The following interview was conducted by Eric Rineer, exclusively for Boxinginsider.com.
VERO BEACH, Fla. – Acelino ‘Popo’ Freitas (33-0, 30 K0s) is set to defend his WBA and WBO jr. lightweight titles against Jorge Barrios (39-1-1, 29 KOs) in Miami on Aug. 9. He is training in Vero Beach for this fight. Boxing Insider recently caught up with the champ for an exclusive interview. Here is what Freitas and his trainer Oscar Suarez had to say:
BoxingInsider.com: Acelino, what are your thoughts on your next opponent, Jorge Barrios?
Acelino Freitas: He’s a fighter who has a great record but I never take anybody for granted. Regardless of who he is — it could be anybody well-known in the world — I always train to defend the titles and to win another world title.
BoxingInsider.com: You are a well-traveled professional, whereas Barrios has fought mainly in Argentina. (Note: Freitas has fought in Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, England, France, Canada and in the United States, including Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida.) Does your experience fighting in the United States play into your favor when you meet Barrios at Miami Arena on Aug. 9?
Acelino Freitas: I don’t believe it favors me. I believe that every fighter deserves respect because, at the time of the fight, anything can happen. Barrios has devastating punching power and he has a lot of talent. We always study our fighters and we always see great talent in them. Obviously, I’m going to be facing a world-caliber fighter; Jorge Barrios is there for one reason: The reason is because he is the No. 2 contender in the WBO division. We always respect the individual who we are about to fight and we get ready for one more title.
BoxingInsider.com: Oscar, your fighter is a world champion and very popular in Brazil, yet he is a relatively unknown champion in the United States. What steps are you taking to gain Acelino more recognition?
Acelino Freitas: Well, basically, Acelino needs more recognition. Acelino is the super champion of the world. Sometimes, people don’t realize that a super champion of the world deserves a lot of respect. He deserves to be known as the super champion of the world everywhere. And, me, living in the United States, I don’t think that Acelino Freitas is getting the right recognition as the super champion of the world. But, God willing, we’re going to start working on that and, hopefully, with a little help, we definitely will change that.
BoxingInsider.com: Oscar De La Hoya uses his good looks to market himself and make a lot of money in this business. Acelino, your good looks could win you more popularity, too, in the United States. Have you thought about using this approach to gain more recognition through commercials or other advertisements?
Acelino Freitas: In Brazil, I’m doing some commercials for shavers and I do some other commercials for telephones and other things. I’m starting to know America, and I’ve got a friend from Vegas who said, ‘Acelino, the ladies want to know why you cut your hair? It was so beautiful before when you had it a little longer.’ That’s why I’m conservative now.
BoxingInsider.com: Jumping up in weight and challenging the lightweight champions also would help you gain more recognition as a fighter. Would you agree?
Acelino Freitas: That is the plan for 2004. I would love for people to know not just the man inside the ring, but the man outside the ring… I just reopened a program in Brazil for the kids on the street. It’s a big gym, it’s huge. It fits 150 kids a day, so it’s working tremendously for a lot of kids from the streets. So, I’m doing that, it’s my next step. I’ve already started and you will hear about that a lot. It’s a gym that’s not operated by the government. It’s my own in conjunction with other people.
BoxingInsider.com: How difficult has it been for you to make the 130-pound weight limit? You naturally are a lot bigger than 130 and you have entered training camp well over 140 pounds.
Acelino Freitas: It is difficult, but I feel very comfortable now making the weight, way more comfortable than before. But it’s a sacrifice because it doesn’t matter what weight you are, it’s such a sacrifice getting ready to defend the titles, fighting an individual who might be better than you, which you will find out the night of the fight. But people who know boxing know the strength that I will have the night of the fight.… The people working with me — Ulisses Pereira, Oscar Suarez and even my brother, Luiz Claudio — do an excellent job for me. Supplements are so important today — that is basically what keeps you going. That is why it’s a little easier now than before.
BoxingInsider.com: What are your plans if you successfully defend your titles against Barrios on Aug. 9? Would you like to unify the four titles, or maybe step up in weight and fight WBC lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather, at 135 pounds?
Acelino Freitas: We’re getting ready for Jorge Barrios now and concentrating on him. If the coincidence happens to fight Mayweather, or whoever comes, that’s going to be up to the promoters and whoever is responsible for putting the fight together. I like to concentrate on each and every individual and then, after that, if it’s a coincidence that it’s going to happen, it will happen.
BoxingInsider.com: Do you feel that Floyd Mayweather has been ducking you? He jumped up to the lightweight division shortly after you took the WBA jr. lightweight title from Joel Casamayor.
Acelino Freitas: I don’t think so. Every individual works the way they want to work and it was his time to move up to 135 – that’s the way he had planned it. It was good for him because he became a world champion in that division.
BoxingInsider.com: Is there any truth to reports that a potential fight with 125-pound champion Derrick Gainer is in your near future? And, if so, would you be willing to move down in weight to fight him, or would the match take place at 130?
Acelino Freitas: I get ready for anybody. If that’s going to happen, it will happen. If it’s a mandatory defense, I will fight him. I’ve got a couple more fights with Showtime and hopefully we come to a good agreement and renew the negotiations. I would like to stay with them or, if not, maybe HBO would be interested.
BoxingInsider.com: Would you give Casamayor a rematch? Your title victory over Casamayor in 2002 was a close decision.
Acelino Freitas: I’m going to concentrate more on what I’m going to do with Barrios. Again, it would be another coincidence, but I would think twice about going back into a fight like that being hit with the head, being hit with the elbow. I would love for Casamayor to come in a little cleaner if it ever happens.
BoxingInsider.com: Where do you rank yourself pound-for-pound among the best fighters in the world?
Acelino Freitas: With all due respect to all the critics, last year I was considered No. 10 among all the pound-for-pound lists. For me, it’s more important to myself, how I consider myself pound for pound and for the people who are working with me — Oscar Suarez, Ulisses Pereria, my brother and Team ‘Popo’ Freitas — whenever they think that I’m pound for pound the best, that’s what makes me happy.
BoxingInsider.com: Who are you sparring with to prepare for the Barrios fight?
Acelino Freitas: Luisiano Silva and my brother, Luiz Claudio. Luisiano Silva was in the Olympic selection of Brazil, and I decided to help this kid. He needed the help and I’ve decided to become his manager. He will be pro debuting on the undercard of my fight.
BoxingInsider.com: Are your sparring partners giving you the right looks as you prepare for Barrios?
Acelino Freitas: Yes, I definitely believe they are doing a great job for me. Even though my brother is 35 years old, my brother is doing an excellent job because we’ve been analyzing the fight. My brother is throwing shots the way Barrios is doing. My brother has a lot of experience under his wing. He’s doing an excellent job. For the Casamayor fight, my brother fought left-handed, too. So, he was one of the main sparring partners and you saw the result. Also, the way we’ve been training and the way we’re going to finish the training, it’s going to give me full confidence to beat Barrios in any which way.
BoxingInsider.com: Oscar, what is your assessment of Jorge Barrios?
Oscar Suarez: Barrios is a strong fighter. He moves laterally. He’s got some experience under his wing, too. But it will be a great fight for the audience because they’ve got similar styles. Barrios is very strong… you can see the experience and the quality in him. He’s very strong and Acelino knows it. I believe that Argentineans are like Mexicans and Puerto Ricans: Real tough fighters, they take shots and they respond. Barrios is a great counter puncher so it will be a great fight. It’s going to be an excellent fight. I would say that with the intelligence Acelino’s got now — he’s not depending just on his power — it will be a very interesting fight.
BoxingInsider.com: Acelino, would you like to make a prediction for this fight?
Acelino Freitas: We’re getting ready for 12 rounds. We’re working very hard as usual, but I don’t think the fight will go the distance. If the knockout comes, it will come. But I feel that it might come, that’s my attitude. Now that everything is good and I have no problems with my hands and my mind is there, I’m going to train real hard to go 12 rounds and finish the fight in any round. I’m not taking Barrios for granted, but I’ve got that feeling and that’s the attitude I’m going to go in with.
BoxingInsider.com: Acelino, good luck!
Acelino Freitas: Thank you.
Eric Rineer is a free lance journalist and a BoxingInsider.com contributor.