Eddie Futch fought the good fight – legendary boxing trainer Eddie Futch retires – Brief Article – Interview
One of the great boxing coaches has stepped down from the ring after more than six decades training champions. And he did it his way — the right way.
After 66 years in the business of boxing — during which he trained 21 world champions, including heavyweights Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe — Eddie Futch has announced his retirement. At 86, he remains one of the most decent men ever to teach a man to use his fists.
“Physically I’m fine, but I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. That is, he couldn’t do it the way he would want, and Futch has always done things his way.
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. TRey weren’t going to do anything to me that I didn’t want done.”
Several years later, this same organization, free of mob rule, honored Futch for being the first trainer to develop a California-born champion, welter weight titleholder Don Jordan. “That was the way it had to turn out,” he says, “because I was on the side of right.”
In boxing, being on the side of right is like being a monk at Mardi Gras. But for Futch, mere has never been any other way.
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.
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 heavyweight liked to test himself against a speedy lightweight. He fought for four years before a heart defect forced him to retire.
He began working with kids as an amateur-boxing coach and later moved to training professionals. Eventually he became a trainer of champions, working with some of the greatest fighters of all time. He also worked some of the greatest fights ever, such as the so-called “Fight of the Century,” the first Ali-Frazier bout at Madison Square Garden.
“I set up a strategy to avoid Ali’s strengths as much as we possibly 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 throw the uppercut.
“I told Joe, `The minute you see his right hand come down, you throw the left hook. You could catch him with the left hook.’ That’s the punch mat hurt Ali so badly in the 11th round, and that’s the punch that knocked him down in the 15th. Ali was throwing the uppercut, and Joe threw the hook.”
Fans who have the chance to watch a replay of “Ali-Frazier I” should keep these words in mind. Watch Frazier, and you will see Futch’s brilliance. Watch Frazier try to come out for the 15th round in “Ali-Frazier III,” and you will see Futch’s compassion. You will see Futch’s sense of honor. You will see the side of right.
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