By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Freddie Collins never wanted to box, it was just the only sport that would take him. At 75 pounds, the 13-year-old Collins was too small to play his preferred sport of football, and at no bigger than 5-foot-4, he was far too short to play basketball.
Life in Meridian during the mid-70s didn’t offer much to a boy deemed too small for sports. In fact, all Collins really remembers before his boxing days was going to school and coming back home. That was until his brother Eddie took him to the Meridian Boxing Club to meet trainer Hubert Rivers — there Freddie found a home and a mentor.
“Really, I wasn’t trying to box, I just wanted to get out of the house,” Collins said. “I went down there and watched everyone work out. Before I knew it, I was boxing.”
The early days
In tears, Collins pleaded with his mother to allow him to join his brother Eddie at the gym. At first she replied no, fearing the slight young boy could get hurt. However, seeing her son upset and once again told he was too small to participate, Thelma Grace Collins allowed her son to join his bother — but only to watch.
Collins tagged along, but it wasn't long until the eager youngster started receiving looks himself. While he didn't have the size of some of the other athletes in the gym, Collins' talent was easy to spot. Hungry to compete, he trained tirelessly in the gym, working from 5 p.m. after school until he went home to eat supper and go to bed.
“The best I can remember, he only weighed about 75 pounds,” Rivers said. “He was a little energetic kid, real polite, nice and eager to learn. We took kids of all sizes, and he just worked really hard. He just started to progress along into boxing, moving from his age group into the senior tournaments and on from there.”
Rivers, or Sarge as the members of the gym called him, took the young brothers under his wings, teaching them not only to be better boxers, but better men as well. The sergeant at the Meridian Police Department had one rule — if you couldn't keep your grades up in school, you couldn't box.
The trainer motivated Collins to work even harder, as the young boxer continued to improve in the ring and remain trouble-free outside of it. After all, Collins had very little time to get into any mishaps. Spending his whole afternoon at the gym, he was far too tired to do anything other than box, nor did he really want to.
Collins finally got his first opportunity to box in 1975 when he traveled to Gulfport with Rivers and the team. The fight came as a surprise to the young boxer, who originally thought he was attending the tournament as a spectator.
“Rivers walked up to me and said try it,” Collins said. “They just kind of threw me in there, and after that I thought it was alright.”
While Collins lost the fight, his potential was still bright. It wouldn't be long until the young fighter continued to grow and work his way up the amateur ranks.
Freddie No Fear
Collins traveled with the Meridian Boxing Club almost every weekend, driving all across the state to take on as many fights as possible.
Quickly following the loss at Gulfport, Collins strung together several wins in a row, propelling him to fight in the South Mississippi Golden Glove Championship.
Although he was eliminated early in the tournament, the loss put a spark into Collins, propelling him to work even harder.
“He understood about winning and losing,” Eddie Collins said. “That's what made him such a mature boxer. He knew the difference about winning and losing.
“Winning had an influence on him, it just made him train harder. He was always wanting to get better, he wanted to win state and keep winning.”
Collins continued to take on anyone willing to fight, racking up wins including eight straight Mississippi State Golden Gloves from 1976-84.
It didn't matter the size of his competitor, Collins always fought. It wasn't odd to see the 119-pound Collins fighting boxers two or three weight classes above him. His courageous display in the ring earned him the nickname Freddie 'No Fear' Collins.
“A lot of the guys Freddie fought were bigger than him,” Eddie Collins said. “They were 5-10, 5-11, but Freddie was mean. He was tougher than most kids. Every now and then he'd get a bloody nose or a busted lip, and that just made him even tougher.
“We'd ask him, 'Freddie you want to quit?' And, he would just reply with a 'shucks no, I'm not quitting.'”
Collins' biggest moment came in 1984 when he made a run at the National Golden Gloves Championship in St. Louis.
After downing Jimmy Stokes in the Mid-South Regional Championship, Collins advanced to Nationals, becoming the first Mississippi-born boxer to accomplish the feat.
Collins made it all the way to the semifinal round of the tournament before losing. The run propelled Collins to No.6 in the amateur ranks.
“My favorite memory with Freddie was when he fought in the National Tournament,” Rivers said. “He went up against a kid from Michigan in the quarter-finals. To be frank, the kid was just boxing Freddie's eyes out. About the end of the second round, Fred caught him with a body-shot, and I heard him grunt.
“When Fred came back to the corner, I asked him if he heard the guy, and he said yeah. I told Fred to watch, when he gets ready to throw his left hand, he'll raise his right arm up. When he does that, I told him to bury him. Freddie did, and the boy went down.”
Collins went on to fight for Team USA on its regional team in the South and would continue to fight until 1999 when he retired.
The man boxing built
Now, 50 years old and a correctional officer at East Mississippi Correctional Facility, Collins’ boxing recollections are nothing more than fond memories of the past. In fact, the former boxing great hadn't given much thought to boxing until returning home from work to find his wife standing in tears with an invitation to the Southern Association Boxing Hall of Fame in Gulfport in her hand.
“When I got home from work, my wife was crying and my kids were crying,” Collins said. “First thing I thought, was something was wrong. It took me a couple seconds before I realized what I was holding.”
During his induction on Saturday, Collins became the first boxer from Meridian to be named to the Hall of Fame. The trip was a meaningful one for Collins, who made sure to bring his former coach along.
“They didn't send Sarge an invitation,” Collins said. “He's been my boxing coach all these years. So when I got it, I went and showed it to him.
“When I showed it to him, he was tickled to death. I said guess what, you're going with me. You are my right-hand man and you are going with me.”
Collins said he hopes to be an influence for young athletes from Meridian and across the state of Mississippi. Once doubted by many, Collins' message to the youth is clear.
“You have to be what you are, no more, no less,” Collins said. “You have to be what you are in life and choose what you want to do.”