Remembrance: Trainer Angelo Dundee was at his best in the corner for Ali, Leonard and more
The biggest fight in boxing history might not have been nearly so big were it not for the cunning and quick thinking of trainer Angelo Dundee.
Long before Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met for the first time in their iconic heavyweight title bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1971, Dundee saved Ali from a near-certain defeat in a fight against Henry Cooper.
[ Slideshow: Angelo Dundee’s life in pictures ]
On June 18, 1963, when Ali still was known as Cassius Clay, Dundee noticed a tear in one of Clay’s gloves before the fight in London. Rather than say anything, Dundee filed away the information for future use.
Clay was one win away from challenging Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title when Cooper decked him with a devastating hook near the end of the fourth round.
Clay arose but was in bad shape and needed time to recover. That’s when Dundee, who died Wednesday in his Florida home at 90, used the information he had gleaned earlier.
It was only after the fourth round, when a woozy Clay needed a longer break than the 60 seconds he’d get, that Dundee brought to the attention of referee Tommy Little the tear in Clay’s glove.
Little immediately called time and ordered that Clay be given a new glove. The respite was all Clay needed to regain his bearings, and in the next round he stopped Cooper, continuing his march toward the heavyweight title and the ultimate showdown with Frazier.
[ Obituary: Trainer of champions Angelo Dundee (1921-2012) ]
The bout with Frazier, which forever became known as “The Fight of the Century,” might still have occurred, but it wouldn’t have pitted two undefeated champions and thus would never have become as massive a sporting event as it did without Dundee’s quick thinking at the end of the fourth round of the Cooper fight in 1963.
“As a trainer, Angelo was OK; he was good, but not great,” said promoter Bob Arum, a close friend of Dundee’s for five decades. “But as a cornerman, he was great. There was never anybody nearly as good as he was in the corner. He’d pick up things during the round, he communicated very well with his fighter in between rounds, and nobody, and I mean nobody, ever could motivate a fighter during a fight as well as Angie.”
Dundee was instrumental in wins for many of the sport’s top stars, including Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman.
In 1981, it was Dundee’s now-famous line, “You’re blowing it, son. You’re blowing it!” which helped motivate Leonard to rally and knock out Thomas Hearns in the 14th round of their mega-fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
In Leonard’s autobiography, “Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight,” he credited Dundee’s exhortations for helping him to win the bout, writing:
“The way Angelo said it was as important as what he said, with the perfect mixture of urgency, encouragement and affection. Angelo was no Knute Rockne, but, with the exception of the Dick Ecklund fight, he knew precisely how to get through to me at the most pivotal moments, and no moment in the fight, or in my career, was more pivotal than this.”
Dundee wrote about the same incident in his book, “My View from the Corner,” and though he said, “It wasn’t a battle cry that would wake the echoes,” he, too, believed his encouragement played a role in Leonard’s turnaround.
“It didn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the moment had gotten away from us, that there were no more Sundays, no more tomorrows, and no title at the end of the road,” he wrote. “Something had to be done. Now, there are certain rules for trainers in corners: There’s no time for hand-wringing; and no time to get preachy. You’ve got to give your fighter stripped-to-the-bone advice, just as Manny Seamon had given Joe Louis in the second Jersey Joe Walcott fight when he told him simply, ‘You’ve got to knock him out,’ and Louis, heeding his advice, did.”
[ Ring: Dundee loved fights and loved fun ]
Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager and a friend of Dundee for 50 years, heaped praised on Dundee for his ability to spot trends in a fight and to communicate quickly and easily with a fighter.
Dundee knew each fighter needed to be handled differently, and he was expert at doing that.
“He was masterful in those 60 seconds,” Kilroy said. “It was like he had a magic formula to turn things around and get his guy the win. No one was smarter in the corner than Angelo Dundee.”
Bruce Trampler, Top Rank’s Hall of Fame matchmaker, got his start in boxing working for Dundee and his brother Chris. In those days, Trampler was working corners and got his baptism under fire by working alongside Dundee.
In the first round of the first fight they worked together, their fighter suffered three serious cuts. As the bell sounded to end the round, Dundee said, “OK, Bruce. I’m going to sit this one out,” and forced Trampler to go up and try to turn things around.
It was his way of trying to teach Trampler what it would be like in the heat of battle.
“[Dundee] was such a great guy and the softest touch in the world, and the list of people who owe him money to this day is so long, it would be hard to believe,” Trampler said. “But when you think of him, you think of him at his best, when he was in the corner. He knew how to get the best out of everybody he worked with. He was masterful.”
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