Don Stradley

Former middleweight contender, noted trainer Benton dies at 78

One of the enduring memories we have of George Benton was the look of disdain he gave Andrew Golota when Golota quit on his stool after two rounds with Mike Tyson. Benton, working Golota’s corner, scowled at his fighter as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”

Benton, who died at 78 on Monday after a two-week struggle with pneumonia (he’d had various other health problems for several years), was not known for emotional outbursts. But those who knew Benton understood his disgust with Golota. Benton had been through a lot, including a poor upbringing in Depression-era North Philadelphia and a gunshot wound that nearly ended his life. As far as Benton was concerned, two rounds with Tyson was a cakewalk.

Born May 15, 1933, Benton turned pro at 16. He boxed in the Philadelphia area for the next 20 years, amassing a record of 62-13-1 (37 knockouts) against the likes of Joey Giardello, Rubin Carter and Bennie Briscoe. A slick middleweight with, in his own words, “eyes in my ass,” Benton was well-regarded but never received a title shot.

“The middleweight title changed hands 22 times during George’s career, and he never got close to it,” said Philadelphia promoter J Russell Peltz. “George’s manager, Herman Diamond, wouldn’t do business with the mob.”

Benton was still fighting in 1970 when a street incident landed him in the hospital with a bullet in his back. The near-fatal shooting ended his career but by the mid-1970s he was busy as a trainer, working with Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks and even his old rival Briscoe. 

Benton’s greatest era began in the 1980s when he was hired by Main Events to train fighters managed by Lou Duva. The irony was that Duva had been one of those “connected” people who worked in boxing in the 1960s.

“Yeah, I screwed George out of his shot,” Duva admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1992. “He didn’t even know about it till I told him many years later.”

Even if Benton was overshadowed by the colorful Duva, most regarded the laconic Benton as the key behind such Duva fighters as Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker. “The smartest thing Main Events ever did was hire George,” said Peltz. Benton probably didn’t mind that Duva attracted the bulk of the publicity, because it was through Main Events that Benton became a millionaire.

Benton was named Trainer of the Year in 1989 and 1990 by the Boxing Writers Association of America, and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001. He is survived by his wife Mildred and many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“He was one of the Top 10 fighters to come out of Philadelphia,” Peltz told The Ring. “He was defensive, but he wasn’t a runner. He was in the pocket; he’d get right in your face and make you miss. George passed his style on to Whitaker. Whitaker was flashier, but a lot of his moves were George’s old moves.”

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