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Acelino "Popo" Freitas


BoztheMadman
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There have only been 2 truly good Brazilian boxers in history so far: the great Eder Jofre and this guy. Acelino Freitas was blessed with near-superhuman athletic gifts; he had outstanding speed (both foot and hand), he hit like a THUNDER and he could also box and defend himself when necessary. He also possessed good stamina and a decent chin, as he was never stopped by a clean ko, despite being down three times against a big puncher like Chico Corrales. His career came to a halt following that loss, which was his first in the pros. At 130, his resume is HOF-worthy or near that. At 135, not as much, but he did end the very long championship reign of Artur Grigorian. He seemed to deteriorate as a boxer after winning his last world title at 135, the WBO one, He sadly was not able to hold on to that title very long or to his prime, losing to Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz in undignified fashion in 2007. This is the story of Brazil's last boxing star, Acelino "Popo" Freitas.

 

Born 21 September 1975 in Salvador, the capital of Bahia state on the eastern coast of Brazil, he was named "Popo" after the sound babies make while breastfeeding. He was even breastfed until he was 5, which might have contributed to his natural athletic gifts. However, his family was poor and he often had to sleep on the sandy floor of his house. He always dreamed of a better future for himself and his family. He loved football and was good at playing it, but later it was discovered his true talents lay in boxing. He was also influenced by his father and brothers who were boxers, especially Luiz, who competed at the 1992 Olympics as a flyweight. His other great inspiration was of course, Eder Jofre, the national hero. As amateur, he won the silver at the 1995 Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, competing as a lightweight. He grew to be 5'7 (some sources say 5'6) and had a good reach for his height, 69 inches. He turned pro in July that same 1995 and scored two first-round knockouts in his first two fights. Actualy, his first 29 wins were all by stoppage. In April 1997, he won the IBF Latino light title, but then opted to go down to super featherweight. After amassing a record of 20-0, he was given his first world title shot against the WBO champion at 130, the Russian Anatoly Alexandrov, 7 August 1999 in France. Popo went on to annihilate Alexandrov with a single punch that left him unconscious for 5 minutes, after only 1 minute 41 seconds of the first round. He had become the first Brazilian to win a world title in a very long time! In his second defense, he beat the 18-0 Barry Jones by TKO8-Jones held the same title previously. He was down for the first time in his career in the first round before scoring 5 knockdowns to stop Jones. In the third, he knocked out the future IBF light champion Javier Jauregui in 1 round. In his next defense against American Lemuel Nelson, he was down for the second time ever in round 1 before coming back to put Nelson down twice in round 2 and stop him by TKO. After making 2 more defenses, the last one also by a KO1 against Orlando Soto, he signed for his first big fight in a title unification, against the reigning WBA-champion Joel Casamayor.

 

Casamayor was 26-0, had won an Olympic gold and was favored to win the fight, because of his boxing ability and awkward style. The two commenced on 12 January 2002 at Cox Pavillion (?) in Vegas and Freitas surprised everyone by dominating the first 3 rounds with his speed, also putting an off-balance Casamayor down in round 3, something Casamayor vehemently protested. It was the first time he had been down. Casamayor came back to make it a tough fight and caught Freitas with a tremendous uppercut in round 6, taking many middle rounds. He was however penalized for hitting on a break in that same round. Popo however made a comeback in the later rounds and seemingly did enough to win them. And surely, in the end he was pronounced as the winner by a narrow decision, 114-112 on all three cards. He wept with joy and celebrated the victory with his model-wife in the ring. They would divorce next year however. Popo went on to make 3 defenses as the unified champ: first he beat Daniel Attah, a tough Nigerian, by UD and then stopped Juan Carlos Ramirez by TKO4 in a fight where he was down for the second time in his career. Then he had his second great fight against Jorge Rodrigo Barrios, at the Miami Arena on 9 August 2003. Barrios was 39-1 and would later capture the WBO title, he was known as a hard hitter and a tough warrior. Acelino was however the better man for most of the first 7 rounds, but in round 8 he was hit with a left-right to the chin and put down. He got up and proceeded to outbox Barrios, but then in round 11, he was once again put down, this time with a huge right hand to the chin. He then got up and just at the sound of the bell, landed a vicious right to Barrios' chin that first badly wobbled him and then sent him down. As the bell sounded for round 12, it was obvious Barrios was done. Freitas put him down after only 10 seconds and shortly thereafter, Barrios fell on his knees after a follow up combination and could not get up-that convinced the ref to end the fight, 50 seconds into the round. It was a candidate for the fight of the year and made several honorable mentions, I'm sure. It turned out to be Popo's last fight at 130. He went back to his original division, 135. In his very first fight there, on 3 January 2004 at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, he dismantled the 36-0 but aging Artur Grigorian, who was making his 18th defense as the WBO champion. Grigorian was 8 years his senior and proved to have no answer for Freitas' speed and attacks and was down four times, but made it to the final bell. Freitas was deducted a point for a low blow in round 10 won with the scores of 116-107 twice and 115-108. He thus became a two-division world champion, the first Brazilian to achieve that. But, that proved to be his final true triumph, or the beginning of the end.

 

He then signed to fight one of his biggest fights ever, against the famed warrior and feared puncher, Diego "Chico" Corrales, who was looking to win another world title at another weight, having been the IBF champ at 130. He was at least 4 inches taller than Popo and had a 2-inch reach advantage. It was on 7 August that year, again at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, that they went to war. Freitas looked clearly superior in the first 7 rounds, as he frequently and easily beat the slower Corrales to the punch and landed his combinations regularly. But, he had to do a lot of running and moving around, which can be tiresome. Being a puncher, he was not used to having to run from opponents like this. On the other hand, Corrales was known for his ability to take punishment. After 7 rounds, Freitas was firmly ahead when he got put down in round 8 by a surprise punch to the head. He was again down in round 9 and now seemed to lose his composure as Corrales started following him, looking to close the show. In round 10, as he was crouching, Freitas got hit by a left hook on top of the head and was down for the third time. Although he once again beat the count and looked fine, he surprised everyone present by telling the referee Mike Ortega he doesn't want to continue. Thus-he lost by a TKO10 and lost his zero after 35 wins. This loss hurt his image as a warrior and his Brazilian fans now started turning their backs on him. On 29 April 2006, he made a brief comeback when he fought Zahir Raheem for the WBO title and won by a split decision, in a fight where he was badly hurt in round 6 and looked unable to really hurt the tough Raheem. He however did enough to win and was a champion for the third time. Like the last time, that would not last very long and after almost exactly a year, 28 April 2007, he fought again in a defense of that title and for anotoher title, the WBA one, which was held by the new rising star: Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz. Diaz was known for making his opponents quit or yield during the round with constant furious aggression and this is what he did to Popo as well. Although he landed 133 power punches to Diaz's 164 and 159 overall, Freitas was behind on all scorecards after 8 rounds, however two only had him behind slightly, while the third had it by a landslide. Once again, when the going got too tough, Popo chose to quit, to a chorus of boos from the crowd at Foxwoods. He retired after that unglorious attempt to unify titles at 135 and everyone thought that would be the last they would see of Popo. However, he came back for one fight in 2012, on 2 June in Punta de Este in Uruguay, where he stopped the 16-0 super welter Michael Oliveira by TKO9. He has since had two more fights, one in 2015 which he won by a KO3 and the last in 2017, which he won by UD8. His record is 41 wins with 34 ko's and those 2 losses.

 

Acelino Freitas is a prime example of how dramatically and drastically a fighter can fall, or any athlete really, in the esteem of fans and media. One fight can change everything, especially the people's perception of you. Same as with Roberto Duran's "no mas" against Leonard, Popo's quitting against Corrales, even tho not as bad as Duran's in the sense that he WAS knocked down more than once and hurt, forever put a mark on him as a quitter, especially in his native Brazil where he was before that viewed as a nearly-invincible warrior. He was never the same after that fight, but fortunately for him, he got to retire in a worthy fashion in the end. Thank you.

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