“NIGHTMARE IN COTTBUS” January 30, 1999

“NIGHTMARE IN COTTBUS” January 30,1999

       Freeman “The Natural” Barr trained hard for his WBO world middleweight title fight in Cottbus, Germany, on January 30, 1999. This was the culmination of five and one half years of preparation, sacrifice, and nineteen professional fights, eighteen of which he won. He had held four minor titles and fought eight scheduled twelve round fights. Though not connected to a major promoter he had worked his way up to being the third rated fighter in the WBO. Now he would fight for the vacant middleweight championship of the world. He was considered the favorite to win by the boxing “experts.” The Germans had other ideas.

They made it very uncomfortable for us over there. They refused to put calls through to our rooms. Our daughter called two or three times each day but the desk clerk would just hang up on her. Other people would call, but also be hung up on. We had people following us wherever we went…shopping, eating, gym workouts, etc. The Bahama media covering the fight was not accommodated very well, and were also made to feel very uncomfortable. After the bout we were not allowed to call out, as “no outside lines are available,” even though the U.S. media was waiting for our account of the fight.

During the rules meeting, when we were supposed to select our gloves, we were told that since they were new and still in their sealed plastic bags, we shouldn’t bother trying them on or selecting from them–“just grab two pairs, they’re all the same.” When we did open the bags we found them to be 8 oz. Instead of the required 10 oz. for middleweights. They didn’t even have 10 oz. gloves with them and had to get them from Hamburg.

On fight night, we smelled liniment in the Germans’ dressing room and made a complaint to the WBO supervisor, Rudy Paz. He checked and also smelled the liniment too, but “couldn’t really tell where it was coming from.” We had no one to watch the wrapping of the hands or the gloves being put on. When we inquired we were told we could watch Schenk being wrapped in “about twenty minutes.” After that time frame he was already wrapped, very loosely, and with tape illegally on the knuckles. Rudy Paz made them rewrap, and they wrapped in the same loose way, except moving the tape back the required distance from the knuckles. Nobody watched the gloves being put on.

Contrary to the AP wire report (written by German writer Fabian Weber), Freeman Barr was winning the fight. Schenk’s eye was bloodied in the first round, the hard body attack was taking its toll and Schenk was tired. Freeman was unmarked, not tired, and not even in his rhythm yet. Even though two judges had Schenk winning two of the first three rounds, the other judge had a shut out for Freeman, the German media all had a shut out for Freeman, and we all had a shut out for Freeman. A tape, if one can be obtained, will clearly show the real story. By the way, one of the judges also happens to be the German Boxing Commissioner.

Toward the end of the fourth round, a glancing left hand by Schenk, suddenly rendered Freeman Barr totally blind in both eyes. He kneeled down in our own corner (again contrary to the AP wire account that said it was in a neutral corner), claiming it was a head butt and saying he couldn’t see. He said it was a head butt because he knew a punch doesn’t feel that way, “like his eye exploded.” Amazingly, there were no bruises over or under his eye. Immediately after the conclusion of the bout someone ran into the ring and cut Bert Schenk’s gloves off and disappeared with them.

After watching the replay, we saw that it was not a head butt, but a glancing blow to the eye. How could a glancing punch to one eye do so much damage, rendering him blind in both eyes? Interestingly, Elisha Obed, the only other Bahamian world champion, lost his title to a German named Eckhard Dagge, on June 18, 1976, by a “poke in the eye,” in round ten, which suddenly rendered Obed blind. He too said it felt like his eye suddenly “exploded.”

We were surprised at how nonchalant the German doctors were. We thought something was seriously wrong when Freeman was unable to open his eye and when we pried it open his pupil was moving erratically and uncontrollably. He stayed blind in that eye for about two hours and the other eye for about eight to ten minutes. The doctors said that he would be fine. Did they know something that we didn’t? About an hour after the fight, a thick, clear liquid (almost like syrup) came out of Freeman’s eye.

Although we had questions, the WBO supervisor was not to be found at the post fight party. We hope that when we do receive a tape of the fight (if we do), that we can find some answers. Maybe these answers can prevent someone else from suddenly going blind after a “poke” in the eye. Maybe someone else will have a “fighting and fair” chance to cash in on their one and only world title opportunity. An opportunity which took several years of sacrifice, hard work, and money invested, to obtain. Freeman Barr proved his superiority in the ring over Bert Schenk, but somehow came up short. Will he ever get another chance? Only time will tell.


1.  German Commissioner was also a fight judge, ringside physician, and the Promoter’s brother-in law.

2.  Brought 8 oz gloves for the fight and was told “just pick two, they’re brand new, all the same, you don’t need to try them on.”

3.  Had to get the 10 oz gloves the next day from Hamburg, did not have any in Cottbus.

4.  Strong liniment smell at arena prior to show. Told WBO supervisor, Rudy Paz, he also said he smelled liniment but couldn’t find source of it or “where it was coming from.”

5.  Freeman caught by glancing punch and was immediately blinded in both eyes. He took a knee trying to get his vision back. Said it felt like maybe a headbutt, not a punch…said his eye seemed to “explode,” yet there were no bruises either on top or below eye.

6.  The eye that was hit had no muscle control and was blinded for two hours, the other eye for 8-10 minuets. One eye was hit by glancing blow, yet both eyes were immediately blinded.

7.  The doctors were not al all concerned with the eye, said he’ll be all right, even though they barely looked at him. Did they know something we didn’t?

8.  Two big clear, thick globs of liquid and two smaller globs came from his eye about an hour after it was hit.

9.  Schenk’s gloves were removed and disappeared very quickly from the ring (immediately).

10.  Schenk appeared glum and very quiet after the fight, not happy after winning a world title.

11.  Sealed wax paper cartons of “regular water” was in dressing room for us, not the usual carbonated plastic bottle that we never use. We were suspicious and did not use them.

12.  Hedi came to our corner yelling and waving his arms crazily right after the fight, saying “we got you.”

13.  They put no phone calls through to us, after the first day, all week. Just hung up on whoever called.

14.  They wouldn’t allow us to call out (to the States) after the fight. We were supposed to call the media with the results. They wrote a fabricated account of the fight (Fabian Weber) and sent it to the AP press and everywhere else (including internet).

15.  They were not very accommodating to the Bahama media who was covering the fight.

16.  Wrapping of hands and gloves being put on were not inspected. We were supposed to watch each other. When we asked we were told “twenty minutes.” However, when we were called, Schenk was already wrapped (very loosely). He had tape illegally on the knuckles, Rudy Paz made them rewrap and they did so, in the same loose manner. We did not see the gloves being put on.

17.  We were constantly “followed” by “spies” everywhere we went and whenever we ate.

18.  We were not given a VHS tape of the fight even though we had talked about it in advance.

19.  We were not allowed to take pictures during the fight.

20.  Universum refused to grant the right to broadcast fight in U.S. and Caribbean over USSB and ZNS, even though a guarantee was offered. Strange that they didn’t want “something” for “nothing,” publicity for their show and money paid to them, without having to do anything.


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