Who was greater, Muhammad Ali or Angelo Dundee?
Who was “THE GREATEST?”
Did Muhammad Ali make Angelo Dundee, or did Dundee make Ali?
Not so easy to figure out.
On any number of levels.
Angelo Dundee may have been the greatest boxing trainer and cornerman in history.
Ask Sugar Ray Leonard, Pinklon Thomas, Jose Napoles, George Foreman, George Scott, Jimmy Ellis, Carmen Basilio, Luis Manuel Rodriguez and Willie Pastrano.
Or scores of others.
He helped hone the talents of 15 American world champions across six decades.
He did what he did, masterfully and happily.
And on August 30 he would have been 100 years old.
Angelo Dundee was the calm heart of Muhammad Ali’s illustrious career.
In his corner, splitting his own gut in his own way, in all but two of Ali’s fights.
But it began well before Ali.
After serving in WWII as an aircraft inspector, Dundee’s obsession with boxing pulled him from his native Philadelphia to the famous Stillman Gym in Manhattan, in an effort to reimagine and re-mold his own identity.
He was born Angelo Mirena, but worked under the surname Dundee — also adopted by two of his brothers — to avoid drawing the attention, and ire, of disapproving parents.
He began as a bucket boy to boxing icons such as Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Dundee was at the elbow of renowned trainers like Ray Arcel and Charley Goldman, keen to absorb their teachings and knowledge.
But he had to learn a few words of Yiddish to do it.
Once he did that, the sky was to be the limit.
When his boxer brother moved to Florida, Angelo followed, working at the gym on Miami’s Fifth Street where he trained Willie Pastrano, his first champion.
In segregated 1960s Miami — so deep into Jim Crow laws and choking on them — Angelo Dundee saw no color.
Not on the street.
And certainly not in his gym.
“The only color in that gym was the red of the blood those guys spilled,” Dundee protege and boxing trainer Matthew Baiamonte said.
“It was the only place in the whole of the South where people of different races could be in the same building.
I mean, just think about that.
Fighters of all types would battle it out and then shake hands as brothers.
Only once they left, Muhammad Ali wouldn’t be able to enter a restaurant a block away.”
Meaning as a black man, he wasn’t allowed to eat with whites.
Ali then, was the most famous resident of the South Beach workout rooms, a venue most charitably described as, “a real dump.”
Baiamonte recalled Dundee’s calm demeanor, citing it as one of his greatest strengths.
Dundee’s son Jimmy agreed.
“He was so good at reading a room, reading people’s needs.
Muhammad didn’t like people telling him what to do.
So if there was a round where he should have been throwing jabs, Dad would say: ‘God, that was a great left jab you threw just there.’
Next thing you know, Muhammad’s throwing them all over.
He would use subliminal messages because that’s how you got to Ali.
Other guys, he’d hit over the head with a two-by-four.
To wake up Jimmy Ellis he’d pull his leg hair out and pour ice down his jock!”
That was Angelo Dundee.
In the eye of the cyclone known as boxing, he demonstrated an uncanny knack for saying exactly the right thing to his fighters, at exactly the right time.
Knowing that Pastrano planned to buy a house with the winnings of a bout he was losing, Dundee played on the kid’s dreams.
“‘There goes your doors,’ Ange tells Willie,” recounted Baiamonte.
“The next round, back to the corner, he says to him: ‘Now he’s taken your windows, Willie.’
Pastrano is like, ‘What are you talking about?’
Finally he says to him: ‘There goes your roof, you’re letting him take the whole damn house!’
So up gets Pastrano and knocks the guy out!”
George Foreman, too, thought very highly of Dundee, and the way he went about his business.
So much so, that he was willing to put his bruised ego aside after losing the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, to recruit Dundee to work his corner some 20 years later, in an audacious attempt to win back the heavyweight title at age 45.
Dundee agreed, and Foreman upset the odds in 1994, recapturing the crown in the same pair of red boxing trunks he’d worn when Ali took his title in Zaire.
He knew that Dundee would be his ticket.
And he was right.
One of Angelo Dundee’s other great strengths was to tell the truth.
Said Jimmy, “Dad used to manage a friend of mine, John English.
He was in a fight where he got pretty beat up and my father just turned to him and said:
‘You need to find a different career, son.’
John got into oil after that and, let me say, has done very well in his life since,” laughed the younger Dundee.
“That’s part of the coach’s responsibility: telling people what they don’t want to hear.
Dad was so honest and so good like that.”
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.
So was Angelo Dundee.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in September 2021.]