Dundee, Angelo

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DUNDEE, Angelo

(b. 30 August 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), boxing trainer and manager who handled heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, as well as world champions Carmen Basilio, Sugar Ramos, Luis Rodriquez, Jose Napoles, Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Dundee is the son of Angelo Mirenda, an Italian immigrant railroad worker, and Philomena, a homemaker. Dundee's family lived in the Italian community of South Philadelphia; his mother never learned English and his father never learned to write it. Dundee had five brothers and three sisters, two of whom died as infants.

Dundee's oldest brother, Joseph, fought briefly as a professional boxer, adopting the last name of Italian-American champions Vince Dundee and Joseph Dundee. Dundee's second oldest brother, Chris, left home at the age of fifteen, eventually becoming one of the most influential promoters in boxing under the name Chris Dundee.

Angelo Mirena, as Dundee was then known, graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1938. He worked as an inspector in a naval aircraft factory until his induction into the Army Air Corps in October 1943. Trained in aircraft maintenance, Dundee was posted to Amiens, France, for the duration of the war and rose to staff sergeant.

Dundee worked briefly in the aircraft industry in Philadelphia following his discharge from the army. In 1947 he moved to New York City to work for his brother Chris, changing his name from Mirena to Dundee, which his family used in the boxing business. Dundee slept on a pull-out sofa in Chris's office, room 711 of the Capitol Hotel, directly across from Madison Square Garden, then located at Fiftieth Street and Eighth Avenue. In New York Dundee served an unofficial apprenticeship to the great boxing trainers and cut men of the day, including Charley Goldman, Ray Arcel, Chickie Ferrara, and other denizens of the legendary Stillman's Gym. "I never trained nobody up in New York City," Dundee said. "I just observed. I worked corners. What I did was keep my mouth shut and my eyes open."

In 1951 Dundee moved to Miami, Florida, to join his brother Chris, who had relocated his business there. The following year he married fashion model Helen Bolton; they had two children.

Soon Angelo Dundee was handling future champions Luis Rodriquez, Jose Napoles, Sugar Ramos, Ralph Dupas, and Willie Pastrano. In 1955 Dundee worked in Carmen Basilio's corner when Basilio defeated Joe Netro for the welterweight title. In 1963 two of Dundee's fighters won championships in one night: Luis Rodriquez defeated Emile Griffith for the welterweight title and Sugar Ramos defeated Davey Moore for the featherweight title. This feat was marred by tragedy when Moore collapsed and died following the bout.

Shortly after 1960 Olympic gold medallist Cassius Clay turned professional, he became disenchanted with his trainers, former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore and veteran corner man Dick Saddler. The Louisville businessmen guiding Clay's career turned to Dundee. Dundee's celebrated role in Clay's 1963 victory over British contender Henry Cooper is a quintessential example of how a quick-thinking corner man can save a boxer's career. At the close of the fourth round, a powerful left hook from Cooper floored Clay, but he managed to stagger back to his corner. Thinking fast, Dundee used his finger to enlarge a small tear he had noticed in Clay's glove earlier in the fight and demanded that a new glove be found. The ensuing confusion bought Clay the time he needed to recuperate, and he scored a knockout in the next round. Dundee's poise again saved the day during Clay's 1964 Miami Beach title bout against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. After the fifth round, Clay complained that a foreign substance in his eyes was blinding him and told Dundee to "cut the gloves off." Instead, Dundee calmed his fighter and washed out his eyes. "When the bell rang," Dundee recalled, "I shoved Clay off the stool." Liston quit in his corner before the start of the seventh round.

In his early days at Stillman's Gym, Dundee learned to accommodate his fighter's ego, or, as he put it, "blend into any kind of a scene." This habit served Dundee well when Clay joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, refused to be inducted into the army, and was banned from boxing for over three years. Dundee ignored the politics surrounding Ali and never became involved in Ali's personal life. In 1966 Ali hired Herbert Muhammad, son of Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, as his manager, but Dundee stayed on as trainer.

Few experts picked Ali in his 1974 match against heavyweight champion George Foreman, but Dundee helped Ali devise a winning strategy. "I told my guy that he could feint Foreman," Dundee recalled after the fight, "that he could move him because in a clinch Foreman put both his feet together, he was off balance to be moved.… I saw those things and I told my guy about them. He [Ali] remembered because he knows that when I see things through my eyes, I see things." In 1987 Ali said, "Never told anybody, but I had doubts. After Frazier beat me, after Spinks beat me. He made me believe again. Angelo really had more confidence in me than I did."

In 1976 Olympic gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard chose Dundee to be his manager and trainer. Dundee picked Leonard's early opponents so that, as Dundee said, Leonard learned "how to handle height, how to handle a short guy, how to handle a quick guy, how to handle a tough guy." Though Leonard lost his welterweight title to Roberto Duran in June 1980, he was prepared for the return bout later that year. After the controversial "No Mas" ("no more") fight, which ended after Duran quit during the eighth round, Dundee told the press: "We took everything away from Duran. When he tried to box with us, Ray jabbed his head off. When he tried to muscle Ray on the ropes, my guy banged him to the body with both hands and spun him like a baby. We knew everything Duran was going to try, and we were ready for it." Perhaps Dundee's most famous moment in Leonard's corner came following the twelfth round of Leonard's fourteen-round 1981 welterweight championship victory over Thomas Hearns. With Leonard behind on points and his left eye practically closed, Dundee told Leonard, "You're blowing it, son. You're blowing it. This is what separates the men from the boys." Dundee was in Leonard's corner again for the fighter's 1987 upset win over Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title, a fight that prompted Dave Anderson of the New York Times to describe Dundee as a "Michelangelo" who had constructed another "boxing masterpiece." This was Dundee's last fight in Leonard's corner, owing to a contractual dispute. In 1994, Dundee worked in George Foreman's corner where Foreman became the oldest man in boxing history to win the heavyweight championship of the world. That same year, Dundee was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Compact, graceful, and tanned, Dundee is a modest, up-beat, and highly quotable man who avoids confrontations outside the ring. Complemented following one of Leonard's victories, Dundee replied, "Thanks, but Ray did the fighting." This self-effacing quality, along with immense powers of observation and presence of mind, has allowed Dundee to endure as, in his own words, a "psychologist, nurse-maid, and father figure" to his many fighters.

Dundee's informative autobiography is I Only Talk Winning (1985), written by Dundee with Mike Winters. Chapters devoted to Dundee are in Ronald K. Fried, Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers (1991), and Dave Anderson, In the Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art (1992). Valuable magazine profiles include Phil Berger's "Dundee: Champ of the Corner Men," New York Times Magazine (Nov. 1981), and Gary Smith's "The Corner Man," Sports Illustrated (2 Nov. 1987).

Ronald K. Fried

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