- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

In the world of professional boxing, most people move around by slithering on their stomachs. Eddie Futch walked tall.
Futch, the master of boxing cornermen, took the best of the sweet science with him when he died at 90 last week. He grew up on the streets of Detroit and was drawn to boxing as a youth. Early in his career, though, a doctor discovered he had a heart ailment and Futch was forced to stop fighting.
As it turns out, the only thing different about Eddie Futch's heart was that he had a big one in a heartless business.
He turned to the corner and became a trainer of champions, working the corner of 21 world title holders always on his own terms. He fought the criminal element in California that controlled boxing in the 1950s and helped break it. He refused to align himself with any of the promoters today who suck the life from fighters more than any left hook or right cross. He would teach his boxers how to take apart an opponent with his fists, yet he never lost his sense of compassion.
That compassion was never more evident than when Futch worked the corner of Joe Frazier in his third fight against Muhammad Ali in Manila, the most brutal of the battles between the great heavyweights. Both men fought relentlessly for 14 rounds. At the end of the 14th, the swelling above Frazier's eyes was so bad that it was blocking his vision, making him a defenseless target for Ali's punches.
At this point, Ali, it turns out, was on the verge of collapse from exhaustion, and conceivably Frazier could have won the fight in the 15th and final round. But Futch looked at Frazier and did not think about what he could do to get his fighter through the last round. This is what ran through Futch's mind: "Joe Frazier is a good father and has a very lovely family. I saw how much of himself he put into his family. I just couldn't see myself letting this man possibly wind up a vegetable or be injured fatally, not when he had so much to live for."
Instead of pushing his fighter back out, Futch held him back and threw in the towel.
State boxing commissions should make cornermen read Futch's quote out loud in the dressing room before they lead their fighters into the ring.
Futch was a walking history of the 20th century of boxing. He had known Joe Louis in Detroit and sparred with the future heavyweight champion early in his career. After he stopped fighting, Futch developed a boxing and recreation program for the city of Detroit and began working with some of the kids who turned pro. But he grew disgusted after a fighter he led to a top middleweight ranking began listening to his wife more than Futch on matters of boxing. He sold his contract and left the city in 1951, moving to California to work in the aviation industry.
He intended to retire from boxing, but word spread that Futch was in California and fighters from Detroit moved to the West Coast and sought him out. He returned to the ring, but this time the interference he encountered was more nefarious: a crime syndicate that controlled boxing in the state. The syndicate pressured trainers and managers to join their guild or be forced out of the business. Futch joined the guild but refused to go along with the syndicate's edicts. They began spreading false accusations about Futch and putting pressure on those doing business with him.
Futch confronted them in a guild meeting. "I challenged them," he said. "I said any man who thinks they have a grievance against me, let them stand up and face me on the floor. The president of the guild, who was a member of the syndicate, was angry because nobody stood up to back the charges that were being floated around about me." Six years later, that same guild held a special meeting to honor Futch for developing the first California-born world champion middleweight Don Jordan.
"I wasn't going to let anybody tell me how to manage my fighters, and that was their problem because I wouldn't subscribe to their big boss's edicts," Futch said. "I was never physically threatened, but they were trying to keep me from making money. But that first championship was my springboard."
From there, he went on to train 21 world champions. He trained Ken Norton, which means that Futch trained two different fighters to beat Ali. He trained heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks. When it came time for Spinks to move up to fight Holmes for the heavyweight title, Futch had a choice to make. The choice he made was to be in neither one's corner. "I was too emotionally involved with both of them," he told a reporter at the time.
That decision cost Futch a lucrative payday his trainer's cut of the purse but that was the way Futch led his life. He was one of those rare individuals who was so good at what he did he didn't have to live his life on anyone else's terms.
How good was Futch? Listen to this description of his preparation for Frazier's first fight with Ali, the only one Frazier won:
"I charted Ali's strengths, the things he was a master at, and I also charted the things he couldn't do," Futch said. "So I set up our strategy to avoid his strengths as much as we possibly could and to exploit his weaknesses as much as we possibly could. One of them was that he could not throw the right hand uppercut properly. 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 he could work the body and to watch Ali's right hand drop to throw the uppercut. He's going to have to dig him out of that low stance with punches coming up, and he would have to do it with the uppercut, and he would stand up straight.
"Ali didn't bend his knee. So I told Joe, 'The minute you see the right hand come down, you throw the left hook. The only time you hit Ali is when he's punching. When he throws the uppercut, you throw the hook.' And that's the punch that hurt [Ali] so badly in the 11th round, and that's the punch that knocked him down in the 15th round. Ali was throwing the uppercut, and Joe threw the hook."
If you have ever seen Ali-Frazier and have another chance to see it, you will never look at it the same way again.
He was in Montell Griffin's corner when light heavyweight champion Roy Jones suffered his only professional loss. Granted, the loss came as a result of a disqualification when Jones hit Griffin while he was down on one knee. But that punch was the result of frustration more than anything else; up to that point it was an even fight and the toughest one of Jones' career. Griffin got into a beef with Futch after that, and Futch left. The next time Griffin and Jones' fought, Griffin was knocked out in the first round.
If you need one more example of how good Eddie Futch was, he trained Riddick Bowe to become a world champion. Considering that we have now seen what a head case Bowe was, that was a remarkable accomplishment.
He did all of this on his terms the same terms that he laid down when he stood up to the corruption of boxing and won. "That was the way it had to turn out, because I was on the side of right," he said. "I was going to do the right thing."
Eddie Futch was more than just a boxing trainer. If there was an office of national wise man, he would have been the natural choice.
The world can't afford to lose people who lived their lives by doing the right thing. It's a dwindling commodity, and we lost a precious one last week.

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