In 1970 George Benton was a middleweight with all the moves, a dazzler who could have gone far. But one day Benton was walking down the street and someone fired a .38 into his stomach. He never fought again. Five years later Benton was in Manila. He was helping to train Frazier to fight Ali. And Benton had a plan.
"What we want to do is neutralize Ali's jab," he told a writer. "That's the main thing we are stressing. Ali likes to control fighters, and the jab is almost all he uses. When Ali goes to the ropes, we want Joe to go for the tips of the shoulder blades, the joints that control the arm."
Unhappily, Frazier didn't listen to George Benton that night. He was so battered and exhausted that his corner wouldn't let him come out for the 15th round. When Butch Lewis first thought of matching Spinks and Ali, he also thought of Benton. Lewis asked Benton to help Solomon train Spinks. Benton said no.
"That was the second time I said no," Benton says. " Lewis was after me from the start. But I had a funny feeling Sam Solomon wouldn't like it. I can work with the devil himself, but Sam wouldn't like it. Besides, I was working with Benny Briscoe, so I said no."
Lewis persisted. To Lewis, any negative answer is merely a temporary setback. He called Benton 10 times. Finally, Benton said he would help, but they would have to talk to Solomon first.
"I need all the help I can get," Solomon said when Lewis contacted him.
Benton helped Spinks get ready for the Alfio Righetti fight last November.
"It was a great test," the ex-middleweight contender says. "Righetti is the same style fighter as Ali, the same type. I saw things, the same things we'd be up against with Ali: abuse the jab, stab low, keep him busy, make him run faster than he wants. But it was a one-shot deal for me. I quit."
Benton went off with Briscoe, his middleweight, on a fight trip. When he got back, Lewis was on the phone again. The Ali fight was only a few weeks away.
"I need help," Lewis pleaded. "Leon needs you. Please help me. Please help us."