After Acelino Freitas' shocking 10th-round surrender at the hands of Diego Corrales in their WBO lightweight title bout at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut, it was hard not to recall Corrales' stoppage losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Joel Casamayor.
Corrales ranted and pushed after those fights, incensed that someone would pull the plug. In his world, a world that has seen more than its
share of hurt and suffering -- both external and self-inflicted -- the ring is the one place where he could control his own destiny.
Yet, if Corrales had been allowed to control his fate against Mayweather and Casamayor, he would have been knocked down 10 times instead of seven, and he would have let every pint of blood drain from a hole in his cheek before surrendering. That surrender wouldn't have come with a wave of his glove and a turn of his back; it would have come as a 10 count or worse.
That's because some fighters are a different breed. Most who see themselves as professional athletes don't look at a fight as a life and death proposition. It's a sporting contest they're in for the competition and the payday. For others, though, boxing is more than a vocation; it's an almost primal way of life, epitomized by actions and comments that usually get referenced only in B movies and comic books.
Unlike Acelino Freitas, Diego Corrales is no A-list celebrity in his
country. He's not even the most famous athlete in his home state of
California. His marriage to his third wife, Michelle, was not televised, let alone on national television. But he fights with a passion that is frightening. Not in his style, which is patient with periodic violent outbursts, but in attitude.
He is one fighter you believe when he tells you that he is willing to die in the ring. It's a scary proposition, especially knowing that at any moment, that prophecy can be fulfilled. It's a topic no one wants to address, but in a hurt business, Corrales is willing to take any and all hurts in an effort to win.
"I want the ability to take care of my own job," Corrales said. To do that, he had to chase Freitas for seven rounds Saturday, eating right-hand counters much of the night in an effort to get close enough to get his own payback. When he finally did, in the eighth round, all the pain paid off.
In three successive rounds, Freitas hit the floor. Each time, he got up quickly, looking disappointed but not particularly rattled by the onslaught. After the third knockdown, in Round 10, though, he may have just said in his mind, "Hey, this ain't worth dying for," and abandoned a fight he was in control of for at least 20 minutes. Maybe his head was so scrambled by the punishment he was taking that quitting was a better option
than trying to fight with 20-pound weights attached to his legs while
looking at a killer with gloves bearing down on him.
So he walked away. Although he is a national hero in Brazil, where some jiujitsu superstars would rather have bones snapped than quit, the people who adored Freitas for years may now shun him.
Celebrity is a funny thing, and if boxing fans can turn away from Roberto Duran, who called "No Mas" against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, Freitas is not immune from such treatment. That's
his decision to live with, and if he thought his health was at stake, it was the right one.
"I was shocked, yeah," said Corrales of Freitas' decision.
That's not surprising, knowing that walking away from a fight would be the furthest thing from Corrales' mind. In 2001, barely able to make the 130-pound weight limit and with a prison sentence awaiting him, Corrales was sent to the floor five times by Mayweather. Each time, Corrales got up, until his stepfather Ray Woods waved a towel to surrender. Corrales was livid, saying, "A fighter likes to go out on his back."
In 2003, he was on the floor twice more, this time at the hands of Casamayor. A split mouthpiece had him bleeding dangerously from two cuts inside his mouth, and the bout was halted. Again he raged, but he got his revenge five months later.
Corrales is a different breed of fighter, and that was never more
evident than Saturday, when Freitas walked away from his world championship belt and a shot at greatness. Corrales walked Freitas down and outgutted him in the only sport in the world where
tenacity and courage can overcome all obstacles.
In a game of inches -- where a single punch can end a fight or sail harmlessly over an opponent's head, where two evenly matched fighters can battle evenly for 28 minutes and 24 seconds -- those qualities were the difference for Corrales.