For many, he is THE greatest boxing trainer of them all: Eddie Futch, trainer of champions, who passed away at the age of 90 years old on this day back in 2001. Futch, who was forced to give up on a promising boxing career of his own due to a heart murmur that was detected in the 1930s, switched his brilliant boxing brain to the training side of things.
And what a good thing, what a great thing, this really did turn out to be for the fighters Futch went on to train. Futch’s first world champion came in 1958 when his fighter Don Jordan won the world welterweight championship.
Futch went on to train excellent fighters – fighters who excelled in large part down to his guidance and wisdom – such as Alexis Arguello, Montell Griffin, Marlon Starling, and Wayne McCullough. Yet it is as a trainer of world heavyweight champions that Futch is perhaps best celebrated.
And Futch’s brilliance seriously affected the career of one great, great heavyweight he never trained: Muhammad Ali. No less than four fighters Futch trained managed to defeat Ali – these men being Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick. Futch’s master game-plans really came into effect in the fights Frazier and Norton had with Ali.
Futch began training Frazier in the late 1960s, and it was he who instructed the “small” Frazier to adopt his famed bob and weave, get down low approach. This constant state of movement, and with it sheer pressure, saw Frazier beat and beat up bigger men.
Of course, Joe’s mean left hook also had a whole lot to do with his success. Futch trained Joe for all three epic fights with Ali, and “Smokin’ Joe” gave Ali sheer hell each and every time.
Of course, Frazier beat Ali in “The Fight of The Century,” and plenty of the credit for the win went to Futch. Futch instructed Joe to target Ali’s body to forget about his head. Futch knew how blindingly fast Ali was, how his uncommon speed allowed him to pull his head back from a shot and make it miss. Frazier attacked Ali’s body like nothing you’ve ever seen, and when Ali’s hands inevitably dropped, when fatigue set in, in came the shots upstairs.
Futch was aghast in the rematch at the way the referee Tony Perez allowed Ali to hold Joe behind the neck again and again (Futch even counted the number of times Ali was allowed to get away with the foul when watching the fight on tape). For fight-three – the never to be surpassed “Thrilla in Manila” – Futch was determined to avoid a repeat.
In Manila, Futch saw to it that an unknown referee, Carlos Padilla, worked the fight. Padilla was known for breaking fighters, not allowing them to hold. Ali’s tactic of grasping his rival’s neck and getting a chance to rest was gone.
The fight was brutal; the pace was almost too much. Only Ali’s immense willpower saw him to victory; that and Futch’s brave decision to pull his almost blinded warrior out at the end of that 14th round – this perhaps Futch’s finest hour. Who knows what terrible things might have happened had round-15 been permitted to happen.
Futch knew Ali better than anyone this side of Angelo Dundee, and he guided his second (or third, or fourth) most famous heavyweight to victory over Ali in 1973. Some say Ken Norton actually beat Ali three out of three, but that’s another story.
Futch had Norton battle Ali’s superb left jab with his own fine and underrated jab. Futch told Norton to watch for Ali pectoral muscles to twitch, having informed him that when this happened, an Ali jab would be unleashed a split second later.
Norton was able to out-jab “The Greatest” as a result of Futch’s observations. Ali never had anything but a tough, hard, and frustrating time of things when he faced Norton.
Futch really was Ali’s kryptonite. He studied Ali; he picked up on things that nobody else saw. Futch knew Ali inside and out. Which really does make a fight fan wonder: what would have happened if heavyweight history had been different if Futch had trained Ali! There seems to be little doubt that if Frazier and Norton were trained by someone other than Futch, their fights with Ali would have been vastly different, with different outcomes.
Eddie Futch was a great boxing trainer who really knew how to train a fighter to fight great.