Naples’ Freeman Barr to be inducted to Florida Boxing Hall of Fame

By J. Scott Butherus of the Naples Daily News

FORT MYERS — Freeman Barr wasn’t just a natural in the boxing ring.

He was “The Natural.”

The Naples-based boxer from Andros Island in the Bahamas, finished his career with a 29-4 record. 15 of those wins came by knockout.

He was a two-time National Amateur Champion in his home country of the Bahamas before immigrating to Southwest Florida at the age of 16. He began training with Steve Canton of SJC Boxing, who would go on to become Barr’s friend, trainer and promoter for the next 20 years.

“I saw a kid who was so gifted naturally, so perfect technically,” Canton said. “He was also willing to work hard and do whatever he needed to be the best.”

During his pro career Barr held belts as the IBC Continental Middleweight, the IBO Middleweight and the WBO-NABO Middleweight and Super Middleweight champion. He successfully defended his IBO title twice between 1997 and 1998.

On Friday, the 5-foot-9 righty can add another distinction to his boxing career. Barr, 42, will be one of 11 living members — including Ray Mercer and Sugar Baby Rojas — to be inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tampa. He was selected in his first year of eligibility.

“It is a great accomplishment after all the hard work to get me there,” Barr said. “I knew I would get there because I believed in myself, my coach believed in me, my father believed in me.

“Out of the 14 kids my father always told me I would be the fighter. He said I would get there and I took that to heart.”

Posthumous inductees for the 2016 class included former world champions Alexis Arguello, Hector Camacho Sr., and Beau Jack, top contender Mike Quarry, and official Ruby Goldstein.

Barr said he will be dedicating his award to his father who passed away two months earlier.

“I was hoping that he would live to see me inducted,” Barr said. “This honor will be for him because he was my hero. He was the person I looked up to make me the person I am today.”

Barr was a national hero in his native Bahamas. A large contingent of Bahamian press would attend every one of Barr’s fights. A giant mural of the fighter still adorns the Lynden Pindling International Airport’s lobby in Nassau. His first IBO title came in front of his fellow Bahamians and all of his fights were simulcast throughout the islands, including the first-ever live internet broadcast of a championship bout in 1997.

A four-person delegation will attend this weekend’s ceremony on behalf of Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie to present Barr with a lifetime achievement award from his home country.

However, Barr’s story was one of what might have been. After quickly rising through the middle weight ranks, Barr, then 18-1, was given a shot at the vacant WBO World title against undefeated German contender Bert Schenk in January 1999 in Brandenburg, Germany. The favored Barr was dominant through the first three rounds before a glancing blow to his right eye left him instantly blinded. Later, both Barr and Canton suspected a foreign chemical had been used.

“I was cutting him up pretty good, but I got hit and my eye just exploded,” Barr said of his eventual TKO loss.

A severe infection in his eye that forced him out of the ring for the remainder of that year.

After moving to the super middleweight class, Barr defeated Gerald Coleman for the WBO-NABO title and successfully defended against a then-undefeated Ricky Ramirez — despite breaking his right hand in the fourth round — and Roni Martinez.

Barr became the No. 1 contender for Joe Calzaghe’s WBO World title. Barr and Canton ended up waiting 26 months as the mandatory challenger for a fight that never came.

“They didn’t want this Bahamian unknown to beat their cash cow who was selling out entire soccer stadiums,” Canton said. “Barr’s style was all wrong for Calzaghe. They saw that so they didn’t want to make the match.”

As he waited for his title shot, Barr was scheduled for several high-profile fights, but his opponents never came through.

Four times he was slated to fight Roy Jones Jr., but each time it fell apart. Canadian champion Otis Grant vacated his belt rather than fight Barr. Lonnie Bradley backed out of a verbal agreement after watching film.

A blockbuster match against Oscar De La Hoya was set for the Staples Center until a rising Felix Trinidad threw a wrench in that plan with his upset over the Golden Boy for the WBC World Welterweight title in 1999.

“He was there so many times for that breakout fight, but for one reason or another never happened,” Canton said. “Barr didn’t have that big name behind him or the TV exposure so there was no money to make for them.”

While Barr had a reputation for taking on all comers — no matter the weight class or ranking, his toughest opponent for much of his pro career ended up being his own body. In 2004, Barr was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disorder that causes abnormal cell growths on major organs, especially the lungs and lymph nodes. He had showed symptoms as early as two years before.

“He never got the shot he should have before that sickness came,” Canton said. “The public never got to see what we, on the inside, got to see. He sparred with all the greats like Winky Wright and Jeff Lacy and Hector Camacho and knocked them all over constantly.”

Barr fought just three more times professionally in the next six years, the last being a majority decision win over Dion Stanley in August of 2010 in Punta Gorda.

“That really took me down,” he said of the disease. “It’s something I can’t really take control of.”

Canton, who was inducted into the FBHoF in 2009, is glad that his prized protégé is finally getting some recognition.

“The inside people knew how great he was, but to the rest of the public, he never got that exposure,” Canton said. “It’s great, but it’s a little sad. Out of all the fighters I ever worked with — and I worked with world champions and many hall of famers — he was the best. The speed. The balance. The power. He was the best.”

“I never felt I did (accomplish everything I wanted),” Barr said. “I spent three years as the No. 1 contender in the world, but I was denied my shot. That is something I would’ve wanted.

“I think I could have done a lot more better, but I’m happy with what I was able to do.”

About J. Scott Butherus

Multimedia journalist J. Scott Butherus is an award-winning sports writer and videographer and slightly above-mediocre photographer who covers spring training for the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox, the Fort Myers Miracle, outdoors and fishing, PrepZone, and Florida Gulf Coast University. In his spare time, he wrestles sharks and is a career .827 hitter for the company softball team.

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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