After a short but spectacular amateur boxing career as a two-time national amateur champion in his native Bahamas, Freeman “The Natural” Barr, who now can compete as either a super middleweight or light heavyweight, moved to Naples, Florida, in 1994. His goal then was to become middleweight champion of the world, and such esteemed boxing luminaries as trainer Emanuel Steward and historian Hank Kaplan believed he was very capable of doing just that.
Now, more than 10 years since he’s left his family, which included 13 siblings, behind, Barr is still on the outside looking in at the title picture. He’s had an abundance of bad breaks in compiling a record of 26-4 (13 KOs), but still believes he is within punching distance of a world championship. One of his great sources of inspiration is Glen Johnson, a fellow Floridian who was written off more times than he can remember, only to rebound in the past year with sterling victories over Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver.
Although Johnson currently holds no alphabet titles, he is universally regarded as the best light heavyweight in the world.
“I have known Glen a long time, and we have trained together for many years,” said the immensely likeable and low-key 31-year-old Barr, who is the married father of two sons, Evander Anthony, who is four months old, and Evander Freeman, who is seven. Incidentally, Barr’s given first and middle name is Evander Freeman. “(Holyfield) never gave up, even when so many other people gave up on him. I know I have the talent and the skills to be a world champion. As much as I like and respect Glen, I believe that I have the ability and the desire to beat him. All I want is a chance.”
Over the years, Barr, who is as quintessential a journeyman as Johnson was, has had several chances at the brass ring, but always came up short. He and his manager, Steve Canton of SJC Boxing in Fort Myers, Florida, insist that his four losses are in no way indicative of his talent, and that he just needs another chance to prove his detractors wrong.
Prior to his first loss, by eighth round TKO to Rito Ruvalcaba in November 1996, Canton said that Barr disappeared about a week before the fight. “It was very unlike him, so I was really worried,” he explained. “It turned out he had a 103 fever, and his mother-in- law had been icing him down for days. He still won five of the seven full rounds, but ran out of gas in the eighth. He had been afraid to tell me about his illness, because he knew I’d cancel the fight.”
Canton blames Barr’s January 1999 fourth round TKO loss to Bert Schenk for the vacant WBO middleweight title in Germany on shenanigans by Schenk’s corner. For litigious reasons they cannot be described here, but Canton says that Barr was giving Schenk fits when the bottom fell out.
A third round TKO loss to Mger Mkrtchian and a fifth round defeat at the hands of former champion Charles Brewer, both of which occurred in 2003, had more to do with the politics of the sanctioning bodies and the death of one of Barr’s sisters and his mother during that time period.
“This kid has been to hell and back,” said Canton. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a break. In no way do those losses accurately reflect how talented Freeman is. One time I took him to spar with Roy Jones, and Roy watched him warm up and said he didn’t want to spar because he might be fighting him someday. I have no doubt that there was much more to it than that.”
While it is easy to dismiss Canton’s explanations as standard managerial excuses, which are nothing new in boxing, it is not easy to ignore the lengths that he will go through to secure meaningful bouts for his fighters. Several years ago Canton was incensed when WBO super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe passed over Barr in what he says should have been a mandatory title fight.
At a Hall of Fame induction weekend Canton approached every boxing luminary he could find and asked if they had ever seen Barr fight. If so, he asked them to sign a petition stating that Barr was a worthy and deserving challenger for Calzaghe’s crown.
Among those signing the petition were such champions as Aaron Pryor, Kid Gavilan, Jose Torres, Alexis Arguello, Paulie Ayala, Emile Griffith, Juan LaPorte, Carlos Ortiz, Carmen Basilio, Jose Napoles, Terry Norris, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Simon Brown and Vito Antuofermo.
Others included former heavyweight contender Ron Lyle, the onetime top-rated welterweight Gaspar Ortega, Hank Kaplan, Gil Clancy, Lou Duva, Don Chargin and Tony Paige, the former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, who is currently a radio host on WFAN in New York.
While the petition was far from official, and did not achieve its intended goal, Canton should be lauded for his ingenuity and persistence. Moreover, although Barr’s four losses are prominently displayed on his record, Canton cites a series of minor achievements by Barr that he is sure will lead to a major achievement when all is said and done.
According to Canton, Barr has already set several records with varying degrees of importance. His March 1996 victory over Seth Betheridge was the first main event to occur at a Florida casino (ironically, Glen Johnson appeared on the undercard); his May 1997 victory over Roosevelt Booth in Punta Gorda, Florida, was the first main event ever televised on an Internet website; and he headlined the first pay-per-view fight ever held in the Bahamas, a seventh round TKO victory over Tommy Smalls in January 1998.
However, as far as Canton is concerned, Barr showed he was a championship caliber fighter when he overcame great adversity to beat Anthony Brooks for the Florida state title in September 1996. Having never gone past six rounds prior to that bout, Barr overcame exhaustion, a battered thumb that swelled to twice its size, and a 14-stitch gash to his eyelid to win 11 of 12 rounds against the cagey veteran.
“That was Freeman at his best, and he still has the potential to do that again,” said Canton. “This guy never gives up on himself, and Glen Johnson’s recent success really has motivated him to the point of no return.”
Canton has a viable plan to extricate Barr from the scrapheap of anonymity, and is working tirelessly to make that happen. There is talk that a second Tarver-Johnson is in the works, and that it will quite possibly take place in Florida. Rumor also has it that Roy Jones will appear in the semi-main event. If Canton could sneak Barr is as Jones’ opponent, all four fighters would hail from the Sunshine State, making the all-Florida showdown more meaningful to all parties concerned. Should Barr beat Jones, which at this point Canton thinks is very possible, he would fight, and in Canton’s opinion beat, the winner of Johnson and Tarver.
“Imagine that!” proclaimed Canton. “Just like Glen Johnson came out of nowhere, Freeman would go from being a relatively unknown entity to the most highly regarded light heavyweight in the world, regardless of whether or not he had a title. And Jones, who just a short time ago was considered the best pound for pound fighter in the world, would now be just the fourth best light heavyweight in Florida.”