On This Day: The Great Eddie Futch Passed Away – The Greatest Boxing Trainer?

Living well into old age, the sublime Eddie Futch left us on this day back in 2001, this at the age of 90. A master when it came to coming up with a cunning plan he would arm his fighter with, Futch was, more often than not, on the winning team. Certainly, without Futch guiding and advising them – teaching them – many a fighter would have had a far less enjoyable and celebrated ring career.

Let’s consider some of the fine fighters Futch at one point trained; making these fighters all the finer for it:

Alexis Arguello, Maurice Blocker, Bobby Chacon, Bob Foster, Montell Griffin, Larry Holmes, Virgil Hill, Marlon Starling, Freddie Roach, Alex Stewart, Johnny Tapia.

Indeed, for many people who know their stuff, Futch is THE greatest boxing trainer of them all. 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 to repeat – 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.

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 uncanny ability to come up with a master game-plan 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 the sheer pressure Joe was capable of applying in a fight, saw Frazier defeat 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.

Frazier of course 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.

In “Super-Fight II,” Futch was aghast 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 in this fight.

The “Thrilla” was just that, and it 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. Who knows what terrible things might have happened had round-15 been permitted to happen that day in 1975? Futch knew Ali better than anyone this side of Angelo Dundee, and he guided his second 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. Eddie was a great boxing trainer who really knew how to train a fighter to fight great. In his later years, Futch added plenty to the career of Riddick Bowe, this after having shown the foresight to believe in the man who turned out to be his last heavyweight champion.

Futch’s C.V reads like an encyclopedia. His boxing brain, if dissected, could fill a library full of bookshelves.