When Muhammad Ali shouted ‘Cut the gloves off!’ during his 1964 clash with Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, the landscape of the sporting world as we now know it was dangling at a precipice.
Of course, at this stage in his career, the brash young heavyweight was known to the world only as Cassius Clay.
However, without a vital intervention by the legendary Angelo Dundee, the fighter’s former physician insists ‘there would have never been a Muhammad Ali’.
Angelo Dundee (L) is one of the greatest trainers in boxing history
Clay was left temporarily blinded in the fifth round and wanted to quit as he entered a stage of panic.
Liston, a bruising brawler from Arkansas who had served time in prison, was one of the most brutal heavyweight champions in history and was beginning to land bombs on the 22-year-old.
Clay was suffering from an unusual burning sensation in his eyes which he claimed was from Liston’s gloves and wanted to prove to the world there was ‘dirty work afoot’.
Dundee worked out the substance may have been rubbed onto the gloves of Liston and it was either medicine or some form of alcohol which was irritating the youngster.
Before he became Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay trusted Dundee during his formative years before he was a superstar
Insisting his fighter box, move and run until he could fix the problem, Dundee threw Clay back into the ring as he blindly survived until his vision began to clear in the sixth.
The Louisiana-native eventually pummelled the 31-year-old Liston into submission and he quit on his stool after the end of the seventh.
A year earlier, Henry Cooper floored Clay with a left hook in London which left the challenger dazed and confused. Dundee knew he had to act fact in order to save his protégé.
Noticing a small tear in Clay’s glove, Dundee exacerbated the issue and bought his fighter valuable time to recover before eventually stopping Cooper on cuts.
Dundee would end up training a total of 15 world champions, including Sugar Ray Leonard
Born in 1921 to Italian immigrant parents, Dundee served as an aircraft mechanic in the Second World War and was even deployed in England.
After the war, he returned to New York and worked as a bucketman at Stillman’s Gym as part of his apprenticeship. Dundee then relocated to Miami Beach and opened ‘Fifth Street Gym’ with his brother.
Dundee’s talent as a trainer became clear when he guided a trio of fantastic Cuban boxers (Jose Napoles, Sugar Ramos and Luis Rodriguez) and taught himself Spanish in the process.
By the time he was introduced to Sugar Ray Leonard, Dundee had trained 12 world champions. Leonard would be his lucky 13th.
“Without Angelo Dundee, there would have never been Muhammad Ali” – Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s physician
The veteran’s role was to simply advise Leonard’s team about future opponents and guide the 1976 Olympian to world title glory by preparing him for fights.
Although Eddie Futch and Gil Clancy were considered for the role, it was Dundee who developed a close working relationship with Leonard, whom he called ‘a little Ali’.
After leading Sugar Ray to a sensational comeback win over Roberto Duran in the infamous ‘No Mas’ fight in New Orleans, Dundee again proved his brilliance in the welterweight world title clash against Thomas Hearns.
‘The Hitman’ was dominating the fight billed as ‘The Showdown’ at Caeser’s Palace in 1981 and had Leonard bruised and bleeding at the end of the 12th.
“You’re blowing it son!”
But beneath the million dollar smile and crystal clean image lay a fighter and Dundee knew he had to do everything to invoke Leonard’s warrior spirit.
“People who think he is a nice guy don’t know how nice he is,” Dundee said before the fight. “And people think he is tough fighter don’t know how tough he is.”
To communicate the urgency of the situation at the start of the 13th, Dundee famously said: “You’re blowing it son, you’re blowing it!”
Leonard ended the fight in the 14th round after a brutal barrage of punches to send the Kronk Gym alumni through the ropes to crown an undisputed welterweight world champion.
Marvin Hagler versus Sugar Ray Leonard was rightly billed as a ‘Super Fight’
The duo repeated the feat in 1987 when Leonard returned from a lengthy absence to dethrone reigning middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Dundee watched countless hours of tapes and noticed Hagler shuffled before unloading shots and taught Leonard to capitalise on this to claim a split decision victory considered to be one of the biggest upsets in boxing.
The New Yorker was also responsible for pulling off another one of boxing’s biggest upsets when he led Muhammad Ali to a sensational victory over George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.
The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ will be forever remembered for Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics when he eventually tired Foreman out before taking him out. Dundee sent an acolyte to make sure the ropes were loosened in the arena, with Big George maintaining Dundee won the fight for ‘The Greatest’.
Foreman became world heavyweight champion at the age of 45
Technical expertise was one thing, but Dundee had the ability to instil confidence in his fighters in ways few could. Foreman himself recognised this and teamed up with the veteran for his 1994 heavyweight title fight against Michael Moorer.
The 45-year-old was seen as too immobile and slow to be challenging for the world title, but he managed to knockout the champion to become the oldest heavyweight title holder in history.
“I seem to remember the Titanic was quicker than the iceberg,” was Dundee’s riposte to the critics.
At the age of 87, Dundee was enlisted by the ‘Golden Boy’ himself, Oscar De La Hoya to help in an advisory role for his WBC welterweight title fight against Manny Pacquaio. Despite his advanced years, there was no one else the Mexican would have trusted to be in his corner for one final time.
De La Hoya recruited Dundee for his 2008 fight with Manny Pacquaio
Such was the case with Russell Crowe in preparation for his representation of James. J. Braddock in the 2005 film ‘Cinderella Man’.
It was Dundee who starred alongside the ‘Gladiator’ superstar and helped him get in peak physical condition – even though he was 40 and had never boxed before.
Dundee would have been 99 this Sunday and his quick quips and precious anecdotes are sorely missed by pugilistic purists the world over.
The best trainers in this sport make great fighters. Yet as the great man humbly pointed out himself, ‘plans and strategies meant nothing unless my guy had the talent, the brains and the bravery to carry them out’.
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