|The Legendary Eddie Futch - Boxing
By Ken Hissner (Feb 19, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
He was born in Hillsboro, MS, in 1911, but grew up in Detroit. When he passed away in 2001 he was survived by his wife, Eva, and four children.
When I went to write this tribute to a man I had the fortunate of meeting twice I remembered reading a book on Ali by Thomas Hauser. He gave others input instead of just his own. It was very refreshing. So let’s start off with a quote from him on Futch.
“I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Eddie Futch, Al Gavin or Jimmy Glenn.” Thomas Hauser
In 1932, Futch won the Detroit Athletic Assn. Lightweight championship and a year later the Detroit Golden Gloves. At the Brewster Recreation Center gym, Futch became friends with the local light heavyweight sensation named Joe Louis. The future all-time great often asked Futch to spar with him. He would say “if, I can hit you, I know I’m sharp.”
Eddie Futch, who knew Joe Louis and trained with him at Brewster’s gym, described Louis power, “Joe’s punches could paralyze you…anywhere he hit you, you’d feel it. Even if he didn’t hit you much, just blocking those shots was like being in an automobile accident.”
A heart murmur prevented Futch from turning pro, but he soon began training local amateurs and later pro fighters. Futch, like fellow Hall of Fame trainer, Ray Arcel, left the sport for more than a decade. But he returned in the 1950’s and guided Don Jordan to the welterweight championship in 1958.
Futch started as a 135-pound fighter in Detroit in 1932. He would spar with Joe Louis when Louis was still an amateur because the heavy weight liked to test himself against a speedy lightweight. He fought for four years before a heart defect forced him to retire.
“I respected Eddie in every way. Whatever Eddie said, I would try to do. Whatever he instructed you to do, you did. Once you had confidence in Eddie Futch, who I felt was one of the greatest trainers of all time, he lifted you from point zero to point ten in no time. I thought he was, as far as trainers go, the ultimate. Now, he was training me through the second fight with Ali. Then my corporation dismissed him and hired another guy by the name of Bill Slayton.” Ken Norton*
(* There was always a mixed opinion here. It seems Futch was let loose prior to his title shot at George Foreman After he was knocked out he tried to get Futch back but was turned down.)
The legendary Eddie Futch once observed, “Boxing is a science. You don’t just walk into a gym and start punching. Fighters are born with differences in physical ability, but you also see a big difference in their skills. That’s the trainers influence at work.”
On who was your greatest influence? “Eddie Futch and Alexis Arguello. I was Alexis’ sparring partner when I was 18 years old and he had a huge impact on my boxing career as did Eddie.” Freddie Roach
In the boxing community you’ve admired who the most? “Eddie Futch and Don Chargin.” Freddie Roach
“A trainer must understand conditioning and the art of boxing. But more important, he must know the strength and limitations, both mental and physical, of his fighter. No matter how much effort a fighter puts in there are some things he simply won’t be able to do. A good trainer won’t try to teach a fighter more than he can learn.”
Champions Eddie worked with varies Joe Frazier, Riddick Bowe, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick, Marvin Camel, Virgil Hill, Montell Griffin, Don Jordan, Bob Foster, Marlon Starling, Leroy Haley, Mike McCallum, Maurice Blocker, Hedgemon Lewis, Bruce Curry, Alexis Arguello, Wayne McCullough, Johnny Tapia bringing it to twenty. Some say twenty-two.
Futch once stood up during a meeting of boxing officials in California at the time, the mob controlled the fight game and told them he was refusing to take their orders. If they didn’t like it, they should stand up and face him right then and there. “I challenged them. I said any man who thinks they have a problem with me, let them stand up and face me.” He recalls. “I was never physically threatened, but they were trying to keep me from making a living. I would not take their orders. I knew these fellows and what they were about, and I knew I would beat them. I had been in the business long enough to judge people and what their capabilities were. They weren’t going to do anything to me that I didn’t want done.”
In Manila, when Frazier’s face was so swollen he no longer could see Muhammad Ali’s punishing right hand, Futch wouldn’t let him come out for the 15th round, even though he had a chance to win. “Frazier had a very lovely family“, Futch says. “They were very close. I thought to myself that I could not see letting this man possibly wind up as a vegetable or be injured fatally, not when he had so much to live for.”
When two of his fighters, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks, faced each other in a heavyweight-championship bout, he chose to bow out of the fight rather than side with one or the other, passing up a lucrative payday rather than betraying a loyalty. “I couldn’t see myself working with one and not the other,” he says.
On fighting Ali: “I set up a strategy to avoid Ali’ strengths as much as we possible could and to exploit his weaknesses as much as we could,” says Futch. “One of those weaknesses was that Ali could not throw the right-hand uppercut properly. He would stand straight up to throw it and not bend his knees or his body to throw it. So we had Joe bob and weave in a more exaggerated way, just a little lower than he normally did, and stay in close so Joe could work the body and watch for Ali’s right hand to drop to thro the uppercut. He told Joe, “the minute you see his right hand come down, you throw the left hook. You could catch him with the left hook.”
“It was criminal what they let Bowe go through in that fight.” Eddie said, sounding honestly frustrated at how the rematch was allowed to continue.
“If I had still been his trainer during that rematch, I would have stopped that fight. No fighter should endure that kind of punishment.” Adding, Riddick sounded like he has been in over 100 fights after being in there with Golota. The damage to Bowe was unnecessary.
Eddie spoke of his disdain of Rock Newman. As anyone who has ever dealt with Eddie knows, he had no problem speaking his mind. It seemed Newman was on his own ego trip taking Bowe to Africa as if it were the return of Ali.
One of Eddie’s last ring accomplishments was in assisting Montell Griffin in his win over Roy Jones, Jr. for the WBC light heavyweight title. “We had Roy so frustrated that he had to foul. We got inside Roy’s head.” (Futch laughs)
“Roy uses his loss in the Olympics as a crutch. My fighter Montell Griffin lost a controversial decision to Torsten May in the Barcelona Olympics. You don’t see him crying over it do you?” Eddie went on to say that Roy would never be a crowd pleaser. This should be noted that Eddie was not part of the Griffin/Jones rematch. If he was one would have to wonder if Jones would not have received his second career loss.
The occasion was a City Hall reception more than a decade ago for four heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes. But as soon as Ali arrived, he looked away from his three celebrated opponents and turned to an elderly man smiling below a gray mustache. “You always gave me trouble,” Ali whispered.
Ali was talking to Eddie Futch, the venerable boxing trainer who had sculpted the strategy of the first two boxers to defeat Ali (Frazier and Ken Norton).
The son of a sharecropper, he once sid: “Boxing enabled me to create a life for myself out of the ghetto. “It has been my passion for the last six decades to help other young men make something of them selves.”
“Talented, classy, and very warm human being” Angelo Dundee on Eddie Futch
“Marlon, I’ve taught you all you know, but I haven’t taught you all I know” Futch to Marlon Starling
If Futch decided he was not enjoying the company of his boxers, or they weren’t responding to his methods, he left them to their own devices.
He walked out on Berbick, Starling and McCallum, and each time the champions apologized and persuaded him to return.
He once recalled throwing a kid called Walker Smith out of his Detroit gym. The kid eventually knuckled down, learnt his trade and changed his name to Ray Robinson
Futch trained Montell Griffin when he defeated Roy Jones, Jr. The trainer then argued with Montell’s management and walked. Jones won the subsequent re-match in the first round.
“I keep getting interviewed, and I keep getting asked my opinions on fighters,” he said on his 90th birthday.
“I’d like to follow in Eddie Futch’s footsteps and become a trainer. I know I can be a great coach I learnt from the best.” Wayne McCullough.
“Boxing saved my life. Coming from Belfast I could have become caught up in the sectarian problems. Eddie Futch was such a great person that I watched how he treated people and I definitely became more respectful of other people because of him.” Wayne McCullough
Career boxer, road laborer; welder; sheet metal worker; postal worker.
Son of a sharecropper, and when he was 8 yrs old, the family moved to Detroit, MI.
At 17, married and working as a waiter in a local hotel he became interested in boxing and tried some sparring, and he joined the Detroit Athletic Association at the Brewster Community Center.
“The thing about Eddie, he was not a trainer, he was a teacher. He really got control over his fighter-s mind like no one I’ve ever seen. He had that personal one-on-one contact with fighters.”
Futch noted that Louis once knocked him through the two top ropes of the ring and out onto the floor.
“The thing about Eddie, he was not a trainer, he was a teacher. He really got control over his fighter’s mind like no one I’ve ever seen. He had that personal one-on-one contact with fighters.” Also, “he was a man of dignity. He always believed in respect, principles.” Manny Steward
I talked to former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion Virgil Hill at a boxing show in Dickson City, PA in September of 2007. He summed it up by saying “I was truly blessed at such a young age to be under the tutelage of Eddie Futch.”
I recently called his former welterweight sensation Hedgemon Lewis. He said “Eddie was like a grandfather to me.” Eddie came across that way with such wisdom.
“It was like we’d known each other forever.” Futch on first meeting with Joe Frazier, and his trainer Yank Durham.
“Joe Frazier was the easiest boxer to work with that I ever trained.” Eddie Futch
“Sit down, son. No one will ever forget what you did here today.” Futch on Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila.
Futch retired in January of 1998. At the time he was working with Montell Griffin. He got tired of his management and said “these days, with the proliferation of weight classes and titles and the emphasis on money, boxing is getting worse. Quality is disappearing from the sport.”
Futch died on Oct 10, 2001. His 90th birthday celebration had been scheduled for Sept 29th but was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks in the US on Sept 11. The service was conducted by Minister Richard Steele, who had been trained by Futch as a fighter and who had been a boxing referee. The eulogy was delivery by Motown records founder Berry Gordy, who had also been trained by Futch as an amateur boxer in Detroit, at age 15. Gordy said of Futch “mind of a warrior and the heart of a poet” and as a “gentle giant.” He called Futch “boxing’s statesman, strategist, philosopher and ambassador.”
Boxing historian David Martinez on Eddie’s widow, Eva Futch. In his 47 years he received many gifts but the one that sticks out the most was from Eva. She had looked a photo with Eddie and I and sent me the exact neck tie that Eddie wore in that photo. To say that I was surprised when I found the FED-EX package on my door step, is truly an understatement. I was touched, and as a boxing historian and collector, her gift was just priceless. She also sent me a photo of Eddie which she autographed, and a prayer card from Eddie’s funeral.
Well known boxing writer Rusty Rubin summed it up best about Eva. “She is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside” said Rubin. Seems she keeps busy missing him dearly. Rubin himself was very close to Futch.
My first meeting with Futch was at Frazier’s gym back in the late 70’s in North Philadelphia. He took the time to sit by the ring and discuss a young man’s interest in the fighters he had worked with. He was soft spoken. When he talked you listened knowing you were about to get an education.
My second encounter was in Easton at Larry Holmes office. They were preparing to fight Renaldo Snipes in Pittsburgh. I questioned Snipes had just won a controversial decision over South Africa’s Gerri Coetzee in New York. Then I suggested he should do what Ali did and fight the best. In referring to the South African Holmes said “Jesse would never approve of that.” I asked “Jesse who?” He replied, “Jesse Jackson.” I laughed and said “what does Jesse Jackson give a shit about you.” He got on the phone but Jackson was not in his office. Futch and I walked out together and I asked him “didn’t you have light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in a rematch with Pierre Fourie being the first “mixed match” (black vs white) in South Africa (1973)?” He informed me “the people were great there. They gave Foster $10,000 to model clothing before the fight.” Adding, “even the cab drivers were nice to us.” Something told me he would have to drag Holmes over there. Futch would return to South Africa years later with Riddick Bowe while Nelson Mandela was in power. When Newman and Bowe were greeted by Mandela the first thing out of the latter’s mouth was “where’s Eddie Futch?”
I can remember those two meeting I had with Futch like it was yesterday. He had a way of leaving all of us with something. Eddie Futch, the fighter, the trainer, the father, the husband, but above all, the man!
e-mail Ken at: email@example.com
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