Boxing: Muhammad Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee dies aged 90
Published 02/02/2012 | 07:54
Angelo Dundee, renowned for being the trainer of Muhammad Ali in his greatest fights, and afterwards Sugar Ray Leonard in his pomp, has died. He was 90. He was part psychologist, part motivator. A ring master. Stories flowed from him like punches hitting a speedball.
Dundee, one of life's bright sparks with quick quips and a master in the corner, has always been held in the highest esteem as an ambassador for boxing and a figure of integrity. Not many can claim that in boxing.
Dundee died with his family surrounding him, said son, Jimmy Dundee, but not before being able to attend Ali's 70th birthday bash in Louisville, Kentucky, last month.
"It was the way he wanted to go," Jimmy Dundee said. "He did everything he wanted to do."
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994 after a career that spanned six decades, training 15 world champions, including Leonard, George Foreman, Carmen Basilio and Jose Napoles.
Yet it was his relationship with Ali, who he helped become the first man to win the heavyweight title three times, for which he is best remembered. The pair would travel around the world for fights to such obscure places as Ali's October 1974 bout in Zaire against Foreman dubbed "The Rumble in the Jungle," and Ali's third fight against Joe Frazier in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, called by promoters as the "Thrilla in Manila."
Dundee, who was often asked if Ali should have retired sooner, said in an interview last year: "Should Muhammad Ali have retired earlier than he did? Shoulda … coulda … woulda …"
"People like Ali find it difficult to stop when they are the centre of attraction. If they stop, then they become zeros. Fighting for ten years, making everyone excited, they step away and then people soon say ‘who is that guy?’
"It’s hard to cut off the electricity. What I did with Muhammad in the gym one day was I saw a big heavyweight skipping the rope, stuttering, with little rhythm. ‘He hasn’t got the rhythm any more,’ I told Ali. He glazed over. I was in the car with him one day – towards the end of his career – and I said ‘You are starting to stutter,’ but it didn’t matter. He stopped boxing when he wanted to stop. Whatever happened, happened."
Their partnership began in Louisville, Ali's hometown, in 1959. Dundee was there with light heavyweight Willie Pastrano when the young Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, called their room from a hotel phone to ask if he could have five minutes. Clay, a local Golden Gloves champion, kept asking the men boxing questions in a conversation that lasted 3½ hours, according to Dundee's autobiography, "My View From the Corner: A Life in Boxing."
After Ali returned from Rome with a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, Dundee ran into him in Louisville and invited him to come to Miami Beach to train. Ali declined. But that December, Dundee got a call from one of Ali's handlers, seeking to hire Dundee. After Ali won his first pro fight, Dundee accepted.
In an age of boxing when fighter-manager relationships rarely last, Dundee and Ali would never split.
One veteran boxing writer once told me of arriving hours late with a few others for an Ali press conference in a hotel in Ireland in the Seventies. Finding Dundee in the lobby of the hotel, he was asked where Ali was. "In his room," replied Dundee. Requesting 10 minutes with Ali, Dundee replied that there was "no chance".
"Muhammad never speaks to the media for less than an hour." With that, he took the writers to Ali's room, where Dundee and Ali regaled them for hours.
When Cassius Clay angered white America by joining the Black Muslims and become Muhammad Ali, Dundee never wavered. When Ali defied the draft at the height of the Vietnam war, losing 3½ years from the prime of his career, Dundee was there waiting for the heavyweight's return. And when Ali would make bold projections, spewing poetry that made headlines across the world and gave him the nickname "The Louisville Lip," Dundee never asked him to keep quiet.
Born Angelo Mirena on Aug. 30, 1921, in south Philadelphia, Dundee joined the sport after returning from World War II, following two brothers into the sport. He changed his name to Dundee so that his parents were not aware he had gone into boxing. He loved the sport. Call him, from anywhere in the world, and he would regale you for an hour and enthuse about the sport he loved. And which will always love him.