ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- It's not easy being introduced as "the best individual in the history of boxing," but Eddie Futch didn't squirm.
"It hasn't been hard to do the things I've done," said the sweetest scientist Thursday. "I just harkened back to Hamlet: 'Above all, to thine own self be true and it next follows as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to anyone.' "
Not too many boxing people harken back to Hamlet. Fewer believe being truthful is one of the sport's 10 commandments. That's why a lot of people came to celebrate Futch's 80th birthday Friday.
"I'm going to celebrate by knocking out Bruce Seldon," said Riddick Bowe, who headlines a $19.95 TVKO pay-per-view card at the Convention Hall. He did knock him out in the first round at 1 minute, 48 seconds.
Bowe, a four-time New York Daily News Golden Gloves champion, has a good shot at becoming Futch's seventh heavyweight champion and 17th world titleholder at any weight. Bowe is not necessarily the last hurrah for a man who is working with new hips and a reconstructed right knee.
"I haven't seen anyone, but you never can tell," Futch said. "I wasn't looking for Riddick Bowe, either."
He had turned down Bowe once, but Rock Newman, the fighter's manager, told him how the kid, 24 yesterday, had kept ** his nose clean despite living in a Brownsville crack house.
"I could relate to that," Futch said. "I grew up in one of the worst areas of Detroit, but I always knew there was a better way. I remember the drawing-room scenes in the movies, thinking that's the way I want to live."
He also was inspired by the Horatio Alger stories he kept in a box beneath his bed. He fell in love with mythology and poetry, and when he was 12, a YMCA opened in his neighborhood and he became a basketball player, a 5-7 forward good enough to play on a semi-pro team that sparred with the Harlem Globetrotters.
At 20, he started taking boxing lessons at the Brewster, one of Detroit's famed gyms. He was a lightweight, and one of his sparring partners was an amateur named Joe Louis. By necessity, he was a quick learn. At the YMCA, where he was a coach, he was told to give boxing lessons, too.
"I was teaching two days later what I had just learned," Futch said. "It made me better, having to really break down things to their component parts."
Futch was never just X's and O's. He still subscribes to "Psychology Today." And he still has earned a Ph.D. in compassion by preventing a battered and nearly blind Joe Frazier from going out for the 15th round in Manila against Muhammad Ali. Thomas Hauser's recent book on Ali claimed that Ali was ready to quit before the 15th round, too.
"I doubt that," Futch said. "Besides, I had my guy's interests on my mind. My guy was at the end of the trail."