Thursday, July 14, 2011

Random Classics - Acelino Freitas vs. Jorge Barrios

PhotoL Hector Gabino/AFP/Getty Images

To observant fans and media, Freitas vs. Barrios wasn't one of those matchups whose promotion and build-up flew under the radar, only for the fight to become a seemingly unanticipated success. Those who paid attention were well aware of its potential to draw a large live crowd as well, regardless of the outcome. 

Many fans probably tuned in to the Showtime triple-header for a glance at then-rising future star "Panchito" Bojado, and the Freitas-Barrios main event looked to be an undefeated headliner who could bang, against an eccentric character with a boisterous posse and decent knockout percentage.

A nice cherry on top to South American fight fans, matching a Brazilian against an Argentinian in Miami - one of the few U.S. cities with a respectable concentration of both Brazilians and Argentinians - would surely serve as a mere extension of the famed Brazil-Argentina football rivalry. 


Acelino Freitas was born in 1975 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, one of six children. His father a lottery ticket salesman, Freitas' family lived in poverty, sleeping on a dirt floor and often going without food. It was also during his childhood that Freitas was given the nickname "Popo," which in Brazilian Portuguese is slang for the sound a baby makes while nursing. 

Freitas supposedly breastfed until the age of 5. 

Acelino was an adept footballer at a young age, but longed for the pugilistic popularity of countryman, idol and all-time great fighter Eder Jofre. 

The choice proved to be the right one in hindsight, as Freitas' reported amateur record stands at 88-3 (60 KO), including Silver Medals at both the 1995 Pan American Games and 1995 SulAmerica Games. 

He turned pro in July, 1995 with a first-round knockout of Jose Adriano Soares. 

Freitas' first nine bouts were fought in his hometown of Salvador, and through ten fights, he hadn't let an opponent get past the third round. 

His two following fights were featured in 1997 on ESPN2's tournament-format program 'Boxcino.' Acelino dispatched his two game, more experienced foes Hilario Guzman and Edwin Vazquez in eight and seven rounds, respectively. In addition to Boxcino being his introduction to US airwaves, it was also where Freitas was "discovered" by Banner Promotions' President Artie Pelullo. 

"Popo" fought on three continents over the span of his next eight contests, with at least half being televised. At 20-0, none lasting the distance, Freitas positioned himself for a world title challenge against WBO super featherweight titlist Anatoly Alexandrov. The bout was televised live from Alpes-Maritimes, France in August, 1999.

Inside of ninety seconds, the Kazakhstani Alexandrov was sent stumbling backwards into the ring post by a series of right hands. Up on wobbly legs, the former champion was flattened by another salvo of rights that left him motionless on the canvas for minutes. 

With the quick stoppage win, Freitas moved to 21-0 with 21 straight knockouts, and became the first Brazilian world champion since WBC junior middleweight champ Miguel de Oliveira in 1975. 

An overnight celebrity in his native Brazil, an estimated 52,000 showed up for his first title defense two months later in Salvador against Anthony Martinez, who he demolished in less than two rounds.  

Freitas apparently took the literal approach to defending his world title, dismantling his next six opponents in Brazil, the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. And he did it against a decent variety of foes: usually-durable contender Javier Juaregui, journeyman boxer/puncher Lemuel Nelson, and awkward and experienced Carlos Rios in Acelino's Showtime debut, among others. 

A first-round bombardment of perennial punching bag Orlando Soto in January, 2001 improved Freitas' record to 29-0 and 29 knockouts, the second-longest knockout streak for a world champion.

Following the Soto fight, the soft-spoken Freitas took more than six months off for the first time in his career - his marriage to his model girlfriend in May broke live television ratings records in Brazil. 

Returning to the ring a married man to face Ghanaian tough guy Alfred Kotey that September, Acelino toted along brand new trainer Oscar Suarez. In the second bout of a Showtime triple-header from Miami (headlined by WBA super feathweight champ Joel Casamayor), Kotey took Freitas to a decision for the first time in his career, halting his KO streak at 29 behind only Puerto Rican great Wilfredo Gomez, who still holds the record at 32. 

As both Freitas and Casamayor won their bouts, albeit in seemingly underwhelming fashion, the stage was set for a highly anticipated unification match between the two guys most folks felt were the best junior feathers in the world, especially given Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s recent decision to leave 130 lbs. by the time Freitas-Casamayor had been finalized.

Rumors of a possible move to lightweight for Freitas surfaced during the promotion, but the fight went on as scheduled. Casamayor, a frightfully-accomplished Cuban amateur and later defector, brought a sense of class to the ring that Freitas had not yet dealt with. Likewise, the 26-0 (16 KO) Olympic gold medalist Casamayor was inexperienced fighting at an elite professional level. 

An entertaining, competitive fight, a handful of momentum shifts, and not to mention a number of bad calls from referee Joe Cortez later, Acelino Freitas became the unified super featherweight champion - a big fish in a shrinking, Mayweather-less pond.

The controversy of blown officiating and the overall surprise of seeing Freitas win a decision two times in a row, often fighting on his toes and utilizing movement, ultimately overshadowed the event, unfortunately.

A new trend of taking more time off between fights became routine for Freitas, who went seven months without fighting before pounding out another decision over unbeaten Nigerian trickster Daniel Attah. The unheralded Attah managed to stun Freitas a few times with single shots, but ultimately was outworked and simply out-classed.  

But three decision wins in a row meant the boxing world at large began to question the legitimacy of Freitas' punching power, right or wrong. Needless to say, Acelino's new-ish trainer Suarez was considered the catalyst by many.  

The boxing world appeared to be proven wrong in March of 2003, though. After another seven month hiatus (during which Acelino's father lost a battle with cancer), Freitas smacked around scrappy fringe contender Juan Carlos Ramirez, but was incorrectly ruled down from a push/elbow by ref Genaro Rodriguez in round 2. Karma from the Casamayor fight evened out, Freitas battered Ramirez in round 3 and stopped him in 4.

Freitas dedicated the win to his late father during a very emotional celebration in his corner. 

Not long after the victory, Freitas separated from and divorced his wife, reportedly claiming his celebrity status had grown to the point where he could no longer stay faithful. 

Nevertheless, Freitas seemed to have momentum on his side in the ring, and geared up for a clash with Argentinian Jorge Rodrigo Barrios. 


No stranger to humble beginnings himself, Jorge Rodrigo Barrios was born in Tigre, Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976.

As a young child, Barrios lived in an orphanage/convent where he was harassed and tormented by other children, thus forced to learn the art of avoiding a beating by administering one very early in life. To boot, the conditions were such that the nearest restroom was a brisk walk away. 

Barrios admittedly became somewhat of a hellion, and later recalled an incident in which he fought five other boys from the orphanage at the same time. According to Jorge, he hit the largest of the five first, and proceeded to get his head bashed against a brick wall before other children broke the melee up. 

His father Eduardo's absence became a constant thorn in the side of young Barrios, who began saving money he made from opening taxi doors outside of Ital Amusement Park. When Jorge finally had enough to visit the amusement park, he wasn't allowed in because of an "All minors must be accompanied by an adult" policy. 

As an adolescent, Barrios engaged in a healthy dose of street-fighting, for money, respect and/or fun. But finally considering the pleas of his mother, Barrios moved his battles from the streets to the squared circle, choosing to train at the gym of Horacio Garcia in Tigre at the age of 14. 

Barrios became interested in a number of martial arts - especially karate. But boxing was in his DNA. His father Eduardo and uncle Oscar had both had interests in boxing, with Oscar fighting as a professional 20 times. 

His old sparring partners later told that Jorge, then known as "El Raton," would proclaim, very early on in his amateur career, that he would use boxing to change his situation. In addition to training, Barrios worked selling churros, making bread, and eventually as a security guard at a local bowling alley, as his smaller stature was obscured by his reputation as a street fighter. 

The realization that his life was indeed changing didn't take long to arrive, as Barrios' free-swinging style and knockouts made him a popular local amateur - popular enough that the Argentina Boxing Federation recruited him to join the national boxing team, headed by Sarvelio Fuentes, where he would be teammates and chums with countryman Julio Pablo Chacon. 

Foregoing a guaranteed spot on the 1996 Argentinian Olympic Team, Barrios chose to fight professionally and make money for his family. 

Barrios entered the pro ranks with a KO2 over Hector Martinez about a week after his 20th birthday in Auguest, 1996. He went on to go 14-0 (12 KO), and quickly became a prominent staple of televised boxing series 'Combate Space.'

Boxing press in Argentina named Barrios the Prospect of the Year in 1997, but he wound up losing by disqualification to Cesar Domine in December, his 10th fight on the calendar year.

The loss was avenged less than two months later by second round stoppage, and "La Hiena" rattled off four more wins inside the distance, his popularity increasing in the meantime. 

The affable character, called "The Hyena" for his hearty laugh, plowed over the more experienced Walter Rodriguez to claim the South American super featherweight belt in August of 1998. After two defenses and a non-title fight, including a decision win over the very experienced Gustavo Cuello (who had recently fought Mayweather Jr. to a wide 10-round loss), Barrios fought away from home for the first time. 

In July, 1999 Jorge stopped Italian foe Silvano Usini in eight rounds on his own turf to win the WBU super featherweight title.  

He went 10-0-1 with 1 No Contest in his next 12 fights, beating former world title challengers Victor Hugo Paz and Carlos Uribe by decision and disqualification, respectively. The draw came against Ricardo Daniel Silva, a fun fight that saw both men hurt and Barrios down late. 

In August, 2002, Barrios squared up against fellow once-beaten Argentinian attraction Javier Alvarez in neighboring Uruguay, ending the fight in the 11th round and seizing the WBO Latino super featherweight title. 

Between fights, Barrios and old friend Julio Pablo Chacon half-jokingly trashtalked one another through the Buenos Aires press, and a meeting between the two appeared imminent, but never transpired. 

Barrios would fight four more times over the next eight months, including picking up the vacant Argentina Boxing Federation super featherweight strap, and defending his WBO Latino belt with a knockout of the same Orlando Soto that Acelino Freitas walked over a year-plus earlier. 

As the WBO Latino title often serves as a precursor or kind of eliminator to the full WBO title, and Barrios' stature had reached a new height, Acelino Freitas vs. Jorge Barrios was signed less than a month after the latter's most recent fight in April 2003. 


Once again fighting about a week after his birthday, Barrios tried his damnedest to goad Freitas into verbal exchanges and staredowns at press conferences, but the relatively quiet, even-keeled Freitas wouldn't bite. 

Barrios even resorted to constantly referring to "Popo" Freitas as "Papas Fritas" ("french fries" in Spanish), teasing him about his recent marital problems, and promising a quick victory. 

Past the fact that neither man spoke English well enough to carry a promotion in the U.S., Barrios' "unknown quantity" tag (as far as U.S. boxing media was concerned) likely hurt the overall promotion further. 

Still, the fight in early August, 2003 marked Freitas' 6th appearance on Showtime, and Brazilian fans in particular poured into Miami Arena in Miami, FL for its first ever boxing card. 

The main event followed an excellent slugfest, the second fight on the telecast, Teddy Reid vs. Elio Ortiz. Following an act that featured five knockdowns on Ortiz, who kept roaring right back when hurt, would be a rough one. 

But the main event outdid the fun that preceded it, with a handful of knockdowns and wobbly moments itself, blood, tears, drama, close scoring and, finally, a dramatic finish. 

Perhaps one of the fondest common memories of this fight is Barrios wiping the blood that poured from a cut over his eyebrow on referee Jorge Alonso's sleeve during breaks in action or clinching -- mid-fight improv at its finest. 



Acelino Freitas vs. Jorge Rodrigo Barrios (video)


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