By Derek Bonnett
Freddie "The Pitbull" Liberatore is a fighter no more.
Even though Freddie Liberatore’s career ended following his 1995 world title fight loss to Gabriel Ruelas eighteen years ago, the thought of Liberatore not being a fighter in some sense of the word boggles the mind. Liberatore, a New York native, 20-4-1 (11), had a career which seemed modeled after James Dean’s fervor to live fast and die young. Liberatore’s action-packed, offense-first style graced ESPN airwaves for much of his six year career. Liberatore estimates that twenty of his twenty-five bouts were televised. Before boxing fans were awing over Micky Ward or Arturo Gatti, there was Liberatore and his own generation of never say die warriors on ESPN such as Sergei Artemiev, Benny Amparo, Leon Bostic, and Ricky Meyers. While none of these men reached the cult-like popularity of Ward or Gatti, Liberatore did establish himself as a legitimate super featherweight contender with wins over Amparo, Frankie Toledo, Harold Warren, and Calvin Grove.
However, boxing isn’t a sport which gives out handily to everyone or leaves the majority of its participants without the worries of financial security after retirement -- even if you are fortunate enough to try for a world title. That includes fighters like Liberatore, who would have made Jim Lampley’s Gatti-list long before Lampley even had an opinion of Gatti. From injury to insult, The Pitbull’s best days may have come after he left the prize ring. But, first came the injury.
"Right after the Ruelas fight, I went and had my right hand operated on because I could not continue to fight or function in life without the operation," Liberatore recounted. "Cortisone shots could not help my right hand anymore. My right hand was so bad that I could not even hit the pads without excruciating pain. When shaking someone’s hand, it felt as if my hand was being crushed. I decided to get a second opinion by a hand specialist and he informed me that I had what is known to be a boxer’s injury where the tendons that hold down your metacarpal bones tear leaving your hand with little stability and your metacarpal bones start to pop up. The pain is so bad that Arturo Gatti had gotten his operation after the first metacarpal bone needed to be fused; I waited until all my metacarpal bones needed to be fused. I was fighting with this injury back when I fought Frank Pena [in 1993] because I was told that it was calcium deposits."
Luck was something that worked both for and against Liberatore throughout his time lacing up the gloves. For example, in 1988 Freddie won the New York Golden Gloves title at 125 pounds. He got to the finals by making his own luck. However, Kevin Kelley, who also reached the finals, was unable to box and Liberatore won on a walkover. Things did not work in his favor while prepping for a shot at the USBA 130 pound title.
"I remember I was going to fight Pete Taliaferro for the USBA belt," Liberatore stated. "I had to pull out because I hurt my hand in a sparring match with Regilio Turr, leaving Arturo Gatti to jump into that spot."
Gatti’s name has surfaced numerous time throughout this writing. The two are natural comparisons given their attitudes in the ring and propensity for exciting bouts. The two were as prolific at creating exciting match-ups as Bert Sugar was at producing volumes of text. Yet, the rewards never came for Liberatore the way they did for the man known as Thunder. Now came the insult.
"After getting my operation on my hand, I went back into the gym six months later," Liberatore shared. "I was sparring and throwing my right hand without holding back. I was dropping guys in the gym and looking and feeling unstoppable. I told my manager I wanted to fight again and he told me that he can get me a fight on Top Rank Boxing against Angel Manfredy at the Mohegan Sun on ESPN. Despite not fighting in a year, I said sure. I would fight anyone, anytime especially now that my right hand was good. I asked how much was it for and he replied $2,000.00. I thought sure it’s not all about the money, but come on let’s not be ridiculous. I tried to negotiate for at least a couple of thousands more, but I was denied. I met with Tommy Gallagher who said that he can get me a fight with Tracy Patterson instead. Long story short, Tracy never signed the contract. I was tired of being jerked around and I decided that I needed to get out and start a new chapter in my life by learning a new trade before I was too old."
As a boxing fan, I remembered the passion with which Liberatore fought each time out. I saw him get up from knockdowns which seemingly would have leveled any man. In order to do that, it takes more than just heart. It requires an insurmountable desire to do so. Even in the wake of being undervalued and underpaid, Liberatore never attempted a comeback. I often wondered why?
"I was able to walk away from boxing because I made it into the top ten in the world," Liberatore commented. "I beat known title holders and known contenders. I may not have been known by all, but all who where respected and known in the boxing world knew me and respected me. I had my first child and needed to make a real living. That is the real reason why I left. I joke about it to friends. I was top ten in the world living in a one bedroom apartment. What other sport would have a guy who is top ten in the world living like he is on welfare?"
Unlike the NFL or NBA, boxing has no league minimums. The two thousand dollars Liberatore had been offered to face an elite like Manfredy had not yet been taxed and was likely still up for some splitting to compensate his team.
It leaves one to wonder if not money, what was it that Liberatore took from his twenty-five fight career?