By Keith Idec
Lou Duva was thumbing through one of his favorite books Monday.
He was re-reading the chapter about his dear friend and longtime training partner George Benton in New York Times columnist Dave Anderson’s “In the Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art.” Then the phone rang.
One of Duva’s daughters had bad news — that Benton died early Monday morning.
“He was such a good guy,” said Duva, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998. “I saw him not that long ago at the fights down in Philadelphia. He was saying, ‘I feel good.’ But I don’t know. They’re falling by the wayside, one at a time.”
Benton, 78, died of complications from pneumonia at St. Joseph’s Hospital in his native Philadelphia.
A skilled welterweight who later developed into a middleweight contender during a pro career that lasted from 1949-70, Benton amassed a career record of 61-13-1, including 36 knockouts.
“Nobody would fight him,” Duva, 89, recalled. “He was really slick. He knew what he was doing.”
Nicknamed “The Professor,” Benton knew what he was doing as a trainer, too.
Duva hired him to work with fighters the Duva family’s promotional company, Main Events, signed after Benton devised Leon Spinks’ gameplan for his historic upset of Muhammad Ali in February 1978. The first three fighters Benton and Duva trained together — junior welterweight Johnny Bumphus, junior lightweight Rocky Lockridge and junior featherweight Leo Randolph — all won world titles.
They later teamed up to train legends Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker, as well as fellow world champions Mark Breland, Mike McCallum and Michael Moorer. Along with Tommy Brooks, who later became Duva’s son-in-law, Duva and Benton spent countless hours designing strategies for big fights featuring the aforementioned champions.
“Georgie was a stickler on styles,” Duva said. “When we had a tough fight coming up, we’d sit down and he’d say, ‘This is what we’ve got to do. He does this. He does that.’ With Buster Douglas, [Benton] said, ‘He’s going to jab, jab and he’s going to come with the uppercut. Evander’s got to step to the side and throw the right hand.’ That’s how [Holyfield] knocked him out.”
As Duva braces himself for his friend’s wake and funeral later this week, he’ll smile remembering all the great times he shared with Benton, who was inducted into the IBHOF in 2001.
“We had so many laughs together, so many good times,” Duva said. “He liked to drink and he liked to cook. When he cooked, half the time he almost burned the hotel down. But we were really a family. And you couldn’t believe how good we were together as trainers. We had a team that was second to none.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, NJ., and BoxingScene.com.