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Boxing survivors Freeman Barr and Steve Canton
to fight again on Aug. 31, 2010

By Scott Clair, Naples Daily News

Naples boxer Freeman Barr, center, will return to the ring for the first time in nearly four years on Aug. 31.
He is flanked by fight promoter Jeff Brady, left, and Steve Canton, Barr's trainer and manager.

At its current rate, it shouldn’t be more than 10 years before historians begin telling the tale of the ancient sport of boxing. With the rise of Mixed Martial Arts and the refusal of the boxing’s best to fight each other, the sport’s epitaph is being written once again. Its great temples -- Kronk in Detroit, the Gramercy Gym in Manhattan, and the 5th St. Gym in Miami Beach -- now gone, there are fewer and fewer corners for pugilism’s high priests to whisper their wisdom into the ears of neophytes.

Boxing has been down many times before, but has always managed somehow to beat the 10 count. It is a sport of and for survivors, who, chin tucked and gloves up, look to battle on. Two such survivors, Naples fighter Freeman "The Natural" Barr and trainer Steve Canton, after wandering in the sport’s wilderness for the last four years, announced their plans Tuesday toward boxing’s elusive promised land: a title shot.

On August 31, 2010 Barr, a former world-ranked middleweight and super middleweight with a 28-4 (15 KOs) record, will step into the ring for the first time since November 2006. And, as always, Canton, Barr's manager and trainer, will be in his corner. Barr’s opponent has yet to be named. Canton said Tuesday that there is a fighter lined up, but that he is waiting until approval from the Florida State Boxing Commission, expected this week, to make the announcement.

Barr and Canton have battled illnesses and bad luck in their partnership together. Barr’s career was stalled in 2003 after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis, which is a disease due to inflammation and tumors most frequently found in the lungs. The seriousness of the illness has limited Barr, 36, to three fights since 2004.

“I had to get the OK from my doctor,” said Barr, an electrician by day who will fight at 175 pounds. “”I feel better now than 10 years ago. I’m looking to get the ring rust off and after maybe three fights get a title shot.“I miss the feeling of the crowd and the action. I hope I’ll get a title (opportunity). I’m embracing this.”

In January 1999 Barr fought Bert Schenk for the vacant WBO World Middleweight title. He was TKO’d under “suspicious” circumstances in the fourth round.

“With his disease, Freeman was at about 65 percent for his first fight back in 2006,” said Canton, who also manages Barr. “A reporter asked me if I was concerned about Freeman.” “I told him, ‘Sixty-five percent of Freeman Barr beats 95 percent of today’s fighter’s.'”

In 2007, Canton, who has run the old school SJC Boxing Gym on Fowler Street in Fort Myers for the past 14 years, had a serious turn in the doctor’s office. Afflicted with double pneumonia and a collapsed lung, Canton, who was inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009, was hospitalized for two months and nearly died.

In Canton’s absence, Barr kept the SJC gym open every day, traveling up to Fort Myers after work. “We stick together,” Barr said. “Me and (Steve) have a father-son relationship. I trust him and he trusts me.”

Helping the duo resurrect their dream is former NFL linebacker Jeff Brady of Cape Coral. After meeting a year ago, Brady and Canton formed Brady Productions, which will promote the fight card as part of the “War on the Peace River” series at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda.“We struck up a conversation,” said Brady, whose son is trained by Canton. “We got along great and just went from there.

“The basis of this company is to give kids and young men an opportunity in boxing. I’m trying to give back. Somebody gave me an opportunity.”

Brady played for Kentucky, the state where he grew up, before embarking on a nine-year career in the NFL, most of which was spent in the old NFC Central as a member of the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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