By Ziggy Shah: Since the death of legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, one question that I have constantly been faced with is, ‘Did Dundee make Ali great?”
There are those who believe that Ali was such a naturally gifted boxer, he would have achieved the global success he did, under the guidance of any trainer.
Indeed, Ali was an exceptional talent who was full of confidence in his own ability. It was this confidence aided by his cocky charisma that got him noticed in the media spotlight. Even in the ring, he always gave the impression that he was in control, with or without the advice that was being given to him in the corner between sessions. One example of this was seen in Zaire when Ali fought George Foreman. Dundee could be seen and heard shouting at Ali to stay of the ropes, but Ali did the exact opposite and employed what the boxing world know refers to as ‘rope a dope.’
Dundee himself admitted in many interviews that ‘Ali did what he wanted to do when the bell sounded.’ Some may conclude that this statement confirms that Dundee did not enhance Ali’s career and it was Ali’s own natural ability and boxing know-how that made him ‘The Greatest.’ However, if we are to assume that Dundee’s training methods were not instrumental in Ali’s career, one thing which cannot be underestimated is the presence of Dundee in the corner and the career defining decisions he made for Ali.
In 1963, Ali, who was then called Clay, fought Henry Cooper. It was considered a warm up before Clay took on Sonny Liston for the world crown. In the fourth, Ali was floored towards the end of the round and looked unsteady as he made his way back to the corner. The following moments were controversial, because somehow Dundee bought extra vital seconds for his fighter to recuperate. Some argue that the ‘thumb in the glove’ incident never happened, but one thing that cannot be denied, is Ali got longer than the scheduled minute breather. If Ali never got the extra seconds and was stopped in the 5th round, would the Liston fight have happened? No, and Ali would not have become the champion in ’64.
In the following year Ali challenged for the title aginst Liston and was doing well until he felt a burning sensation in his eyes which was blinding him. He wanted to quit and asked Dundee, ‘To cut them loose.’ But who pushed him back in the ring and instructed him to continue? It was Angelo. Had he agreed with Ali, and pulled his fighter out, the phrase ‘No Mas’ would have been forever linked with Ali as well as Roberto Duran. How would that have affected Ali’s legacy?
Finally, In 1975, Ali faced his arch rival Joe Frazier in the ‘The Thriller in Manilla.’ It is still considered the greatest heavyweight contest of all time and was watched by millions world wide. The WBA and WBC straps were up for grabs but much more important for the boxers was ‘Pride’. It was a rubber match and both wanted victory, regardless of the cost. In the 14th, after the heat and exhaustion had overtook Ali’s declining ability, he once again asked Dundee to ‘Cut Them Loose.’ But Dundee waited, he noticed that Frazier was also overcome with the same demons that were taking over both boxers physically.
At this point it was Eddie Futch who made the first move and pulled out his boxer from what many believe would have resulted in the death of Frazier. But what if Dundee had obeyed and ‘cut them loose?’ Would Ali have been able to live with the fact that Frazier got the better of him? What would the damage have been to his legacy if he had been pulled out against Liston and Frazier? Dundee may not have helped Ali to the extent that his boxer owed all his physical ability to the great trainer, but, Dundee’s presence and decision making in the career of Muhammad Ali,was without doubt, what made Ali great.