Boxing trainers don’t always get a lot of love, they are the people who work diligently in the background, making sure their fighter is in shape for the contest, working on a game plan, ensuring the fighter makes weight, gets his sparring partners. When a fighter wins or puts in a great performance, often the boxer is credited for a great performance but when a boxer loses inevitably it is the trainer who becomes the fall guy and takes much of the blame…
On this day in 1911, a man was born who would go onto become possibly the greatest boxing trainer we have ever seen. When it comes to the greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali called himself ‘The Greatest’, but this man trained four of the five men who defeated Ali, his name of course is Eddie Futch.
Futch grew up in Detroit, working out in the Brewster’s Recreation gym which was also home to one of the heavyweight greats, Joe Louis. Futch would be a sparring partner for both Joe Louis and Holman Williams – Williams was one of the members of the infamous Black Murderers Row boxers, a group of Black fighters who were so good and so avoided that no one wanted to fight them, so they did the only thing they could do and fought each other!
Eddie Futch is most known for being the trainer to Joe Frazier, who gave Ali hell in their three memorable bouts and was arguably the greatest trilogy Boxing has ever seen. As a boxing coach, Futch was a master strategist, he also helped Ken Norton defeat Ali and Norton also had an extremely close trilogy with Ali. Going further, Futch also helped train many more great fighters, Mike McCallum, Riddick Bowe, Larry Holmes, Alexis Arguello and was named by the Ring Magazine in 1997 as the greatest trainer of the past 75 years.
Sometimes it isn’t just which fighters you train which determine whether you were the greatest boxing trainer of all time, sometimes it is the boxing coach who trained under you that becomes a great trainer but learnt their craft under you which cements your spot as the greatest ever boxing trainer. Eddie Futch helped develop the career of numerous great boxing trainers.
From Futch we have hall of fame boxing trainer George Benton. Benton was someone I wrote about as a boxer in my book Forgotten Legends of the Ring and like Futch, was a very sharp boxing mind and master strategist, that is why he would be nicknamed ‘The Professor’. Benton was the brains behind Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, who was the best boxer in the world in the early 1990’s. Other masterful boxers Benton passed his knowledge onto include Mike McCallum(also featured in my book) and Meldrick Taylor. There was also Freddie Roach, the work Roach has done with Manny Pacquiao, that alone is enough to put Roach down as one of the all time great trainers but it doesn’t stop there, in all Roach has trained over 25 world champions in boxing – he has also helped train notable MMA stars such as Anderson Silva.
Coming out of the same Brewsters Recreation gym was another man who would have his share of fans as being the best ever boxing trainer, Manny Steward. Steward was a top amateur boxer growing up but went in to the world of boxing training and would take over what is perhaps the most famous boxing gym of all, the Kronk gym in Detroit. The Kronk gym was a hot bed of talent, Thomas Hearns, Mike McCallum, James Toney and Gerald McClellan are just some of the huge names that were in the Kronk gym. Just like Futch had Frazier, Benton had Whitaker and Roach had Pacquiao, Stewards name will always be linked with the Hitman, Thomas Hearns. Steward helped turn Hearns into the devastating puncher he would become as Hearns became one of the famous fab four group of fighters that dominated boxing in the 1980’s. Steward has no end of success, training over 40 world champions and is also well known for his work with heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis and Wladmir Klitschko, successfully altering their style just enough to make them dominant champions.
Mexico’s Nacho Beristain is undoubtedly one of the greats when it comes to being a boxing coach. We always hear the term Mexican style and obviously comes from the boxing trainers teaching this exciting style of fighting. Beristain first helped developed the amateur boxers in Mexico and his success there led him to the professional ranks where he has helped train giants of the game including Juan Manual Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Humberto Gonzalez and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Two other names often come out alongside Eddie Futch as the greatest boxing trainer – Ray Arcel and Jack ‘Chappie’ Blackburn. Arcel has a claim because he trained three men who could legitimately be regarded as the greatest their respective divisions have ever seen. Ray Arcel trained Benny Leonard – who many say was the greatest lightweight in history, if it is not Leonard then the name usually cited is Roberto Duran – who was also trained by Ray Arcel. Then we have Ezzard Charles, he could be the greatest light heavyweight in history and he too was trained by Ray Arcel! To create such great fighters as these, Arcel was clearly a master boxing trainer. Arcel also helped train three division world champion and hall of famer Barney Ross.
Jack ‘Chappie’ Blackburn was the coach of heavyweight world champion Joe Louis. Blackburn helped to mould the style of Louis on himself, Sam Langford and Joe Gans. Blackburn was a veteran of hundreds of fights and had battled against these legends of the game and imparted what he learnt fighting them to his student Joe Louis. Just like we mentioned the line of great trainers coming from Eddie Futch then we have to give credit to Jack Blackburn because if Futch learned much from sparring Joe Louis, then that knowledge was coming from none other than Jack Blackburn, so we can see that Futch’s line actually passes through Blackburn as the starting point of his experience.
From Blackburn would also come a man who played a part in training what some would view as the three greatest boxers in history – Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong and Muhammad Ali. Harry Wiley Sr was an understudy to Chappie Blackburn and put the knowledge he learnt from Blackburn to good use by first becoming the trainer to the 1932 USA Olympic boxing team. He also spent time in the camps of some greats such as Jack Dempsey and was around to see Sam Langford, another legend of the game from whom he picked up a few pointers. From his success with the Olympic team he would help coach Henry Armstrong, the only man in history to hold three world titles simultaneously – Armstrong is also featured in my book Forgotten Legends of the Ring. Wiley Sr was also in the corner of the greatest, Sugar Ray Robinson, helping George Gainsford develop the young fighter into the legend he would become. Last up was the man who said he was the greatest, Muhammad Ali. When Ali signed up to fight Jimmy Ellis, Ali’s long time trainer Angelo Dundee decided to be in the corner of Ellis because he was both the manager and trainer for Ellis. Ali then chose the man he has initially wanted to coach him at the start of his career, Harry Wiley Sr. Ali was so impressed with Wiley he decided to keep him on for all his future fights but sadly Harry Wiley Sr would pass away just months later. Angelo Dundee even went as far as saying Wiley Sr was one of the top three coaches he had ever seen.
Now there are a couple of notable omissions that I will now mention. The first is the boxing trainer we just mentioned, Angelo Dundee. Dundee helped train both Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, but although he was obviously a great boxing coach, both Ali and Leonard have inferred that Dundee was more about managing them than coaching them. Dundee learnt to coach in another of the legendary boxing gyms – Stillman’s gym in New York which housed several prominent boxing coaches such as the aforementioned Ray Arcel.
The second notable omission was the coach to probably the second most recognised fighter of all time, the most recognisable being Ali and his coach was the first omission, the next is the boxing trainer to Mike Tyson – Cus D’Amato. Whereas Cus was a bright mind and very good trainer, I would not rank him ahead of any of the names already on my list because I feel Cus’ real strength was in his views about human psychology. D’Amato was a master when it came to using motivation and psychology to train his fighters but as an out and out boxing coach I would not rank him above the names in this article. Before I would add Dundee or Cus, I would add Bill Miller, the former trainer of James Toney, you would also have to consider Charlie Goldman. Goldman as a boxer was a protégé of Terrible Terry McGovern and as a trainer would transform a short, stout man with little boxing experience into the undefeated and unbeaten heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Marciano. Both Dundee and Cus D’Amato had success with other boxers, Dundee more so than Cus and they would probably be in my top ten but not ahead the coaches already listed in this article.
Yes everyone likes to romanticise D’Amato’s work with Tyson but by reading this article we can already establish there were many better coach and fighter duos than Tyson and D’Amato. Blackburn and Louis, Wiley Sr and Armstrong, Arcel and Leonard/Duran, Steward and Hearns, Roach and Pacquiao, Benton and Whitaker, maybe even Futch and Frazier…
So that is my take on the best ever boxing trainers we have ever seen. I wouldn’t like to name the best, but I will name my top three and really you can put them in any order and I wouldn’t argue against you and they are Eddie Futch, Ray Arcel and Jack ‘Chappie’ Blackburn.
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Author of: The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit! Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle *Any videos or images used on this site to support my articles that are copyrighted are used in accordance to the fair use act and are not my own - all credit is due to the respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.
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