They don’t make em like they used to, the boxers, or the trainers.
You’ve heard that before, right? These guys, they don’t have the same heart, the same stiff constitution, of those guys from the days of yore.
And the trainers…where have all the teachers gone…too many bucket holders masquerading as teachers today, the grumbling tells you.
There may be more than a grain of truth in each argument; severe poverty and economic insecurity bred many a hungry fighter in decades past, and as more and more nations become developed, it could be argued that fewer fighters are born.
And the teachers…are there fewer better ones? Where are the masters of today, the Eddie Futchs, Freddie Browns, the Georgie Bentons? I’m not so sure that there are fewer ace tutors doing their thing today, and, in fact, a guy who is on a short list to win a BWAA Trainer of the Year award, John David Jackson, is today imparting the tricks of the trade he learned from Benton, back in the day, to charges like Sergey Kovalev, and a new client, Chris Algieri.
I chatted with Jackson, a Florida resident who held crowns at 154 and 160, and started working with Algieri after the Long Islander had a rough outing against Manny Pacquiao late last year. First off, he reminded me of some of the merits of the guy who was so impactful on him, Benton, who died in 2011.
“Georgie Benton was a great defensive fighter,” JDJ told me.
Indeed; a 1992 Sports Illustrated story recalls that Georgie fought for 21 years, until a bullet in his spine ended his run. He transferred to teaching, and shared knowledge with Joe Frazier, Johnny Bumphus, Mike McCallum, Leon Spinks, Pernell Whitaker, Melrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield, and many, many more. “The Master,” some called him. “The Professor,” too.. Little tricks of the trade, the ones some say are being lost, subtle moves, he forget more than most ever learn…
“Georgie would stand in front of you, and you couldn’t hit him,” JDJ continued. As a fighter, he had immense talent, but sometimes thirst kept him from being on message, Benton admitted to JDJ. He’d get a call to sub in, and he’d be in the cups and would have to clear his head. Yeah, good to note that, when we reminisce about the good old days, when boxers were all dialed-in machines, and always made weight, yada, yadda, yadda…
“His influence on me was so good, I have to give it back to other fighters,” said Jackson, of the 2001 Hall of Fame inductee.
Like Algieri…he came to JDJ, humbled, knowing he had more to learn. Stay in the pocket, roll, catch shots, Georgie taught JDJ. Inside boxing skills, that was a Benton trademark. “At some point you will be boxing inside…today, they all grab and hold,” said the ex champ, who has tried to show Algieri some of those fine points. Jackson told me that Algieri’s foe on Friday, Amir Khan, “has no inside game.” His teacher, Virgil Hunter, he told me, doesn’t teach it. His main guy, Andre Ward, doesn’t do it, JDJ said, and neither does Khan. (Ward is a “grabber,” and “mauler,” who doesn’t work inside in the manner Benton taught, said Jackson.) Therefore, expect Algieri to have some luck exploiting that, the trainer told me.
OK, but…Algieri is 31. Not an old dog but…Not a young one. Isn’t he set in his ways? Can he really be improving after 7 years as a pro? In five months, can he make inroads? “He might get slapped when he comes back to the corner,” the trainer said, with a chuckle, when asked if Algieri might revert to incorrect form if and when the going gets tough versus the Brit. Jackson said that Algieri, who does not lack in the healthy ego department, is in fact humble enough where it counts. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have come to JDJ to fill in some knowledge gaps. “I thought he would be open-minded,” the trainer told me, and he says he was right.
We shall see how much the middle-aged, in boxing years, dog has learned. Boxing is maybe 75% mental…and a trainer can only make so much of a difference..it really remains to be seen how the shift to JDJ works for Algieri. It’s a fascinating element of the Khan-Algieri scrap, to me. “George Benton is in retrospect underrated as a trainer,” JDJ said, in closing.
And if Algieri scores the upset vs. Khan, those in the know, the old schoolers, will nod, and know, that this teacher was taught by a master professor. And maybe we will all backtrack a bit on the “there are no more masters” talk..