By Rich Mancuso
Sadly this has been a bad two days for boxing with the passing of middleweight Gene Fulimer, Goody Petroelli, the trainer and manager of Marvin Hagler, and on Wednesday the passing of referee Wayne Kelly and legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
Dundee, 90, died of heart failure with family by his side in Tampa Florida. He had been ailing and was able to attend the recent 70th birthday celebration of Muhammad Ali, the fighter he was most known to be associated with. It was Ali and Dundee that was meant to happen and they will always be associated with boxing history.
Boxing trainers of today claim to say they have studied and analyzed how Dundee worked the corner, more so, how he schooled the unknown and then unknown Cassius Clay into the first three-time heavyweight champion.
The exploits of Dundee and Ali are chronicled in a recent book “My View from The Corner, A Life in Boxing” written by Bert Sugar the renowned boxing author and historian, and Dundee. In the foreword, Ali says about his trainer and mentor, “He never said I was wrong. He never asked why I joined the Muslims. He never said anything about it.”
“That is the one reason I stayed with him. Of course, he was a great trainer too. But through all those days of controversy, and the many that followed, Angelo never got involved. He let me be exactly what I wanted to be and he was loyal. That is the reason I love Angelo.”
And indeed, with loyalty not a word associated with boxing today, Dundee and Ali shared that so well. There was a bond and an instant gratification for each other. Dundee became the old school second father and mentor, Ali the student and son. It was as they, a marriage made in heaven.
Dundee also worked the corners for Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman. In 1981, when Leonard was losing this fight against Tommy Hearns he would say in the corner, “You’re blowing it son, you’re blowing it.” Leonard would go on to defeat Hearns by knockout, and become a lure in boxing history.
“A full appreciation of Ray’s talents and achievements would have to wait until his fight with Tommy Hearns,” wrote Dundee in the book. Working the corner for George Foreman contributed to the Dundee legacy that got him inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
It was a career of six decades and working with 15 world champions. He guided Foreman in 1994 to become the oldest heavyweight champion at 45 with a win over Michael Moorer. Dundee would say about the Ali-Forman fight, “If the Sonny Liston fight was the formative one of Ali’s career, then the Foreman fight was his most satisfying.”
He would use salt to revive fighters in the corner, something the trainer of today is not known for. Dundee did not have any need for salt when the young Cassius Clay hit the scene and claimed the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in 1964. Liston would quit on his stool after the sixth round in Miami Beach on February 25th.
After the fight, Dundee would comment to the late boxing scribe Red Smith, who did not believe Clay would win, “I told forty newspaper guys in six days how this fight would go.” Dundee would question the previous knockouts by Liston and his opponents. Ali, he knew, from the first day they met, 1959, in Louisville, that something special was going to happen.
According to Sugar, when Ali said, he was the best in the world and told people to bow down to him, “Angelo was the first and with a big smile.” It was a sign, respect, and admiration for a fighter, one that Dundee knew would be special for the sport, in an era when boxing was the sport of kings.
When the heavyweight division meant something and epitomized boxing, Angelo Dundee, and Clay were destined to make history.
Bob Arum, the promoter of Top Rank said, “Dundee was the whole package. Angelo was the greatest motivator of all time.” He added that Dundee and his motivation convinced Ali to continue in one of his legendary fights with Joe Frazier, the fight known as “The Thrilla in Manilla.” Ali would stop Frazier in the 14th round.
“Angelo Dundee was a plus for boxing and society,” said Sugar when reached at his home in Chappaqua New York. “He was the nicest man you ever met.” They ate many sloppy dinners of pasta when they put the book together. Sugar added, “Angelo had a wonderful run or 90 years, and he would end up writing the endings of Ali’s poems.”
One of those is most memorable, when Clay wrote his prediction of defeating Liston. The poem ends, “The crowd didn’t realize when they put down their money, that they’d see a total eclipse of the Sonny.” You are only good as your next performance is an old saying in sports. In boxing, more so, Dundee would always believe that when Ali stepped in the ring.
In the gym, the dressing room, and finally in the ring is where one would get to know Angelo Dundee. The motivator of champions is now in boxing heaven with the rest of boxing greats.
Rest in Peace Angelo Dundee. You were truly one of the greatest names that will always be associated with boxing history.