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Eddie Futch Tribute – Trainer Extaordinaire

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Eddie Futch Tribute

Eddie Futch Tribute – Any “best-of” list is, of course, subjective. Whenever someone offers his or her opinion on such, it almost always makes for lively and sometimes heated debate. Boxing is no different; if you make the case that Sugar Ray Robinson is the greatest fighter of all time, be prepared to argue the point with contrarians who are just as staunch in their belief that Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep or Harry Greb deserves to be celebrated as No. 1. More recent devotees to the sweet science will nominate Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the top spot and, if they don’t, Floyd himself will.

It’s no different when the topic shifts slightly to discussion of who should be recognized as the greatest trainer ever. The list of renowned chief seconds without question is impressively deep. Contenders for designation as best of the best include such legendary corner strategists as Ray Arcel, Emanuel Steward, Charlie Goldman, Whitey Bimstein, Gil Clancy, Jack Blackburn, Cus D’Amato, Nacho Beristain, Angelo Dundee and George Benton, just to name a few. All have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Non-Participant category.

As the winner of an unprecedented seven Trainer of the Year awards from the Boxing Writers Association of America, Freddie Roach certainly deserves to be considered for the mythical status as the GOAT among trainers. But if you ask Roach — who presently is in the Philippines preparing Manny Pacquiao for his Nov. 5 challenge of WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center — as to the identity of the true king of the hill among trainers, he said it’s an open-and-shut case. The late, great Eddie Futch, for whom the BWAA Award is now named, stands alone, according to Roach, and is likely to remain out front until the end of time.

“Eddie was a great trainer, a great teacher, but he was even better as a person,” Roach, himself an inductee into the IBHOF (2012), told me in a 2 a.m. telephone call (my time) from the Philippines. “When I went to work for him after I retired (as an active boxer), that was the best move I ever made in my life. I’m so happy I did.

“He really taught me the ins and outs of boxing. We cut no corners and worked our asses off the whole way. That’s why the fighters we had were great. He made sure their work habits were unbelievable. Here I am getting ready for another title fight with my best fighter, Manny Pacquiao, and he’s looking better than ever because I’m taking him back to my Eddie Futch days.”

Eddie Futch’s days were many, and almost uniformly glorious. He was 90 when he passed away on Oct. 10, 2001, having continued to train fighters until he was 86. Right to the end of his career and even his life, Mr. Futch never seemed to lose anything off his proverbial fastball; his memories of long-ago fights and fighters were richly detailed and he could call them up with WiFi speed. More than a few boxing writers, when asking about his remembrances about some of the fighters he instructed – a Who’s Who compilation that included, at one time or another, such notables as Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Alexis Arguello, Bob Foster, Riddick Bowe, Holman Williams, Virgil Hill, Mike McCallum, Marlon Starling and his very first champion, Don Jordan – were astounded that he could describe in detail not only particular rounds from decades earlier, but punch sequences during those rounds.

But near-total recall without perspective and foresight is essentially a squandered gift. Where “Mr. Eddie,” as he was reverentially known by his many admirers, excelled was his ability to put his breadth of knowledge into the sort of useful context that enabled his fighters to attain maximum efficiency on fight night.

“I think Eddie’s greatest asset was to build a game plan for a particular fight,” Roach said. “He was the absolute best at getting his guy ready to beat a certain opponent. Everyone remembers how he got Frazier, in what was his best performance, prepared to beat Muhammad Ali in their first fight. He did it with Norton, too. He did it with a lot of fighters.”

What is especially amazing is not only that Futch was such an exquisite strategist, but he could get his message across without ever seeming to raise his voice or to resort to the sort of expletives that are so common in a sport where expletives are as much a part of the terminology as nouns and verbs. Futch was unfailingly courteous and polite, but his genteel manner masked an inner strength his fighters quickly came to understand and respect. When he spoke, his quiet, measured comments were not so much a suggestion as a command, leaving little or no room for dissent. What else would you expect of someone who could quote verbatim from the works of his favorite 19th-century British poets, and whose bearing was as professorial as it was professional?

“Beautiful man, beautiful man,” Benton, who died on Sept. 19, 2011, said of Futch in Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers, authored by Ronald K. Fried in 1991. “We never had a disagreement about anything because I knew that he was knowledgable about what he was doing. And he knew that I was the type of guy who was knowledgable about what I was doing – but I was still learning all the time, getting that experience with him.

“I would way the biggest thing I picked up from him was psychology. Eddie is a real psychologist when it comes to human beings. He knows what to say to you and how precisely to say it to you. That’s why he gets along with guys. It’s easy to teach when you’re this way, because every human being is not the same. They don’t think the same.”

Futch’s understated way was never more evident than in Ali-Frazier I on March 8, 1971, perhaps the most-anticipated boxing match ever. With Madison Square Garden a madhouse of emotion, Mr. Eddie was the calm eye of the hurricane, telling Smokin’ Joe to fight with fury but under control, and not to stray from the tactically brilliant plan he had outlined beforehand.

It is, of course, true that not every pupil of an outstanding teacher is able to instruct in the same way and with the same results. When it came time for Joe Frazier to train fighters, including his son, heavyweight prospect Marvis Frazier, Smokin’ Joe taught them all to fight exactly as he had, bobbing and weaving constantly forward and firing left hooks, often to their detriment. Frazier was indisputably a greater fighter than Roach and Benton, but some of the lessons Futch tried to pass along to his proteges were grasped more readily by some than by others.

Noting that many trainers scream at their fighters in order to be heard as noise and tension levels in arenas rise, Roach said that Futch was the quintessential embodiment of “grace under pressure,” which is how the celebrated author Ernest Hemingway defined courage.

“Eddie was never loud in the corner because he didn’t need to be,” Roach said. “He understood that a lot of yelling only confuses fighters. What Eddie was able to do in that minute between rounds was so important. That’s when you have to tell your guy what he needs to do in the next round in order to help him win the fight. If you’re overly excited, the fighter gets overly excited and the game plan starts to fall apart. What happens then? You’re lost. Eddie taught me that the quiet way is the best way.”

Born in Hillsboro, Miss., on Aug. 9, 1911, Futch moved to Detroit with his family when he was five. Years later, at the Brewster Recreation Center in the early 1930s, he frequently sparred with Joe Louis, despite giving away 50-plus pounds, because Louis wanted someone smart and swift to help sharpen his reflexes. By all accounts, even the great “Brown Bomber” never was able to consistently catch up with the nimble and observant Futch, who was learning as much from those sessions as Louis was from him.

Futch, a lightweight, was 37-3 as an amateur and won the 1933 Detroit Golden Gloves championship, but a physical examination revealed that he had a heart murmur shortly before he was to turn pro in 1936. He thus was obliged to shift his attention from fighting to the training of fighters, but it was hardly an easy or a seamless transition. There were bills to pay, after all, and Futch made ends meet by holding a variety of jobs unrelated to his passion, boxing. At various times he worked as a hotel waiter, road laborer, welder and distribution clerk for the main branch of the Los Angeles Post Office. It was his speed and accuracy at sorting mail that mirrored his finest traits as a trainer.

In Dave Anderson’s 1991 book, In the Corner: Great Trainers Talk About Their Art, Futch described his proficiency thusly:

“I think Texas had 737 cities and towns then. Big cities like Dallas and Amarillo were the distribution points for all the little towns. But no matter how well you knew where the towns were you had to take a test every year. You had eight minutes to throw 100 cards in the right cubicle. You had to get 95 percent correct. I did it in three minutes and I always got 100 percent.”
But for all that he did well, and without a lot of chest-thumping, Futch was not without his disappointments. Sometimes his fighters didn’t listen as closely as they might have, and sometimes, if things didn’t work out as well as planned, they required a scapegoat. In boxing, the trainer is always the most convenient target for assigning blame. Frazier, Holmes and Arguello were just three of the fighters who at one time or another disappointed Futch by turning away from him, although in more instances than not they regretted any rifts that were caused and apologized to him.

Futch was enough of a realist to understand how the game is played, and he wasn’t the kind to let grudges fester. But forgiving and forgetting are not always one and the same, as he told Fried.
“I’m in (boxing), but I don’t like a lot of things in it,” he said. “I tolerate some things because that’s the way it is. Ingratitude is one of them. The ones I’ve done the most for have been the ones who have been the most ungrateful.”

Eddie Futch would be 106 now, had he lived long enough to hit triple digits. When he was still an active boxer Roach admits to occasionally disregarding his mentor’s sage dictums, acts of impetuosity which continue to nag at him. But Roach is enjoying his own second act, as the foremost preacher of the gospel according to Eddie, and he vows that some of the mistakes he made back in the day will not be repeated in the here and now.

“I’m so fond of my fighter here in the Philippines,” Roach said, referring to Pacquiao. “We’ve been together 15 years now, me and Manny. He’s lost a couple of times here and there. Maybe it was my fault, maybe it wasn’t. But he’s stuck with me for those 15 years. Most marriages don’t last that long these days.

“I’ve got a real loyal guy, and that’s how I was with Eddie. If I didn’t listen to him sometimes, I would end up losing the fight. But he always got me back on track. He’d take the time to explain to me what I did wrong and what I should have done instead. It made perfect sense to me then, and it makes perfect sense to me now.”

Pictured: Eddie Futch with ken Norton and Joe Frazier.

Eddie Futch Tribute / Check out more boxing news and videos at The Boxing Channel.

 

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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