The Day I Interviewed Angelo Dundee. R.I.P “Angie.”

By James Slater: Back in September of 2010, in what has to rank as one of the most exciting interviews I have ever done for ESB, I had the privilege, the pleasure and the honour of speaking with all-time great trainer/corner-man Angelo Dundee. Thanks to Rachel Charles, I was able to call the then 89-year-old up on the phone and sit and talk boxing with a man who had picked up a whole lifetime of pugilistic knowledge.

I was a little nervous calling “Angie” up (not that I’d refer to him as that in person - no way would I be that disrespectful), yet as soon as we began talking, I realised what a great, down to earth and basically regular guy he was. There was no ego involved with Angelo, and any dumb question I may have asked him, well, he never pulled me up on it.

Today, as surely all boxing fans know, Dundee passed away after a heart attack. The 90-year-old has been receiving nothing but kind messages of tribute and respect. By way of my own personal tribute to this man without whom the sport of boxing would never have been the same (not to mention the career of some of boxing’s very best fighters would not have been the same), I recall here my time spent speaking with the walking, talking boxing encyclopaedia.

James Slater: It’s a real honour to be able to speak with you, Angelo. There can’t be a single person out there who knows more about boxing than you!

Angelo Dundee: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind.

J.S: You obviously still love boxing, still have a huge passion for it. But what kind of shape would you say boxing is in today - compared to the golden era, or eras?

A.D: You’ve got to go with the times. I get a kick out of being close to the English scene. England is a very special place, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you. I was there during the war, and lots of my fighters were over there. Willie Pastrano made a big impact over there. So, you never know where the next big star is coming from.

J.S: Could the next great champion originate from the new 5th Street Gym (which had just re-opened at the time of my interview)?

A.D: Oh, it [The 5th St. Gym] will draw fighters. Fighters will go there when there’s activity.

J.S: And after all you’ve achieved in your great, Hall of Fame career, are you still looking to find another world champion, or maybe a couple more?

A.D: Oh yes. If a fighter, a kid, comes to see me, and if I see potential….. I’m still working. Right now I’m getting a kick out of working with a girl fighter. Her name is Christine Swanson, and she impresses me because she has the reflexes, the control. She’s a lightweight, she’s also a fire fighter and a University graduate - she’s a special person. She’s had two pro fights, and 30 amateur fights.

J.S: One to look out for. Were you surprised, Angelo, when female boxing became as big as it did?

A.D: I’m not surprised if they’re talented. They [female boxers] always had quality, but not quantity. If they want to do it, why not?

J.S: No interview with you would be complete without a few questions about The Greatest, Muhammad Ali…..

A.D: He was here at my house three weeks ago. His son is a baseball catcher for the university of Louisville, and Lonnie [Ali] called me. Muhammad’s son was playing just near my house, so we got together. Muhammad is my friend.

J.S: So many people continue to talk and debate about Ali fights. On the web site forums, the fans still argue about certain things. For one example, to this day, some people still say you loosened the ropes before that epic fight in Zaire, with George Foreman. I know you’ve been asked about that a million times, but can you tell me - did you loosen the ropes or not?

A.D: Isn’t it wonderful that people are still curious? I love that, because it means we’re still here. No, what happened was, I went to Kinshasa - we were 45-minutes away in Nsele, staying in a villa - and I went to the arena that day at 4P.M, and I tried to tighten the ropes, Bobby Goodman and I. They were 24-foot ropes for a 20-foot ring. It wasn’t easy, but we tightened them, not figuring on the heat in Zaire. The fight wasn’t until 4A.M the next morning, and the heat loosened the ropes again. I never wanted Muhammad to lie on the ropes; as a matter of fact, I whacked him on his butt whenever he lay on the ropes near the corner. That ring was six-foot off the ground, and I was worried Foreman would hit him in the chest and knock him out of the ring. If that had happened, the fight would’ve been over.

J.S: Of all Ali’s great wins, was that one of his absolute best?

A.D: Oh, God yes. But the best of all was the win over Sonny Liston. He was the baddest man on the planet, and no-one gave my kid a chance going in. That one was special.

J.S: Fans often say one of the great rematches never to happen was Ali-Foreman II. What would’ve happened had they met in, say, 1976 or ’77?

A.D: Well, certain people beat certain people. This happens all the time in boxing, you’ve seen it. Actually, the old George Foreman would’ve given Ali a tougher fight. But the young George, with his wild swings, my guy would’ve beaten him all night.

J.S: You say the old Foreman would’ve done better against Ali. Is that because George was more relaxed and patient at that age?

A.D: Yeah. He was relaxed, steady and he would grind you down - just like he did to Michael Moorer, when he won the title back.

J.S: But Ali would still have beaten the old Foreman?

A.D: That style, yeah.

J.S: You must have seen all the recent books and documentaries about “The Thrilla in Manila,” with fans still loving that sensational action fight. What do you say to those people who believe Ali would not have been able to come out for that 15th-round against Joe Frazier. Did Ali in fact say to you at the end of the 14th, “cut ’em off?”

A.D: No, that’s not true. People get confused, and they’re getting confused with the Liston fight. My guy told me, “cut the gloves off, I wanna prove there’s dirty work afoot!” I said, no gloves, no fight! But in Manila, no. Ali had such a great 14th-round, why on earth would I stop the fight in the 15th? I’ve seen those documentaries, and I see faces on there of people, who weren’t even there at the fight! George Kimball, a good friend of mine, he’s going to write a piece on the fight, with all the people and writers and everything, who were there. I look forward to that article.

J.S: Joe Frazier still maintains that, as blind as he was himself, Ali was more exhausted and had nothing left to go that last round.

A.D: Ali could’ve gone all night. Where he got his reserves from I don’t know. But he always had those reserves. He was a little bit special. One time I saw him get decked in sparring. He got whacked on the chin, but as soon as his butt hit the canvas he woke up and he got up. I knew then I had a great fighter to work with.

J.S: How would Ali do today, with the huge Klitschko brothers?

A.D: He would’ve stopped both of them. See, Ali looked great against big guys - Cleveland Williams I’ll give you as an example, a huge guy. Another guy, most people haven’t seen the fight, a guy named Duke Sabedong from early in Muhammad’s career (June of 1961, a points win for Ali). He was like 6’6.” Ali’s speed would have overcome both Klitschko brothers. But, hey, they’re the best around today. I think a guy named David Haye is interesting. I don’t think he’d let then hug onto him. Haye is an interesting guy and we need him around. I like the English fighters. One story I’ll tell you - back when Lennox Lewis was still deciding whether or not he was from Canada or Britain (laughs), I was asked to a meeting with Lewis, by Bill Kaplan. I told Lewis to go to the U.K, because the U.K fans are the greatest on earth. I’m kind of proud of that, because Lewis went on to become quite special.

J.S: Angelo, we all know you and millions of other people rate Ali as THE best-ever heavyweight champion. Who do you rate at number-two?

A.D: At number-two? Good one. George Foreman. But then you can’t discount Joe Louis, the finest human being God ever put on this earth. How can you not include Rocky Marciano? You know, you could talk all day. It’s like a trivia question, but everyone has their opinion (laughs).

J.S: Do you ever sit and watch the old classic fights you were involved in?

A.D: I never watch myself! I don’t do that stuff (laughs). But I do watch the old fights, because you never know when it might come in useful - when I might need to show a fighter a certain technique to win a fight. I never miss a fight today. I go to all the local fights and I watch everything on T.V. I never want to miss something and then get asked about it and wind up looking like a dummy!

J.S: Your opinion on the fight we all hope will actually happen will be of great interest. Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao, who wins?

A.D: I like Mayweather. It’s a difficult fight and a great fight. I hope it happens. Mayweather is actually a nice kid. He was down here recently, and he put his arm around me and said “you’re blowing it son, your blowing it!” He comes off as ugly, but he’s not really like that.

J.S: It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you, Angelo.

A.D: Oh, I appreciate you calling me. I’m a lucky guy - who goes to work each day and really enjoys what they do? I met my wife through boxing, and we’ve been married now for 58-years. I’m a very lucky human being.

Angelo’s Diamonds: Dundee’s Three Best-Ever Fighters:

1: Muhammad Ali. Who else!? Memorable moment in the corner: When Dundee stopped the then Cassius Clay from basically quitting when his eyes were burning during the 4th and 5th-rounds of the first Sonny Liston fight. A cool, calm and collected Dundee knew his fighter had to carry on, whether the Liston camp had cheated by putting a foreign substance on his glove or gloves - because no-one would have believed Clay’s claims and the Ali legend would never have been born.

2: Sugar Ray Leonard. Memorable moment in the corner: “You’re blowing it now, son; you’re blowing it!” The words Dundee used to sufficiently motivate a tiring, behind-on-points Leonard after the 12th-round of his classic with Thomas Hearns. Who knows, without Angelo’s inspiration, Sugar Ray may have lost the biggest fight of his career!

3: George Foreman. Memorable moment in the corner: “Now we’ve got to separate the men from the boys,” Dundee after the ageing Foreman had taken an especially bad shellacking at the hands of Michael Moorer during Big George’s attempt to regain the world championship. Dundee, again staying calm, gave Foreman advice on how to flatten southpaw Moorer. Foreman went on to make boxing history. It’s fitting Angelo Dundee was there to help him.

Article posted on 02.02.2012

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