Trainer to the champions had unique view of Ali and other fighters
Ask Angelo Dundee to recall some of his shining moments and he'll share stories about training boxing greats like Carmen Basilio, Ray Leonard and George Foreman. His fondest memories, though, involve Muhammad Ali.
Originally Published: December 18, 2007By Kieran Mulvaney | Special to ESPN.com
AP Photo/Dan GrossiAngelo Dundee, right, would have done anything for Cassius Clay.Louisville, Ky. February 1957. Angelo Dundee and Willie Pastrano were relaxing in their hotel room. The phone rang. Dundee, who had been training light heavyweight contender Pastrano for a bout against John Holman the following day, describes what happened next in his recently published autobiography, "My View from the Corner: A Life in Boxing." "Willie was caught up in whatever it was that was on TV and ignored the ringing, so it fell to me to pick up the phone," he writes. "'Hello, this is Angelo Dundee,' I said. And what to my wondering ear should I hear from the earpiece but a rush of words that went something like 'Hello, my name is Cassius Marcellus Clay I'm the Golden Gloves champion of Louisville I won the Atlanta Golden Gloves I'm gonna be the Olympic champion and the champion of the whole world ' and on and on, the number and the names of the titles he had and would win flying by so fast I could barely keep track. Then he said, 'I'm downstairs and I want to come up and talk to you and Mr. Pastrano '" Dundee agreed to let the young man come up to the room to talk, with the understanding that it could be for no longer than five minutes as Pastrano needed to take a nap. After bombarding the two men with questions and compliments for three-and-a-half hours, he finally left.
A little under four years later, the man who would become Muhammad Ali had indeed won Olympic gold and had turned professional, and Dundee was about to become his trainer, the start of a relationship that would be arguably the most successful and celebrated in heavyweight championship history. "A lot of guys didn't think he would make it," Dundee said of Ali during a recent conversation in Las Vegas, "because he was doing so much jumping around, kept his hands down, jerked around." Most trainers would have tried to change him, mold him, make him do things the "right" way. Not Dundee. "I left him alone," he said. "I just smoothed out a lot of stuff." The smoothing, though, had to be done in a particular way. If he wanted Ali to jab, he wouldn't tell him to jab; he knew the boxer's ego wouldn't allow it. Instead, he started complimenting him on the way he was jabbing. "I made him feel like he innovated it. If I was the guy that gave him directions, he'd say, 'Hey, who's this midget to tell me what to do?' No, I never gave him a direct order. The only time I told him what to do was in the ring." One such occasion came when Ali challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world in February 1964. At the end of the fourth round, Ali came back to the corner, blinking and squinting, screaming that he couldn't see, and pleading with Dundee to cut off his gloves and stop the fight. Instead, Dundee sent him back out for the fifth and told him to keep moving until he regained his vision. "'Take off the gloves, there's dirty work afoot,'" Dundee recalled his fighter crying. "He couldn't see. He was frantic, the poor kid." That something had indeed invaded his eye, there was no doubt. "I put my finger in his eye, I put the finger in my eye. And I knew there was a caustic substance there. There's a lot of variety, a lot of stories, I think it was the liniment on Liston's shoulder. My kid may have touched it. Both eyes went; not one, both. "Everybody says, 'Gee, why did Angelo let him get back in there?' Because I cleaned out his eyes, I wiped them clean, threw away the sponge, threw away the towel, and when the referee was coming toward me, I made him stand up. I didn't pick him up. I said, 'Get up,' and the referee turned back to the neutral corner. That's what trainers are for. You've got to be there for that kind of situation. You've got to do everything to help the fighters." Everything, including delaying the resumption of a round when your fighter has just been knocked into cloud cuckooland at the end of the previous frame -- as had happened during Ali's previous fight, when he had fought Henry Cooper. After toying with Cooper for four rounds during their bout at London's Wembley Stadium, Ali was clocked with a thunderous Cooper left hook that, he said later, "made me feel as if I had gone back and visited all my ancestors in Africa." Slumped on the canvas, his arm draped over the second rope, Ali was saved by the bell. Dundee leaped into the ring and dragged him to the corner, where, according to urban legend, the trainer cut Ali's glove, called the referee's attention to the fact that the glove was split, and caused a delay during which a new glove was placed Ali's fist and he recovered his senses.
Ray Fisher/Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesAngelo Dundee, left, had a certain way of talking to Muhammad Ali that got the fighter to listen to his trainer.
Everybody says, 'Gee, why did Angelo let him get back in there?' Because I cleaned out his eyes, I wiped them clean and when the referee was coming toward me, I made him stand up that's what trainers are for. You've got to be there for that kind of situation. You've got to do everything to help the fighters.
-- Angelo Dundee, on the lengths he would go to protect his fighters
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