against the chalk. Besides, just look at the nicknames. Baby Bull vs. Popo — the sound made when babies suckle. Freitas was so poor he had to get his milk the old-fashioned way until he was about 5.

I might be tempted to take the under (10½ rounds) at +160. Freitas always has the chance of catching Diaz with something big, and there’s the possibility he decides to go home again in the middle of the battle.

There are a couple of other potential action spots, both emanating from Germany. One gives us a chance to bet on someone named Stipe Drews. For esthetic reasons only, I am recommending a wager on the 6-foot-5-inch Croatian light-heavyweight nicknamed Spiderman. It’s not so much for the bankbook, but the diary. Drews is 33, not much of a puncher (13 KO on a 31-1 ledger), and what would normally be a forbidding -325 favorite offshore over Silvio Branco of Italy.

Ah, but Branco is now 40 and Drews already holds a victory over him, coming as a last-minute sub for Thomas Ulrich in 2003. The only loss for Drews was on points to Paul Briggs, the Australian with two exciting title match defeats against Thomas Adamek. Branco turned pro in 1988 and has victories over Thomas Tate (1996), Verno Phillips (1997) and Glen Johnson (2000). He has been mostly inactive in recent years, though last July beat the faded Manny Siaca to win an "interim" world title.

That title soon became "real" when the "permanent" champion failed a drug test or something. It should be easy money, but I just like the sense of being able to say I cashed a ticket on Drews.

On the same card in Germany is a more intriguing fight, again involving a rematch. This time the loser of the original meeting is the big favorite. Felix Sturm, whose only other loss was that questionable decision to Oscar de la Hoya (hey, there’s a name we’ve all heard of), was ahead on points when losing his alphabet middleweight title to Javier Castillejo of Spain.

Castillejo lost much more convincingly to the aforementioned Oscar). Sturm is -280 to reverse that defeat. With Castillejo now 39, I am inclined to believe he will. Wouldn’t bet on him, though.