As the world celebrates the life of Muhammad Ali, it is fitting to acknowledge the contribution that his trainer Angelo Dundee made to Ali’s legacy and the sport of boxing.
Dundee trained 15 world champions including George Forman & Sugar Ray Leonard. However, it was Dundee’s 21 year long partnership with Muhammad Ali that was revered across the boxing world. His technical knowledge and ability to motivate, played a pivotal role in Ali’s most defining moments.
Dundee learnt his trade in the late 1940s, closely observing the great trainers at Stillman’s Gym in New York. He became a renowned trainer for his kindness and interpersonal skills, teaching his protégées how to use their minds, before their fists.
“Training fighters is like trying to catch a fish. It’s technique, not strength.” Angelo Dundee
In 1960, after hearing of Dundee’s reputation, the then known Cassius Clay, called Dundee to ask if he could have five minutes to discuss boxing. The conversation lasted 3½ hours as Clay continually peppered questions at Angelo. The conversation ended with Dundee agreeing to become Ali’s trainer.
For the next 21 years, Dundee remained Ali’s trainer – a partnership unheard of in a sport where Dundee said, “Boxers change trainers more than their shorts”. Dundde’s affection towards Ali was evident in the way he always referred to Ali as ‘my kid’.
“Oh, God, that one was one of his very best. But the best of all was the win over Sonny Liston. He [Liston] was the baddest man on the planet at the time, and no-one gave my kid a chance going in”. Dundee on Ali’s victory over Foreman.
In or out of the ring, Dundee never attempted to turn Ali into something he was not. In the foreword to Dundee’s autobiography, Ali said “He let me be exactly who I wanted to be, and he was loyal. That is the reason I love Angelo”.
“I never had a conversation with Muhammad about anything personal,” he says. “We never discussed religion — nothing. I never interfered with this kid when he left the gym. He’s a man; he can take care of his own things. None of my business. All I wanted to do was work with him as a fighter. That was my reputation with him — period.” Dundee on Ali’s personal affairs.
In the title fight against Sonny Liston in 1964, Dundee made his most notable contribution towards Ali’s legacy. At the end of the fourth round, Clay had been temporarily blinded – potentially due to dirty tactics on Liston’s behalf. Clay sat down resigned to the fate he couldn’t continue and told Dundee to ‘cut the gloves off’.
Dundee refused and forced his finger into the corner of Ali’s eye before rubbing it into his own (Dundee would later revealed that it really did burn). Dundee then sponged Ali’s eyes, told him to get on with the job and shoved him back into the centre of the ring.
By the sixth round, Ali’s vision cleared and he proceeded to knock Liston into submission – claiming his maiden heavyweight title as a 7-1 underdog.
Following the win, the triumphant Clay ran to the edge of the ring, pointed at the ringside press and shouted: “Eat your words!, I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived”.
Ali and Angelo remained close friends until Dundee’s death in 2012. An illustration of the timeless bond that can exist between player and coach.
Notice who is in the locker room after you lose, not after you win.- Angelo Dundee
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