Futch, Eddie 1911–2001
Eddie Futch 1911–2001
Eddie Futch spent 66 years in boxing, and during that time, he earned the respect and trust of most people in the sport because of his integrity. He received several awards from the Boxing Writers Association of America over the years, and before his death was to be honored at his 90th birthday with a star–studded gala event at Caesar’s Palace. He trained thousands of amateurs and 21 champions; six of those champions were heavyweights: Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Trevor Berbick, Riddick Bowe, Larry Holmes, and Michael Spinks. It was his desire to help others through boxing. Two of his fighters, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, were the only ones to defeat Muhammad Ali during his prime years. He was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated, “Boxing enabled me to create a life for myself out of the ghetto. It has been my passion for the last six decades to help other young men make something of themselves.”
Eddie Futch was born in Hillsboro, Mississippi on August 9, 1911. He was the son of a sharecropper, and when he was eight years old, the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he grew up in the Black Bottom section of the city. The young Futch played basketball and, according to heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in his autobiography, Smokin’ Joe, became a star who was good enough to play against semi–pro teams. But at seventeen, Futch was married and in need of a job. He worked as a waiter at a local hotel. Later he became interested in boxing but had no interest in it as a career; he simply wanted to hit the speed bag and skip rope. But soon Futch tried some sparring, and he joined the Detroit Athletic Association at the Brewster Community Center.
Futch had gotten a late start in the sport compared to most fighters, but he had several of the center’s boxers teaching him. He began competing as an amateur and in 1932 won the Detroit Athletic Association Lightweight championship. A year later he won the Detroit Golden Gloves lightweight title.
One of the boxers he sparred with was Joe Louis, who was still an amateur but fast becoming known in boxing circles. Louis would go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world in 1937, holding the title until 1948. He was considered by many boxing insiders and
At a Glance …
Born August 9, 1911, in Hillsboro, MS; died October 10, 2001 in Las Vegas, NV; wife’s name Eva; children; four. Education: Attended high school.
Career: Boxer; road laborer; welder; sheetmetal worker; postal worker, Detroit Athletic Association Lightweight championship, 1932; Detroit Golden Gloves, 1933. Boxing trainer and manager until death in 2001.
Awards: Boxing Writers Association of America, Manager of the Year, 1975, Long and Meritorious Service, 1982, Trainer of the Year, 1991, 1992, James A. Farley Award for honesty and integrity in boxing, 1996. International Boxing Hall of Fame, Canastota, NY, 1994; World Boxing Hall of Fame, Los Angeles.
fans to be the finest heavyweight champion of all time. Louis broke barriers and became admired around the world.
When Futch met Louis at the Brewster Community Center, he was “… not too impressed. I expected something more flashy. I didn’t know enough to realize he was a real gem,” Futch said in Smokin’ Joe. Louis asked Futch to spar, but Futch told him to go after the middleweights, that they were fast enough for him. Louis insisted on sparring with Futch because he was so fast. Futch decided that he would study the technique of the larger fighter so that he would not get hurt in sparring with him. It was then that he laid the groundwork for his years as a successful trainer. “By studying Joe, that’s when I first found that if you look, you can see things. Studying him, I picked up some things that maybe nobody else ever thought about. Things I’ve used working with fighters ever since,” he told author Dave Anderson for In The Corner. Futch and Louis became friends. But during sparring sessions it was all business, and Futch noted that Louis once knocked him through the two top ropes of the ring and out onto the floor. Futch was stopped from turning pro when a physical discovered a heart murmur.
During his post–boxing years, Futch tried other work: road laborer, welder, sheetmetal worker, post office worker. But he returned to boxing, this time as a trainer of amateurs. He used his watchful, analytical style to first learn his boxer’s skill levels and technique, and then he used it to bring out their strengths. Emanuel Steward, head of the Kronk Gym and himself a trainer of many world champions, would later say of Futch in the Detroit News, “The thing about Eddie, he was not a trainer, he was a teacher. He really got control over his fighter’s mind like no one I’ve ever seen. He had that personal one–on–one contact with fighters.”
While Futch trained amateurs and worked at other jobs, he developed his teaching style. That style included not changing a fighter. Trainer Freddie Roach was trained by Futch, first as a fighter, and then as a trainer. Roach later told Steve Kim for MaxBoxing.com, “I see a lot of fighters become trainers and they try to make fighters fight like they did. They try to change a fighter. [Futch] told me to take a person’s natural ability and work on that. Don’t change a fighter, because as soon as the bell rings, they’ll go back to what comes naturally to them.” Futch had plenty of practice, noting in In The Corner, that he had worked with 2, 000 amateur fighters by 1955. Futch’s teaching methods and other factors, such as desire and willingness to learn, all came together in 1958 when his fighter Don Jordan won the welterweight championship in 1958.
Futch did not know Joe Frazier, nor his trainer and manager Yank Durham, when he was brought into the Frazier “camp” in 1966, but they already knew Futch by reputation. The three hit it off. Futch said in In The Corner, “It was like we’d known each other forever.” Futch would later say that Joe Frazier was the easiest boxer to work with that he had ever trained. Frazier was the Olympic champion when Futch began working with him, but Durham remained his prime trainer. Futch gave advice when asked, and was responsible for Frazier’s bob and weave style. Futch took over completely when Yank Durham died of a stroke. By 1970 Frazier had racked up enough wins to be considered the heavyweight champion by the World Boxing Association, a title that Muhammad Ali had held until he was exiled from boxing for his refusal to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam war. They fought for the championship in March of 1971. Frazier won by unanimous decision.
The two fighters faced each other two more times, and Futch is perhaps best known for his decision tostop the Ali-Frazier fight, the “Thrilla in Manilla” in 1975. The bout was considered the best of the three classic fights in which Frazier and Ali faced each other, and one of which Ali would later refer to as “the closest thing to death.” Frazier could not see the punches coming because his eyes, especially the left, were badly swollen. Although he was eager to get up and finish the fight, with just one more round to go, Futch threw in the towel. He told Frazier in words that became as well known as the fight, “Sit down, son. No one will ever forget what you did here today.” Futch later said in the Las Vegas Review–Journal that although he had thought about stopping the fight in the 13th round when Ali knocked Frazier’s mouthpiece into the crowd, “I decided to give him one more round.” Futch remained Frazier’s manager until the boxer retired.
Futch worked with many more amateurs and champions. Some were kids just wanting to box, and many were amateurs who dreamed of becoming professional boxers and title holders. One such fighter was Freddie Roach. Futch trained Roach for ten years and finally advised him to hang up his gloves. Roach had begun training with Futch at eighteen years of age. When he stopped boxing, Futch later hired him as an assistant trainer. Roach worked for Futch for five years before going on to train 25 champions himself. Futch’s training helped several of his fighters to win their titles, while others had already become champions when he stepped in. One such fighter was Larry Holmes. Holmes followed Muhammad Ali as the heavyweight champion, and was always compared to him. He held the title for seven years after winning it in 1978.
Eddie Futch retired in January of 1998. At the time he was working with light heavyweight Montell Griffin. Griffin won the title in 1997 by disqualification of his opponent, Roy Jones. After a disagreement with Griffin’s management team, Futch made the decision to retire. At the time, he wasn’t very happy with boxing. He was quoted as saying in Sports Illustrated, “These days, with the proliferation of weight classes and titles and the emphasis on money, boxing is getting worse. Quality is disappearing from the sport.” By the time he retired, Futch had been in the sport for 65 years and had trained 22 world champions. It was his wish to spend more time with his family. When he died, he had begun traveling with his wife, Eva. The sport of boxing was left without a highly respected and positive influence. Emanuel Steward, trainer of 25 world champions including heavyweight Tommy Hearns, told Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com, “He was a man of dignity. He always believed in respect, principles.”
In 1999 Futch was a member of a five–man panel for the Associated Press to select the Fighter of the Century and the top fighters in ten weight classes. The voting came down to two: Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. The vote that Futch would cast would make the decision. It was thought that he would automatically vote for Louis because they had been friends. Instead, Futch examined the records of both fighters, compared them, and watched a tape of a 1941 fight between Joe Louis and Billy Conn. He chose Muhammad Ali, based on his speed.
Futch died on October 10, 2001. His 90th birthday celebration had been scheduled for September 29th but was canceled because of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th. The service was conducted by minister Richard Steele, who had been trained by Futch as a fighter and who had been a boxing referee. The eulogy was delivered by Motown records founder Berry Gordy, who had also been trained by Futch as an amateur boxer in Detroit, at age 15. Gordy, quoted in the Las Vegas Review–Journal, described Futch as having the “mind of a warrior and the heart of a poet” and as a “gentle giant.” He called Futch boxing’s “statesman, strategist, philosopher and ambassador.”
Anderson, Dave, In The Corner, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991, pp. 225–255.
Frazier, Joe, Smokin’ Joe, Macmillan, 1996, pp. 141–142.
Associated Press, October 18, 2001.
Detroit News, October 14, 2001.
Las Vegas Review–Journal, October 11, 2001; October 17, 2001.
Sports Illustrated, January 26, 1998, p. 28.
BBC Sport, http://news.bbc.co.uk
Black Athlete Sports Network, www.blackathlete.com
Caesars Palace press release, http://biz.yahoo.com
CNN Sports Illustrated, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com
The Detroit News, http://www.detnews.com
Guardian Unlimited, http://sport.guardian.co.uk
International Boxing Hall of Fame, www.ibhof.com
Las Vegas Review–Journal, www.lvrj.com
—Sandy J. Stiefer
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