When you hear the term ‘Shoulder Roll’ you automatically think of Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Indeed the ‘Money’ man Mayweather Jnr, in this era of social media coupled with his unquestionably great boxing skills has propelled himself as the front runner in Boxing’s history of great defensive artists. But FMJ was not the first exponent of the shoulder roll, indeed his very own father Floyd Mayweather Snr used this method before him, and there have been countless others. The man who was arguably the first to make the shoulder roll popular and to be the first true great exponent of the ‘philly shell’ was George Benton.
You might know George Benton better as a Boxing trainer, you would certainly recognize some of the great names he has trained, Benton was assistant trainer for Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, he was the trainer when Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali to win the crown in their first fight in 1978, adding to the list of Heavyweights he was in Evander Holyfield’s corner when Holyfield beat James ‘Buster’ Douglas to win the Heavyweight title. The list only gets better, two weight world champion Meldrick Taylor, a fighter with lightning fast hand speed, three weight World Champion Mike ‘The Bodysnatcher’ McCallum(who is also featured in Forgotten Legends Of The Ring click here to read) and the fighter he called his ‘masterpiece’,Pernell ‘Sweat Pea’ Whitaker, a master defensive and counter punching boxer in the mould of Benton himself, Whitaker was World Champion in four different weight classes and for a time was considered the best pound for pound Boxer in the World.
George Benton was born in Philadelphia on May 15, 1933 turning professional when he just 16yrs old. His career was to last until 1970, only ending after he was shot. The shooter had tried to pick up Benton’s sister in a bar but Benton’s brother was having none of it and was to beat the man up. In revenge the man promised to kill someone from the Benton family, shooting George Benton in the back as he walked to work(Benton towards the end of his career had taken up a job working in a bar, disheartened at constantly being overlooked for a title fight) Benton turned and his fighting instincts took over, just as he had done so many times in the ring and charged towards his opponent. He pinned the gun man against a wall and bludgeoned him with his head until his shooter dropped the gun. Benton was to be in and out of hospital for two years, the bullet was never removed from near to his spine.
In 76 professional fights no one was ever able to penetrate the philly shell and knock Benton out, and despite being the no.1 ranked middleweight in the world in the early 1960’s(starting his career as a welterweight) he would never get a shot at the world title, this despite beating men who would go onto become world champions, Freddie Little, Jimmy Ellis and Joey Giardello. Unfortunately for Benton, this was during a period in the sport when title shots were handed out to well connected managers, these ‘connections’ were with the Mafia and Benton was not one to get involved with the murkier side of Boxing, his manager Herman Diamond refused to do business with underworld figures and thus, Benton’s title shot never came and one of the Boxing’s greatest defensive artists was robbed of the limelight and prestige he so deserved.
As much as a title shot was avoided to Benton, he was a defensive genius who avoided punches, Boxing is often called ‘The art of hitting without getting hit’ and Benton personified this ‘I had eyes on my ass and ducked punches in my dreams.’ he would say. Spending hours at the gym perfecting his craft, focusing on the little things, how to anticipate punches, twisting his head and turning his shoulders at the right moment and how to spot an opponents muscles tensing up to foretell him a punch was on its way. It is no surprise Benton’s nickname would end up being ‘The Professor’ and a career as a trainer would be well suited after he was to hang up his gloves. His insights point to a wise man who has seen it all ‘You fight with your personality’ meaning you don’t change someones style or force something upon them, see what they are good at, what comes naturally to them and develop that. ‘Nobody gets close to George Benton—nobody, no man and especially no woman.’ He says that he ‘hangs with nobody, depends on nobody, because he has had his heart broken enough, and the man beyond heartbreak is the man who goes alone.’ and that ‘when you got fame and fortune, you don’t know who loves you or who you love.’
Lou Duva, a manager at the time Benton was fighting was to comment ‘nobody would fight him, he was really slick, he knew what he was doing.’ Ironically it would be Duva who prevented Benton from a world title shot, having beaten Joey Giardello, who was managed by the better connected Duva, it was Giardello who went on to fight Dick Tiger for the world middleweight championship ‘Yeah, I screwed George out of his shot,” Duva said. “He didn’t even know about it till I told him many years later.’
George Benton was named ‘Trainer of the year’ by the Boxing writers association of America in both 1989 and 1990 and was elected into the International Boxing hall of fame in 2001. He died on September 19, 2011 of pneumonia, the bullet which ended his Boxing career, still rooted near his spine. Benton was a rare breed, a man who was a great fighter who also became a great trainer. Benton’s legacy as a trainer still lives on, former world champion John David Jackson was trained by George Benton and currently trains world champion and one of the worlds best pound for pound fighters, light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev. Jackson has also help trained two other great boxers and world champions, ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley and Bernard ‘The executioner’ Hopkins. There are people who say what use is your passion if you cannot share it with the world? What can you do for someone else with it? Life is about sharing and helping others and by this George Benton lived his life with passion and purpose.