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George Benton: From Contender To Professor

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by Dean Berks

It was early 1955 and twenty one year old George Benton strolled in to Johnny Madison’s gym for his workout. As he entered, his friend Charlie Scott called out to him, “Hey George. Guess who you got turned down by today?”. “Who?” quizzed Benton. “You won’t believe this” came the reply. “Who?” Benton asked again. “Sugar Ray Robinson”. “You’re crazy” answered Benton. “Honest to God” continued Scott. “George Gainford called Herman Taylor for an opponent”, referring to Robinson’s manager Gainford and Philadelphia promoter Taylor, “And Taylor replied, ‘Yeah I got a guy, George Benton’. But when Taylor heard that he replied, ‘We don’t want him’.” At the time, Robinson had just started a comeback after two years out, and he ended up fighting Tiger Jones instead. And losing.

The above story from Dave Anderson’s fantastic “Ringmasters” book sums up just how highly regarded Benton was as a fighter. He journeyed from number one middleweight contender to one of history’s finest trainers and is generally associated with, and assumed the originator of, the Philly shell defence. With his left hand low and chin tucked inside his left shoulder, Benton could stand in front of an opponent, slipping and rolling with the oncoming punches before effortlessly firing back with his own counters. He was as smooth as they came and Philadelphian to the core.

Born in the City of Brotherly Love on 15 May 1933, Benton, one of eleven children, grew up watching Henry Armstrong, the aforementioned Robinson, and Philadelphia’s own lightweight champion Bob Montgomery. Starting boxing when 8 years old, he had his first amateur bout at 13, and learned all about avoiding punches whilst sparring with a fighter named Jimmy Collins. “You couldn’t hit him with a handful of rice”, was how he described being opposite Collins. Then one day, Collins complained to Benton’s trainer Joe Rose that he didn’t want to spar the young Benton anymore as he was getting “too big”. But the reality was that Benton was figuring Collins out and giving him all he could handle.

He won the 147 Ib title in the Inquirer Diamond belt tournament, finishing his amateur career with a 67-10 record, before turning professional on 18 July 1949, aged just 16, with a first round knockout of one Chico Wade. Benton then won his next six before losing a six round decision to Al Mobley. During this period, as he was held in such high regard in his gym, he would look after the other fighters when Rose had to go out of town to work. They listened and respected the youngster and Rose knew that when he returned, the fighters would be fit and ready for action. The seeds of a great trainer were already being sewn.

Read more:  https://www.ringnews24.com/2023/03/31/george-benton-from-contender-to-professor/

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