Angelo Dundee: Boxing trainer famed for his long association with Muhammad Ali

 

Angelo Dundee was, due to his 20-year partnership with Muhammad Ali, the best-known and most celebrated boxing trainer in the history of the sport. While others, such as Dundee's contemporary, the late Eddie Futch, may have enjoyed similar respect within boxing circles, it was Dundee's jolly, gregarious personality, combined with Ali's worldwide fame, which ensured that the stocky, bespectacled trainer-manager became a legendary figure in his own right.

Angelo Dundee: Fighting Ali's corner

Although it was occasionally suggested (sometimes by Ali himself) that the fighter known as "The Greatest" had no need of a trainer per se, Dundee's value to Ali as a corner man was beyond dispute. In 1963, Dundee famously tweaked the stuffing (and the rules of boxing) from the then Cassius Clay's split glove to allow Clay time to recover from a fourth-round knockdown by Henry Cooper.

The following year, he persuaded a panicked Clay to fight on against Sonny Liston after liniment from Liston's shoulder had temporarily blinded his young charge; Clay duly recovered and became heavyweight champion of the world. And in 1975 in Manila, after the 11th round of Ali's gruelling third encounter with Joe Frazier, it was Dundee who, in the words of Eddie Futch, Frazier's corner man, "prevailed upon" an exhausted Ali to continue, forcing a stoppage at the end of the 14th round.

Ali himself would later say that Dundee was "the best there ever was or ever will be. If you want to be champ, then you've got to give Angelo a call." Other fighters who won championships under Dundee's guidance included Carmen Basilio, Luis Rodriguez, Sugar Ramos, Willie Pastrano, Jose Naploes, and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Angelo Dundee was born Angelo Mirena in Philadelphia (often considered America's boxing capital) in 1921, the fifth son of an Italian shepherd who had emigrated from Calabria at the turn of the century (the family name was originally Mirenda before evolving, mainly due to bureaucratic error, to Mireno and finally, Mirena). After graduating from South Philadelphia High School in 1938, Angelo found employment at a naval aircraft factory. In 1943, he was inducted into the armed forces, serving in a clerical capacity in England and France.

After being demobbed in 1946 with the rank of staff sergeant, he returned to his old job. Two years later he was invited to New York to assist his elder brother Chris Dundee, a leading boxing promoter. The Dundee surname had first been taken by Angelo's eldest brother, Joe, a Philadelphia club fighter who adopted it as a mark of respect to three former world champions of Italian background who had all fought under that name. Chris and Angelo inherited it in due course, and in later years Angelo adopted it legally.

While working as a general factotum for Chris from the latter's room-cum-office in the Capitol Hotel, Dundee spent many hours in the famed Stillman's gym on 55th Street and Eighth Avenue, watching and learning from the great trainers of the day, men like Ray Arcel, Whitey Bimstein, Charley Goldman, and Chickie Ferrara. In 1950, Chris moved his operation to Miami, where Angelo, by now also working as a manager, joined him the following year.

The new location led to Dundee working with many Cuban fighters, three of whom he would later steer to world titles. In 1952, he began working the corner for Carmen Basilio, who in 1955 won the world welterweight title from Tony De Marco, and in 1957, with Dundee as his trainer, defeated Sugar Ray Robinson for the world middleweight championship.

In 1960, Dundee was approached to train Cassius Clay, the light-heavyweight gold medallist at that year's Rome Olympics. Dundee quickly realised that the traditional fighter-trainer relationship would not work with the independent-minded Clay: "You didn't train him like the usual fighter. He resented direction, so I used misdirection." By making oblique suggestions, Dundee allowed Clay the freedom to develop his unique style, while at the same time ensuring that basic lessons were learned.

Dundee was also wise enough to distance himself from his fighter's private life – a rule he observed with all his boxers – so that when Clay converted to Islam and then refused induction into the army in 1967 and was stripped of his title, their relationship remained unaffected. Following Ali's return to boxing in 1970, and subsequent losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, it was Dundee who helped restore Ali's morale. In 1974, his faith was rewarded when Ali regained the championship from George Foreman in Zaire, courtesy of some shrewd observations from Dundee on Foreman's shortcomings and Ali's own improvised "rope-a-dope" tactics.

In 1980, after Ali had retired (having lost and regained the title in bouts with Leon Spinks), Dundee faced criticism for allowing Ali to fight Larry Holmes. His response at the time was both typical and understandable: "I was with him in the beginning, I've been with him in every circumstance and every condition, and I want to be with him at the end." After 10 one-sided rounds, Dundee withdrew Ali from the fight, despite pressure from the fighter's entourage to let him continue.

In the 1980s, Dundee enjoyed further success with the outstanding welterweight Sugar Ray Leonard, who he guided to victory in bouts against Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and the middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. His last great achievement came in 1994, when he helped George Foreman to defeat Michael Moorer and thereby regain the heavyweight title he had lost to Ali 22 years earlier.

Despite his many accomplishments, and the high regard in which he was held, Dundee remained both modest and realistic about his role, saying, "the fighter wins the fight. I never won the fight. I'm just there, and whatever little bit I do, I'm happy to do it."

Angelo Mirena (Angelo Dundee), boxing trainer and manager: born Philadelphia 30 August 1921; married 1952 Helen Bolton (one son, one daughter); died Tampa, Florida 1 February 2012.

Angelo Dundee: Fighting Ali's corner

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before