Longtime Philadelphia boxing icon George Benton died early Monday morning following a battle with pneumonia. He was 78.
A slick and skilled boxer, Benton was stopped just twice and never knocked down in 76 professional fights. He defeated future world champions Joey Giardello, Freddie Little and Jimmy Ellis, climbing to No. 1 in the middleweight rankings in the early 1960s, but never got a world title shot due to politics and his difficult technical style.
After a 1970 shooting ended his fighting career, Benton studied under the legendary Eddie Futch and re-entered boxing as a trainer. He worked Joe Frazier’s corner for the Thrilla in Manila and helped Leon Spinks shock Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship. Among Benton’s most notable students were Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Mike McCallum.
Known as “The Professor” and “The Master,” Benton was twice named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America (in 1989 and ’90). While training Holyfield for the first of his three meetings with Riddick Bowe in 1992, Benton was the subject of a Sports Illustrated profile.
In 2001, Benton was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
– Bryan Armen Graham