Happy Birthday Angelo Dundee - The Legendary Trainer/Corner-Man Turns 90 Today!

By James Slater: What boxing fan out there has not heard of the legendary Angelo Dundee? Fully deserving of his legendary, even iconic status, the mastermind who guided, most famously, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman (in the latter stages of Foreman’s career) and Michael Nunn, turns 90-years-of age today.

Still sharp as a tack according to former World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight champ David Haye, who worked with Dundee recently, out at the world famous 5th Street Gym in Miami, Dundee has retained his passion for the sport he has given so much to.

It is his work with the two brilliant boxers, Ali and Leonard, that “Angie” will always be remembered most fondly for, however.

Who would dispute the contention that Leonard may well have lost that first, amazing fight with Tommy Hearns without the impassioned words from Angelo of - “You’re blowing it now son, you’re blowing it”? The power of such a motivational speech cannot be underestimated.

Indeed, in an interview this writer was fortunate enough to have had with Sugar Ray earlier this year, the former multi-weight king had nothing but good things to say about his former trainer/corner-man.

“Angie’s value, his true value, was in the corner,” Leonard told me. “Angie had the ability to cope with situations that would drive another trainer crazy! He always seemed to have the perfect sound-bite - ‘you’re blowing it, son!’ (from the Hearns classic of 1981), or ‘don’t go to sleep on me!’ (from the Marvin Hagler upset in ‘87). Angie would never let you see desperation in his face, but he would get the message across.

“Angie was so poised in the corner. I love Angelo. We had some great times together.”

And as for Ali, Angelo came invaluably to his aid on a number of occasions. In fact, the legend of The Greatest wouldn’t, in all likelihood, have even been born if it weren’t for Dundee. Surely every boxing fan knows of the story regarding the first Sonny Liston fight, from 1964? The young Cassius Clay, as he was then known, was all set to pull out of the fight at the end of the fourth round due to problems with his vision. Clay shouted at Angelo to take his gloves off so he could prove to the world there was “dirty work afoot”. Only thanks to Dundee’s cool and experience did the fight not end with Liston the victor.

Sonny may well have had something illegal on his gloves, but the fact is that if Clay had quit there would almost certainly have never been a rematch and an all too receptive public would have believed the Champ’s accusations of Clay being a coward. Sonny was no fool, and in reality he would never have gone near this fast, sharp-punching boxer again, for fear of certain defeat. Just imagine what this would have meant: the Muhammad Ali that we all revere so much today would, in all probability, not have existed.

And Ali himself, as with Sugar Ray, never had a bad word to say about Angie. “He made sure he stuck with Angelo right to the very end. He never got rid of Dundee,” Ali’s former doctor, Ferdie Pacheco once stated. Indeed. Dundee brought out the very best in Ali a whole number of times; his calmness in the corner once again serving Ali no end in that brutal third fight with Joe Frazier in Manila. Legend has it (see Thomas Hauser in the brilliant "Thrilla in Manila" documentary) an exahusted Ali whispered to Dundee after the conclusion of the 14th-round, "cut 'em off." Ali had hit the wall. What did Angelo do? He kept his cool and watered his fighter down, telling him the 15th-round would be where "we seperate the men from the boys!"

My own favourite example of the amazing 90-year-old’s brilliance is from the night Ali fought Earnie Shavers, however. This fight took place in September 1977 and by this time Ali was a ring-worn thirty five year old who had been in many gruelling ring battles. He would need any extra help he could get if he was to prevail against the murderous punching Shavers. Thanks once again to Angelo he got some.

Due to a new experiment, the scorecards of the judges would be shown to the folks back home watching on T.V. They would actually be able to see how the rounds were being scored as they went by. This wasn’t something the astute Dundee failed to capitalise on. He arranged for someone he could trust to be in attendance at the fight and watch the T.V coverage on a small portable T.V. This guy would then see exactly what the fans at home saw, namely the scores of all three judges after every round. He would then signal to Angelo whether or not Ali won the round or if it was scored evenly. Dundee could then tell Ali how to approach each coming round. Picture the scene; Angelo leans over Ali and either whispers “Ok, Champ, you can take it easy this round, you won the last one”. Or; “Suck it up, Champ they gave the last round to the other guy!”. What a massive advantage! There is no doubt in my mind that this helped Ali win the fight. I’m sure you’re aware the final points totals were mighty close. If Earnie Shavers had had someone as quick witted in his corner as Ali had in his, then just maybe he would have become the heavyweight champion of the world.

Today, when he reflects on the achievements he made in boxing, Angelo must be very proud. As modest as ever, though, Angie never, ever boasts.

Happy 90th birthday to a true boxing hero!

Article posted on 30.08.2011

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