Trainer Angelo Dundee was a master motivator

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He saved a young Cassius Clay when he was in trouble in England, convinced Sugar Ray Leonard that he could somehow overcome the fearsome Tommy Hearns.

Trainer Angelo Dundee (left) was on hand to help Muhammad Ali celebrate his 70th birthday on Jan. 14. Dundee died Wednesday at 90.   FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Trainer Angelo Dundee (left) was on hand to help Muhammad Ali celebrate his 70th birthday on Jan. 14. Dundee died Wednesday at 90.

Angelo Dundee worked thousands of corners, and had just as many stories about fighters and the games they played in the ring.

The best work of his life, though, might have been selling a sport that was often tough to sell.

“He spread good will for a sport that often doesn’t have a lot of good will,” said retired AP boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. “What he did to promote boxing is his greatest contribution to the sport.”

Dundee, who died Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., at the age of 90, was a master motivator who shared the world stage with the greatest fighters of his time. But it was his 53-year relationship with The Greatest and the way they shocked the world together that will always be his legacy.

Muhammad Ali didn’t need anyone to tell him how to box. He came by it so naturally that there wasn’t much Dundee was going to teach him in the ring to help him become a legendary fighter.

What he needed was someone in his corner shouting motivation, someone in his corner who always had his back.

Someone like Angelo Dundee.

“There was a time you couldn’t tell Ali anything, but Angelo knew how to motivate Ali,” promoter Bob Arum said. “Without Angelo, Ali doesn’t get out of the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’ Without Angelo I think Joe Frazier destroys him. He needed someone like that in his corner.”

So did Leonard, who was taking a beating in his epic first fight with Hearns in 1981. His face was swollen by the thunderous right hands landed by Hearns and he seemed baffled when Hearns began boxing him from the outside instead of trying to slug it out as he had in the early rounds.

After the end of the 12th round, Leonard came back to his corner, exhausted.

“You’re blowing it, son!” Dundee yelled at him.

Leonard would rally in the 13th round before finally stopping Hearns in the 14th round of a fight he was trailing on all three ringside scorecards. It was a masterful performance by a great fighter, but without Dundee in his face many believe Leonard would have come up short.

“He really knew how to motivate a guy,” Arum said. “He was a good trainer, but he was a great, great cornerman. He was the greatest cornerman I’ve ever seen.”

Dundee was still in relatively good health when he traveled with his son, Jimmy, to Louisville, Ky., last month for Ali’s 70th birthday party. The aging fighter and his elderly trainer talked and posed for pictures, and Dundee reminisced about the past.

“I’ve had a lot of great fighters and a lot of great times,” Dundee said then. “But the greatest time of my life was with Muhammad Ali.”

Though Dundee will be remembered as Ali’s trainer and cornerman, his son said he would also like him to be known as something else:

In the often brutal and cutthroat world of boxing, he stood out as an extraordinary ambassador for the sport. Anyone who met him was his friend, whether they were in his corner or across the ring.

To those who wondered why, Dundee always had the same reply: “It doesn’t cost anything more to be nice.”


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