Feature

Angelo Dundee, 1921–2012

The trainer in the corner of boxing’s greats

Trainer Angelo Dundee was in Louisville in 1957 with light-heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano when they got a phone call from a local young man named Cassius Clay. They invited him up to their room, where he peppered them with insistent questions about training, sparring, and fighting. “By then I’d worked with six champions,” Dundee said, “and none of them ever talked the way the kid did.” That meeting launched one of the most successful pairings of trainer and athlete in modern sports.

Dundee was born in Philadelphia as one of the nine children of Angelo Mirena, an Italian-born railroad worker, and his wife, Philomena. His older brother, a boxer, changed his name to Dundee “to escape discrimination against Italian immigrants,” said ESPN.com, and Angelo followed suit. He worked as a cornerman in military boxing matches while stationed in England during World War II, and hung out after the war in New York’s Stillman’s Gym, where he “learned the game by listening to old men talk.”

“In the snarling, often duplicitous subculture of boxing, Dundee radiated kindness,” said The Miami Herald. He coached 15 champions, including Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman. But he forged what he called “a special thing” with young Clay, and remained his trainer long after the boxer changed his name to Muhammad Ali. “If he tells you something during a fight, you can believe it,” Ali once said. “As a cornerman, Angelo is the best in the world.” Dundee was in Louisville again last month for Ali’s 70th birthday. “He did what he wanted to with his life,” Dundee said. “I was there at the beginning and I was there at the end.”

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