Eddie Futch, boxing trainer: born Hillsboro, Mississippi 9 August 1911; three times married (three children, one son deceased); died Las Vegas 10 October 2001.
There is a tale Eddie Futch used to tell about sparring with Joe Louis when the future world heavyweight champion was still an up-and-comer working out at the Brewster Centre in Detroit:
Joe wouldn't intentionally hurt me [Futch was only a lightweight] but one time he hit me with a left hook that knocked me out of the ring. I went through the top two ropes.
Futch wanted to help in the development of his friend but taking blows from a much bigger man didn't make any sense. Self-preservation was uppermost in Futch's mind but in studying Louis's style he picked up things from which many fighters in the future would benefit. Futch noted that Louis never threw a long punch. Always short punches. Also, that Louis never let a punch go unless both of his feet were squarely on the canvas. "I stayed outside the arc of the short punches," he said,
When I moved to my left, Joe would turn to face me, then I'd move to my right and he'd turn back. For him to move, he [Louis] would have to pick up his feet. Now I had time but it had to split-second. I'd move left, then right. When he turned back, bing, I'd step inside, throw my punches and get out of there.
A sharp boxing mind was already at work but many years would pass before Futch achieved renown as a trainer and he was almost lost to sport. For four decades he needed other jobs to pay his bills. He worked as a hotel waiter, a road labourer, a welder, a sheet-metal worker in an aircraft plant, and a distribution clerk in the Los Angeles Post Office, where he had to know the locale of every city and town in Texas. "I think Texas had 737 cities and towns then," he once said:
Big cities like Dallas, Houston and Amarillo were the distribution points for all the little towns. No matter how well you knew where the towns were, you had to take a test every year. You had eight minutes to throw a hundred cards in the right cubicle. You had to get 95 per cent correct. I did it in three minutes and always got 100 per cent.
One of Detroit's most respected amateur coaches before he moved west, Futch became so disenchanted with the way boxing was being run in California that he turned away from the sport. "There were things going on that made me suspicious," he said:
Good fighters weren't getting the breaks they deserved and it got to the point where I didn't trust anybody. The prevailing values were not my values.
Time spent with Futch, usually with my friend Colin Hart of the Sun newspaper, was an education. One night in Las Vegas, he spoke of the hard times he endured as a black man trying to make a living as a trainer. He described long nights of driving when blacks were not permitted to purchase a cup of coffee in roadside restaurants; having to drop off his second wife – who was white – because petrol-station attendants would not sell to interracial couples.
When you consider the depth of Futch's knowledge and the clarity of his application it is astonishing to recall that he was approaching 60 before people began to speak of him in the same breath as such trainers as Ray Arcel, Charlie Goldman, George Gainford, Angelo Dundee, Freddie Brown and Cus D'Amato. "I guess I took a long time to get there," he said.
It wasn't until 1971 when Futch was persuaded by Yank Durham to work with Joe Frazier that he hit the limelight. By 1975, following Durham's death, Futch was in sole charge for the third contest between Frazier and Muhammad Ali in Manila, his decision to retire Frazier at the end of the 14th round entering the lore of boxing. "It was a terribly hard fight," he recalled,
Both men had given their all and at the end of the 12th I decided unless Joe got on top in the next I'd pull him out. I gave him another round after that because Ali looked spent but Joe took a beating. I kept thinking about Joe's kids, how much he loved them, how much they loved him. I didn't give Joe another chance; despite his protests I cut off the gloves.
For any sports writer who was more interested in the game than the gossip Futch was marvellous company. He once told of a tiff with the welterweight champion Marlon Starling. Unwilling to accept Futch's priceless advice, Starling picked up his bag and made for the gymnasium door. "Marlon," Futch said. "Marlon, a lot of good fighters listened." Starling went back to work. Starling was so much on top when defending the title against the British boxer Lloyd Honeyghan in Las Vegas that he began taking liberties. Before sending Starling out for the next round, Futch said, "Stop that nonsense otherwise I won't be here when you get back."
More than 20 world champions benefited from Futch's tuition. Apart from Frazier and Starling, he worked with Larry Holmes, Ken Norton, Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick, Bob Foster, Virgil Hill, Alexis Arguello, Mike McCallum, Don Jordan, Hedgemon Lewis and Riddick Bowe.
At around 75 years old, Futch almost lost his life in a car accident while driving late at night in Arizona. In hospital he met a young therapist, Eva and later married her. They were devoted to each other.