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If Muppets will fight,Foxwoods has a hit

Aug 3, 2004 2:30 AM

Their nicknames suggest they should be Muppets, but like most fighters, they are hard men who come from hard backgrounds and the rage that often propels them from poverty sometimes gets them in trouble.

There’s a classic matchup next Saturday and it could produce a classic match when Acelino (Popo) Freitas, who slept on hard dirt floors when a child in Brazil, faces Diego (Chico) Corrales, who did hard time for beating his pregnant wife.

Both of these hard men are explosive punchers. It seems almost inevitable that this will be another of those "fight-of-the-year" candidates. While both can box a bit and be wisely wary, the potential is there to give Showtime viewers and the crowd at Foxwoods in Connecticut a case of the blahs.

I expect Popo and Chico to be almost as entertaining as Elmo and Miss Piggy. But this is no certainty and, if you can’t figure out how the fight will go, it makes it somewhat difficult to pick the winner.

Freitas is favored by almost 2-1, which I think is too high, but then, I have not been overly impressed with the undefeated Brazilian. I thought he lost to Joel Casamayor, with whom Corrales split two matches. Popo also was in big trouble in the 11th round against Jorge Barrios before a big left hook saved him.

He is perhaps Brazil’s biggest hero since Pele, born in such poverty that his mother nursed him until he was five. That’s how he got his nickname: Popo is the sucking sound Brazilian babies make. Against Casamayor, Freitas showed he can box, if in a wildly unorthodox manner, when necessary.

Chico showed he could box, too, when in trouble again the second time against Casamayor. Joe Goossen, who was forced out of the Casamayor corner, trained Corrales to use his height and surprising jab more and rely on his one-punch power less.

Popo and Chico seem vulnerable to big punches, Chico maybe a bit more so. Not only did Casamayor had him on the canvas, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. turned him into a yo-yo in their highly anticipated 130-pound unification fight. But if either one lands flush, the other is going to be in deep trouble. They both have moved up from junior lightweight to full lightweight. I don’t think the five pounds makes much of a difference.

I can excuse the Mayweather loss, mainly because I had money on Little Floyd. Mayweather, after all, is as good as it gets. Plus, Corrales was facing criminal charges for beating his pregnant wife. He could not possibly have been at his mental peak. While there is no excuse for hitting woman, let alone one carrying your baby, let alone when you are a professional prize fighter, there are times when men go into a blind rage.

I hope that Corrales has worked out those demons. He seems relaxed and happy in a new marriage. In any case, Chico can be as charming as the charismatic Popo. They are both very likeable fellows. I usually like speed, especially when it is coupled with sock. But while Freitas may be faster than Corrales, he does not possess Mayweather-type speed. His awkward, unorthodox offensive forays, with faster hands coming at strange angles, would seem to tip the balance toward Popo. Maybe.

But, especially at the odds, I cannot recommend him. If Goossen can get Corrales to jab the way he did in the second half of the second Casamayor fight, Chico could easily be the man, keeping Popo at long arm’s length and picking his spots to land the big one. Maybe.

Hold a gun to my head and ask me to make a pick, I’ll say "Your shoelace is untied." I mean, part of being smart is knowing when you don’t know. I don’t know who wins this fight, but I’d love to see the winner against the other title-holders in a suddenly rejuvenated 135-pound division.

Juan Diaz, the college student from Houston, was a dazzling revelation in beating tough Mongol Lakva Sim a couple of weeks ago. Julio Diaz, no relation, can fight, and still the toughest guy out there is Jose Luis Castillo.

It should make for even more fun after Popo and Chico entertain us next. I can see it in bright lights: "The Muppets Take the Lightweight Division."