Thursday, February 2, 2012

RIP Angelo Dundee
Aug. 30, 1921 — Feb. 1, 2012
The sports world has lost a man who shaped the career of some of the boxing’s greatest fighters. Angelo Dundee, trainer and corner man for Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay, died Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. According to his son Jim, Dundee had been admitted to a Clearwater-area hospital after suffering a blood clot following a trip to Louisville to celebrate Ali's 70th birthday two weeks ago. After spending a few days in the hospital, Dundee was transferred to a rehabilitation centre, where he died.
Best known for his work with Muhammad Ali (1960-1981), he also worked with 15 other world boxing champions, including Sugar Ray Leonard, José Nápoles, George Foreman, Jimmy Ellis, Carmen Basilio, Luis Rodriguez and Willie Pastrano.
Jim Murray wrote about Dundee exactly 45 years ago, on Feb 5, 1967. 



 Angelo Dundee: The Man Cassius Can't Do Without

    HOUSTON — This is the way a fighter is supposed to be. He's supposed to like whiskey and women and a cabaret with a lot of leggy dames and loud horns. His manager is the one with the cigars and the white tie and the diamonds gleaming on his fat fingers like mirrors in a honky-tonk carnival, and he gets his picture in the paper coming out of the house in Appalachia with his coat over his head.
    But this is the heavyweight champion of the world, a disturbed and disturbing young man who comes at you with a theology that's right out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His manager is the son of the pontiff of this new religion, a fat little fellow who looks as harmless as Hermann Goering. And this kid spends his Sundays in a Mosque, but in the ring now, he's more like a kid on a playground. He's taunting the Canadian bully-boy George Chuvalo, and you have to hit yourself on the side of the head because what you're hearing is dialogue right out of a schoolyard rumble or even, "My father can lick your father."
    He goes through like the eye of a hurricane. Society doesn't know whether to get a net over him or elect him President. He licks Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson and the U.S. Army with equal skill and enthusiasm, the unlikeliest-looking villain since Lizzie Borden.
    But fighting is, after all, a science — a sordid science, if you will — and the admixture of witchcraft, demonology, and camel caravans would not be feasible without first learning the left jab.
    This is why the champ's first words on awakening at 5 a.m. every day in an alien city are invariably, "Where's Ange?" And the eyes dart around the room in some panic, looking for the one Caucasian face in the omelet of reverends, photographers, rubdown men, sparring partners, and the shaven-head goons who call themselves "The fruit of Islam."
    Angelo Dundee, nee Mirena, is an island of sanity in a sea of lunacy. This is the man who patched five cuts in one round for Carmen Basillio once. This is the man who taught Luis Rodriguez to slip the jab, to counter with the right.
    The name is a legacy from an older brother who tried the prize ring as a middleweight in the days when Italian pugs were borrowing their names from Dundee, Scotland — an easier age when it was possible to call somebody in the ring "The Scotch Wop."
    Angie Dundee is a pleasant little man with eyes like large, brown poached eggs, which give him the perpetual clownish expression of a guy who has just been hit over the head with a high heel.
    There were nine brothers and sisters in the large family that began in Calabria, Italy, and moved to South Philly, where papa was a track walker for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and ran his home with love but patriarchal tyranny. In the Mirena home, Father Knew Best, and he never read Dr. Spock.
    That would be Angelo Sr. Angelo Jr. went off to war, signing, in 1942. Along with the rest of the Dundee boys. He dropped parachutists in Holland, and repaired the gliders in England later.
    Brother Joe lost a promising career in the club arenas when he came home with a shiner one night, and papa gave him a matched set. Fighting was for lowlifes, it was explained.
    But there wasn't much money in track-walking either, and Brother Chris had a stable of fighters in 1946 when Angelo came out of service. When I tell you the best one was a nobody named "Norment Quarles," you have a pretty good line on the rest.
    But Brother Angie learned to wrap fists, and why you wrap tape around water bottles (so they won't turn to shards in the ring by dropping them in hectic seconds between rounds) and how to slit a cut-eye mouse with a razor so the fighter can see to fight.
    It was in 1961 that a superb young physical specimen from Louisville first hand-picked Angie for a trainer. That was before Cassius Marcellus Clay considered white skin a criminal offense, and he knew every fighter whose hands Angie had ever wrapped. And he knew he wanted him. In fact, needed him.
    There were those who since have thought it would be like a Jew in the Nazis' cabinet, but Angie has been as slick in dodging outside the ring as Cassius has been in it.
    Angie learned his business in the days when you had to bribe the matchmakers to get bouts. He became adept at instilling confidence in his waning fighter at the precise psychological instant. It was Angie Dundee who knew what to say when Cassius Clay, dismayed, disheartened, came to his corner in the Liston fight and said, "Cut the gloves off, I've had it!" It was Angie Dundee, then on the payroll at a piddling $125-a-week, who said, "Not in the heavyweight championship of the world. We don't cut the gloves off as long as you are conscious enough to know it." And he pushed him out to the championship.
    Angie has never had to fix a cut for Cassius Clay. But he will know how when the time comes. He is worth at least as much to Clay as his left hook. Angie had been his manager, and then was demoted again when Clay kicked his Louisville sponsoring group out, and substituted his own private Vatican.
    "It's the greatest honor in the world to be the trainer of the heavyweight champion of the world," Angie says soberly. "It is a great thrill to have a great fighter. It is a small price just to have to call him 'Muhammad'." Angie is the only man in the world who can tell jokes to the champion with six-letter words in them to describe Americans of African descent, because Clay knows Angie Dundee is as without prejudice as the statue of Lincoln.
    On matters of faith and morals, Clay listens to the guys with the pearl fezzes. On matters pugilistic, he would shush Elijah himself to hear what Angie was saying. Of course, there are a great many people who fervently hope that Angie will just do as he is told if he ever hears the command from Clay again to "Cut the gloves off."

*Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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