LAS VEGAS -- Big fights make big reputations, and not just for the men wearing the boxing gloves.
When the heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield, met the challenger, Larry Holmes, last night in a 12-round title bout at Caesars Palace, the outcome would reflect on the work of the trainers as well as the fighters.
For George Benton, who guides the 29-year-old Holyfield (27-0, 22 knockouts), and Don Turner, the man behind the 42-year-old Holmes (54-3, 37 knockouts), victory is the best proof of a trainer's effectiveness. Win enough big fights, work with enough champions, and a trainer's credibility is established.
By now, Benton has the imprimatur of a big-timer. Besides Holyfield, he trains Meldrick Taylor, the World Boxing Association welterweight champion, and Pernell Whitaker, the former undisputed lightweight champion who will challenge the International Boxing Federation junior welterweight champion, Rafael Pineda, on July 18 at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
In his time, Benton was a world-class middleweight with a reputation for being slick and elusive. The Rembrandt of the Ring was what sportswriters from his hometown of Philadelphia called him.
But Benton was one of those fighters who lacked the right connections and never did get a chance to fight for the title, even though he beat Joey Giardello, who went on to win the crown.
Benton fought from 1949 to 1970. His career ended when a street hood who had had a quarrel with Benton's brother, Henry, got even by shooting the next Benton he saw: George.
Benton struggled for a few years as he recovered from his wounds. In 1974, heavyweight Joe Frazier asked Benton to help him with his training while Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, was out of town with another fighter.
"Joe knew I was hurting," Benton said. "And he knew I must have needed a little money. Instead of saying, 'George, put this in your pocket,' he was calling me to come into the gym, pal around and maybe show him a few things."
What began as a favor ended up as a vocation. Frazier liked what Benton showed him and several years later, when Frazier retired and began managing boxers, he had Benton work with several of his fighters, including Frazier's son, Marvis.
In the 1980s, Benton switched his affiliation and began working for the fight managers Shelly Finkel and Lou Duva. Finkel and Duva landed Holyfield, along with Taylor, Whitaker, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs, after they had fought in the the 1984 Olympics. being
As for Turner, he was a welterweight and middleweight in a career that by his own account was bereft of glory. So niggling were the rewards that Turner was obliged to moonlight as a stock clerk in New York City supermarkets.
When he retired from boxing in the late 1960s, he drove a taxi and began working with fighters in New York gyms. Within six months, Turner said, he was an ex-cabbie and a full-time trainer.