Bowe could earn master's from professor Futch In champ's corner, ton of ring knowledge By Alan Goldstein

February 05, 1993|By Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The morning after Riddick Bowe's exhilarating victory over then-heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas last November, Bowe's trainer, Eddie Futch, dissected the fight and suggested the new champion had much room for improvement.

"I saw a lot of things to work on, to change and improve," said Futch, 82, who previously had helped guide Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks to heavyweight crowns.

"Riddick can make better use of his jab, shorten his right hand and take better advantage of his size and strength."

According to Futch, Bowe is just "scratching the surface" of his ring potential.

"They say you never reach potential, but I'm reaching for it," said Futch. "I believe Riddick, at 25, is still three years from his prime. With his natural tools, he could be the best heavyweight I've ever had."

Futch, who, as a clever Detroit welterweight in the 1930s once helped stablemate Joe Louis improve his speed, is not one for hyperbole. He apparently believes that Bowe -- who makes the first defense of his title against former champion Michael Dokes at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night -- someday could rank with the great heavyweights.

"Holmes was a great boxer and Frazier a great fighter," Futch said. "But now I've got a young champion who can be great in both those departments. His mobility is second only to [Muhammad] Ali, but Ali learned to use his movement through the experience Riddick is still getting."

Although Bowe often imitates Ali's bragging manner or tries to intimidate rivals with trash talking like Mike Tyson, he becomes an attentive student in Futch's presence.

"Fighters can be stubborn, and I had a hard time getting Norton to follow instructions," Futch said. "Norton was a sports hero from a small town in Illinois and had always been showered with praise.

"Riddick, thank God, has an open mind. Some fighters, when they win a title, think they're a boxing encyclopedia. But Riddick absorbs everything like a sponge.

"Sometimes, I get the idea he's not even listening to me in training sessions. Then, the night of the fight, he'll do exactly what I was teaching. Deep down, he really wants to be the best. He's got a lot to learn, and he hasn't stopped learning."

Futch said he didn't know what to expect when manager Rock Newman first asked him to become Bowe's boxing guru after Bowe had been embarrassed by Lennox Lewis in a super-heavyweight match for the 1988 Olympic gold medal.

None of the leading promoters -- Don King, Bob Arum, Dan Duva and Butch Lewis -- seemed interested in taking on a heavyweight whose fighting heart had been questioned.

Only Newman, short on cash, but long on ambition, was willing to take a risk. Newman would handle the financial end, but left it to Futch to prod and polish the raw heavyweight.

"I was already approaching 80, and knew I didn't have enough time left on this planet to waste on developing a young fighter unless he was totally committed," recalled Futch.

"At the time, I was busy working with champions like Marlon Starling, Mike McCallum and Virgil Hill. But Rock kept after me to just meet and talk with the kid, and after that first day, I could see he had a lot more good than bad in him."

Futch's first major hurdle was convincing Bowe that his right could be used for more than shaking hands.

"Riddick had hurt his right a few times, and it was kind of tender," Futch said. "I really had to coax him to start using it again. I made a special bandage to protect it, and started him out on the heavy bag. When he passed that test, he gained more confidence. Now, the right uppercut is his principal weapon."

Having the ring tools is one thing, but using them to best advantage is something Futch says separates the good from the great fighters.

"If you've watched the old masters like Louis, Willie Pep and Ray Robinson, they all had something in common," he said. "They could all set up their opponent and make him do exactly what they wanted.

"Louis knew what his opponent was going to do for his next five moves, and how to change up to beat the guy to the punch."

Fighters tend to get stereotyped, but even a warrior such as Frazier proved adaptable under Futch.

"The first time Joe fought Jerry Quarry, it was a knock-down, drag-out war. Joe would be bobbing and weaving and winging his left hook.

"For the rematch, I completely changed him. I had Joe standing )) upright, and he only threw one left the whole night. Quarry kept getting nailed with right crosses, and, to this day, he doesn't know what hit him," Futch said, laughing softly.

Asked what parts of his former champions he would incorporate to make the ultimate heavyweight, Futch said: "I'd take Holmes' jab, Spinks' right hand and defense and Frazier's left hook and fighting heart. But Bowe already possesses some of all these qualities."

Futch suffered a mild heart attack at Bowe's training camp and was hospitalized for a week.

"I'm feeling fine now," said Futch, conducting an endless round of pre-fight interviews.

Tomorrow night, he will drag his 82-year-old body up the ring steps at the Garden and be whispering advice and cajoling his newest champion to make quick work of Dokes. After all, there is still so much work to be done in creating a perfect fighter.

Fight facts

Who: Riddick Bowe (32-0, 27 KOs) vs. Michael Dokes (50-3-2, 32 KOs).

What: For Bowe's IBF and WBA heavyweight titles.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

When: Tomorrow, 9:30 p.m.

TV: HBO

Promoters: Rock Newman, Madison Square Garden, Caesars World and Main Events Inc.

Tickets: 14,500 sold. Approximately 4,000 remain, priced at $400, $200, $100, $50 and $25.

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