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Naples fighter returns after battling sickness
By Craig Handel, Fort Myers News-Press, August 31, 2010

Naples resident Freeman Barr works the mitts during an outdoor promotional exhibition at John Hall’s Goal Post Sports Bar and Grill in Port Charlotte earlier this month.(Special to the news-press)

As Freeman Barr was asked the last time he fought in a professional boxing match, a listener chimed in as he walked by: “You hate that question, don’t you?”

Barr laughed. “In 2006,” he said.

Four years of wondering why he had trouble swallowing, why it was hard to breathe, why he struggled to see, if he could fight again and if a promoter would provide a comeback.

That time is here. Tonight, the Naples’ light heavyweight will be back in the ring for the first time since Nov. 28, 2006. He’ll fight Kansas City’s Dion Stanley in the main draw of the “War On The Peace River” at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda.

It also will be just the third bout for Barr in six years.

The six-bout card will begin at 8 p.m. Brady Productions LLC is promoting the fight.

“I feel stronger, more confident and I feel younger,” said Barr, 36. “I feel better now than I did 12 years ago.” Fort Myers’ Steve Canton, who has trained Barr since he arrived from the Bahamas 16 years ago, agreed. “He’s very relaxed and motivated mentally,” Canton said. “He’s confident the sickness is gone and the stamina is there. He’s focused and detailed in being correct in everything we do.”

For 26 months from March 2001 to May 2003, Barr was the World Boxing Organization’s No. 1 contender, but WBO super-middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe never fought him.

Meanwhile, Barr started having health issues. “A lot of times, I could feel it,” he said. “I wanted to quit, but I never quit. I was grasping for air. I knew something was wrong, but they couldn’t see what it was.” After numerous tests, doctors realized Barr had sarcoidosis — a disease of unknown cause that leads to inflammation and affects various organs in the body. “It can kill you, too,” Barr said.

Canton said doctors misdiagnosed Barr’s condition because sarcoidosis mimics other maladies. Actor-comedian Bernie Mac, 50, died of the condition two years ago. “They thought it was allergies,” Canton said. “And he was fighting all the time with it. Doctors were shocked he could fight at a world-class level because it took away all his lung power.” Medications caused edema in Barr’s body, which pushed his weight from 175 to 210. He also needed a steroid injection in each eye so he wouldn’t go blind.

About 18 months ago, Barr started breathing better. Shortly after that, he got the go-ahead to fight. “They told me, ‘You gotta know all those years you weren’t 100 percent,’ ” Barr said. “It was like 60.”

Still aspiring to be a champion, Barr said he needs three fights to get the rust off. He has others tentatively scheduled for Oct. 26 and Dec. 14 in Punta Gorda and may have another right at Charlotte Sports Park in November.

“There’s no comparison to how he looked (four, five years ago),” Canton said. “He’s never taken a beating and his weight is light. “He can be a champion again.”

Stanley, the great-great grandson of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, said, “If you think my great-great grandfather made history with his shootout at the OK Corral, wait untill you see my shootout in Punta Gorda with Freeman Barr.

Barr is ready. “I’ve prepared myself for anything he brings,” he said.

Fort Myers’ Jesus Lule fighting

Jesus Lule learned a valuable lesson in his first professional boxing match that he’ll take to his second: Don’t let judges decide your match.

Lule, an SJC fighter from Fort Myers, will be part of the six-card fight tonight at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. His foe will be Cuban Yuniel Ramos. Lule is nicknamed “Acha,” Spanish for hatchet or axe. In his first fight in Kissimmee, Lule lost on a split decision, even though trainer Steve Canton thought he won three of the four rounds.

When Canton interpreted what Lule said he learned in that bout, he said, “Bad judging. He wants the judges to be in his own hands.”

Lule weighed 185 pounds when he walked into Canton’s gym two years ago. He’ll fight tonight at 129.

“Through hard work, he lost that in eight or nine months,” Canton said. “He has one thing you can’t teach — desire.”

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