By Lee Anderson, the Charlotte Sun, August 29, 2010
Freeman Barr, center, poses next to promoter Jeff Brady, left, and trainer Steve Canton. Barr is fighting on Tuesday night's "War on the Peace River" boxing match at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center in Punta Gorda. Sun Photo by Lee Anderson
Former middleweight champ Freeman "The Natural" Barr is ready to step back into the ring. At least that is what he says. Freeman's manager and trainer, Steve Canton, agrees. For over 15 years the two have stuck by each other's side. Through cuts and bruises, to a career threatening illness, the two have had each other's back.
In a sport often driven by greed and money, a relationship like Canton and Barr's is scarce. So if the two say they are ready to get back at it, who could argue? And this Tuesday at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center that is exactly what they will do. The event is dubbed "War on the Peace River."
Barr is a native of the Bahamas. He grew up in a family with 13 siblings, and three of his cousins were respected professional boxers. It was natural for Freeman to gravitate toward boxing, and it was boxing that led Barr to Canton's Fort Myers gym back in 1993.
Canton, considered a world-class trainer and cutman, has been involved in nearly every aspect of boxing for the past 52 years. He saw something in Barr. Something he says not all fighters have. "I knew right away Freeman had heart." He was a little rough, but you can teach the techniques: You can't teach the heart," Canton said. "Freeman did not come from a lot. He didn't get his first pair of shoes until he was 12. After our first fight together, he used the money to buy his first car."
After lining up 10 straight wins; the two received a shot at the Florida State Middleweight Championship in 1996. Freeman did not disappoint, bringing back the title to Southwest Florida.
Freeman would go on to capture the IBO middleweight title in front of his native Bahamians, and later the WBO-NABO middleweight title in Punta Gorda.
Barr's career was stalled in 2003 after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis - a disease that caused
inflammation and tumors in Barr's lungs. The severity of the illness took its toll on Freeman, who put his profession on hold for two years. "I trust Steve. He has always been there for me," Barr said. "He helped me and my family when I was sick, and I help him out whenever I can."
Barr returned the favor in 1997 after Canton was afflicted with double pneumonia and a collapsed lung. With nobody to run the gym, Barr gladly ran operations at the SJC gym in Fort Myers for three months until Canton returned.
"What a lot of people don't know about Freeman is he's an electrician by day," Canton said of his, protege. "He does his day job, then he heads out to the gym. He works hard."
Training rigorously for the past year, the two hope all that hard work pays off on Tuesday night. Although he has not fought in almost four years, Barr says he feels better than ever. But Canton knows if another championship is in the cards the time for Freeman is now. "He is just now entering his prime," Canton said of the 36 year old Barr. Heavier fighters generally have longer careers. And he is going to compete at light heavyweight. Besides, he has never been healthy like he is now. He always fought with his disease. Now he is back."
Barr (28-4, 15KO) will he facing Dion Stanley(10-3,7KO). According to his promoter, Stanley shares a line of ancestry linking Wyatt Earp, the famed peace keeper, to the Dodge City native. Barr and Stanley will likely not be keeping the peace Tuesday night.
Also on the card Tuesday is "Silky" Wilky Campfort. Campfort represented his native Haiti in the 2008 Olympics and hopes to make a name for himself in the light middleweight division. Another amateur standout and former Olympian from the Czech Republic, cruiserweight Daniel Kooij, boasts a perfect professional record and plans to keep it that way. Tampa's Marquis Davis, Willie Chisholm and Manny Woods will also be fighting. Fort Myers' Jesus Lule will round out the card against Cuba’s Yuniel Ramos.
Many boxing and NFL luminaries will be in attendance to meet and greet the fans. The weigh-ins will take place Monday at boxing Headquarters the Four Poins by Sheraton in Punta Gorda. Tickets are $75 for Elite Ringside, $35 for Reserved Ringside, and $20 for General Admission, and can be purchased at the Event & Conference Center box office, John Hall's Goal Post Sports Bar and Grill, Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, the SJC Boxing Gym in Fort Myers, and online at www.bradyproductions.com.