May 30, 2003

Acelino Freitas: “I Am The Best”

By Fiona Manning

130 pound boxing “Super Champion,” Brazilian superstar Acelino Freitas took time out of his intensive training in Puerto Rico this week to fly to New York to meet the boxing press.

Freitas, who is the WBA and WBO champion, defends his titles against durable Argentine Jorge Barrios on August 9 in Miami, Florida. It was the news that he is scheduled to face former WBA champion Joel Casamayor in a rematch in the winter however, that had everybody buzzing.

Casamayor, who lost his championship to Freitas in January 2002 in a hotly-disputed, controversial decision, has maintained for over a year that Freitas has avoided him.

Now Freitas is virtually being forced to fight him thanks to some behinds-scenes maneuverings between Team Freedom (the Cuban team which represents Casamayor and Art Pellulo, promoter for Acelino Freitas.

“I know that I must fight him,” said Freitas by phone (and via translation from his attorney, Antonio Garrido. “I must prove I am the best and that there was no controversy the first time. I won that fight.”

Maybe, but Freitas has not looked terribly impressive in subsequent outings. Stung by the media suggestions that he needs to fight Casamayor to redeem himself, the undefeated 33-0 champion feels it’s Casamayor who has more to prove.

WBO/WBA 130-pound champion Acelino "Popo" Freitas enjoys a few moments in Times Square Tuesday after spending a couple hours with the New York press. Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime

“As I have risen the ladder to fight tougher opponents, I have focused on winning, not necessarily in devastating fashion. Every fighter wants a knockout but I am happy just to win.”

Freitas, who maintains he had his best training camp right here in California [at Lee Espinosa’s Coachella Boxing Club] has nonetheless agreed to train back east to give his trainer Oscar Suarez some much-needed time for his family.

He does however promise he is in excellent shape and is already predicting a knockout of Casmayor (who has never been down much less KO’d) but then this was Freitas’ day. It was clear his mood was ebullient, despite the fact that he revealed that he and his gorgeous wife Eliana have separated.

“It’s tough to be married when you get so much media attention,” said Freitas who is such a celebrity in his hometown of Bahia, Brazil, he is unable to even walk the streets without being mobbed.

He and Eliana were married two years ago (on national TV in Brazil) and their daily lives were considered cannon fodder for the media in that country.

Other writing appeared to be on the wall however: when Freitas (whose ring name is Popo- apparently a nickname his mother gave him because she breast-fed him until he was three and that was the sound his mouth made!!) fought Alfred Kotey in 2001, it was the first time he had been extended the distance.

Eliana who was ringside, had never actually seen Freitas take so many punches and fled the arena in tears. The TV fight coverage quickly switched to a stairwell where she sat weeping into her cell phone.

Freitas defended her then but her tears persisted in subsequent bouts. In fact, rumor has it she wants her man to quit, but that is unlikely any time soon.

Though the champ was chatty, he has had some other tense moments in recent weeks: Casamayor sued the WBO to prevent it from sanctioning Freitas’ August 9 against Barrios.

To avoid lengthy litigation. Freitas’ promoter Art Pelullo says he and Casamayor’s representatives have now reached an agreement that calls for Casamayor to drop all objections to Freitas-Barrios, receive some step-aside compensation and then face Freitas in November or December.

The bout will be held ironically in Casamayor’s hometown, Miami Florida. For the co-feature, Pelullo said he is considering Teddy Reid against Elio Ortiz, who just beat Ray Oliveira. He may also feature a rematch between undefeated cruiserweights, Michael Simms and Felix Cora, who fought to a draw in March.

Pelullo believes that Freitas doesn’t need to fight Casa-mayor or any other big name for that matter.

“To his people, it wouldn’t matter who Freitas fights. He’s one of them, a poor kid who made it and he will always draw about 90 million viewers no matter who he fights. In his last fight, no one in Brazil knew who [Juan Carlos] Ramirez was. He might be bigger in Brazil than Michael Jordan is there.”

Still, Pelullo said he tried to unify some of the other 130-pound championships only to be rebuffed by rival promoters. “We offered to fight the IBFchampion Carlos Hernandez but Top Rank demanded $850,000! And that was after he fought on ESPN for about $25,000 and then on Bob Arum’s pay-per-view that nobody saw.

“Then we talked to the Thai promoters about a fight with their champion (WBA “regular” champion Yodsanan Nanthachai) and they said they wanted options. I didn’t ask them for options… how do you ask for options on a guy who is already champion?” Pelullo laughed. “It means they don’t really want the fight.”

Since then, the WBA has designated Freitas a “super champion” and has confusingly created a “regular” world title, Nanthachai is another potential foe.

For Freitas however, money, fame, girls…none of it matters. He fights for one thing only.

“I fight for my father,” he said. “For me, nothing else matters. He never lived to see me become champion but he always said I would. I fight for him because he will always be with me in my heart. I will show my dad that I am the best.”

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