On This Day In 1928 – The One And Only Drew “Bundini” Brown Was Born

There is a forthcoming book on the life and times of the one and only Drew “Bundini” Brown (“Don’t* Believe The Hype – Bundini” by Todd D. Snyder – the book due for release in August – *the word Don’t crossed out in the clever title) – and what a fascinating read this promises to be.

Brown – known to millions as one of the corner-men of Muhammad Ali; Bundini really serving the heavyweight champ in a “spiritual” way, as a motivator – was born today in 1928. Born in Midway, Florida, Brown had a simply amazing, varied and at times surreal life. Big for his age, Brown lied to the US Navy and, accepted as being older than his actual 13 years, spent 12 long years traveling the world on the high seas. This was from the years 1941 to 1953. It was whilst serving in the Navy that Brown got his “Bundini” nickname.

After returning to dry land and opting to stay there, Bundini settled in Harlem and soon hooked up with the greatest fighter of them all: Sugar Ray Robinson. Bundini found work in a rib joint that was a couple of doors away from Sugar Ray’s famous bar of the same name. One evening, Bundini walked in and seemingly connected with Robinson instantly. Sugar Ray, as would be the case with Ali years later, found that “something” Bundini had rubbed off on him, in a good way, and he hired him to join his training camp. Bundini worked with the middleweight king for seven years.

Having learned plenty during this time, Bundini then became friendly with the young Ali; just as the still Cassius Clay was training for his tough fight with Doug Jones. Bundini’s energy, his presence, and his poetry and wit fed the emerging superstar and a firm partnership was formed. “You just don’t train the body,” Bundini told Ali, “You got to get into the soul.”

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Despite his unwillingness to adhere to the strict Muslim rules Ali and other members of his team obeyed – Bundini liking a drink, to put it mildly, as well as pretty white girls – Brown remained a key member of Ali’s entourage. Call him Ali’s witch-doctor if you like (as Dr. Fredie Pacheco did). Bundini was there for many of Ali’s major fights: Liston, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Spinks, Holmes and, at the sad end, Berbick.

During this time Bundini drove Angelo Dundee crazy, he was fired by Ali for having the temerity to actually sell the champ’s world title belt (later brought back by Ali, a man who was never able to stay mad at anyone) and he came up with a ton of memorable lines. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” arguably Ali’s most famous line, was Bundini’s.

Bundini seemed to feel the pain when Ali lost (in tears after the Norton busted jaw defeat) as well as the joy when Ali won. Bundini was there for Ali, in a way no other member of the entourage was. Bundini also had unlimited faith in Ali, to the extent that he was grabbing at Dundee’s shirt and begging for “one more round” as Angelo was deciding to stop the awful Ali-Larry Holmes fight in 1980. Ali and Bundini were friends to the end.

Bundini’s end came too soon; Bundini involved in a bad car crash in which he pinched a nerve in his back. Later, Bundini suffered a fall at his home, being paralyzed as a result. Ali visited his old friend in the hospital, finding Bundini unable to speak and only able to move his eyes. Brown died at the young age of 57. But Bundini lived each and every one of his days like very few men ever have or will. Unique, special and an absolutely fascinating human being.

Again, the forthcoming book promises a whole lot. Perhaps the movie will follow.

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