Angelo Dundee – “The” Legendary Boxing Coach: A Biography

Angelo Dundee
Date of Birth:August 30, 1921
Died:Feb 1, 2012 (age 90)
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Gym: Fifth Street Gym
Location: Miami, Florida
Boxing Background: Boxing trainer, coach and corner man
Notable FightersToo many to mention! But how about Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman (amongst 15 other world champions he worked with) to start.

Angelo Dundee’s Boxing Background

Angelo Dundee was initially born ‘Angelo Mirena’ in Philadelphia 1921 to Italian immigrant parents. During World War II a young Angelo served as an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force. This provided Dundee with his first experience of corner man work in U.S.A.F. boxing tournaments. After the war finished, Angelo headed to New York where he was employed as a ‘bucket-guy’ at the famed ‘Stillman’s Gym’ as part of an apprenticeship as a boxing trainer. It was here Dundee learnt his trade by studying the techniques of world-renowned trainers before completing his apprenticeship and moving to Miami to open the ‘The Fifth Street Gym’ with his boxing promoter brother Chris Dundee. 

Angelo Dundee the Trainer

‘The Fifth Street Gym’ was opened in 1950 and would become the home from which Angelo Dundee would establish himself as arguably the best trainer, coach, corner man and ‘cut-man’ of all the time. The first world champion Dundee trained was Carmen Basilio, who in 1955 knocked out Tony Di Marco in the 12th round to become Welterweight champion of the world, before going on to beat the legendary ‘Sugar Ray’ Robinson by decision to become world the Middleweight champion of the world in 1957. 

It was in 1960 however when Angelo Dundee was hired to train one, ‘Cassius Clay’ (later Muhammad Ali), for virtually all of Ali’s career that really put Dundee on the map and his road to greatness.

Angelo Dundee golden years and fighter 

Ali’s boxing talent and record is the stuff of legend so there is no need to go into it in detail. For this is the tale of a man who was fundamentally behind it but perhaps does not get all the credit he deserves.

Dundee travelled the world with Ali from 1960 -1981, and was the corner man in all but two of Ali’s fights. Dundee having previously trained the young Cassius Clay, in most of his early bouts, including those with Archie Moore (who had trained Clay before his subsequent partnering with Dundee) and Sonny Liston, whereby Clay defeated him to become the Heavyweight champion of the world. 

Moreover, Dundee continued to train Ali in all of his fights until Ali’s exile from boxing, and upon Ali’s return to the sport Dundee continued to train him in almost all of his fights, including Ali’s now legendary bouts with the best fighters of their or indeed arguably any other generation; Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman, Ken Norton and later, Leon Spinks. Guiding, coaching and willing him through some epic and brutal wins. A mutual respect earned that ensured the two men remained friends until Dundee’s death with the veteran trainer always referring to Ali as “my kid”.

The Fifth Street Gym

It was initially Angelo’s brother, Chris, promotional skills which brought the gym to fruition and notability. However, it was Angelo’s skills and accomplishments as a boxing trainer that saw it quickly celebrated as the ‘University of Boxing’. Boxing people the world over sending their fighters there due to the promotional skills of the ‘Wizard of Oz’, Chris, and the increasingly renowned talents of Angelo, the ‘Prince of ‘Oz’. Indeed, such was its allure and mystique that celebrities from Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Malcolm X, The Beatles and Sean Connery dropped by. Helped by the sublime talents of one Muhammad Ali, a Mecca of boxing was born and so then proceeded a legend of talent to pass through it!

Dundee’s other fighter(s)!

Not content with training who many consider to be the GOAT, Dundee saw a future in emerging star and all ‘American Golden Boy’, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, the 1976 Olympic Light Welterweight Gold Medallist, whom he referred to as “a smaller version of Ali”. Leonard’s talent and record like Ali’s is the stuff of legend. But again, Dundee was a backstop behind it. Acting as a corner-man for Leonard in many of his biggest fights, including those with Wilfred Benitez, Roberto ‘the hands of stone’ Duran, Thomas ‘the hitman’ Hearns, and ‘Marvellous Marvin Hagler’. Once again helping to secure important victories in an era and weight of unprecedented talent.

Later on, in 1991, Angelo Dundee also teamed up with George Foreman for his return to the ring at the age of 48 vs a 28 year old Evander Holyfield. It was a fight Foreman ultimately only lost on points, but undeterred the pair teamed up again in 1994 in a bout which saw Foreman retain the Heavyweight title of the world against a then undefeated Michael Moorer.

Surely enough acclaim already?

NO! Dundee’s career ultimately spanned six decades and included 15 world champions over a multitude of weight classes including: Luis Rodriguez, Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, Jose Napoles, Pinklon Thomas, Trevor Berbick, Jimmy Ellis, Wilfredo Gomez, Michael Nunn and Sugar Ramos. Whilst also training other notable boxers such as Bill Bossio, David Estrada, Douglas Valiant, Jimmy Lamge, Tom Zibikowski, Troy Darrel, Adilison Rodrigues, James Tillis and Pat O’Connor

Angelo Dundee: successful techniques

Angelo Dundee was famed for his ability to close and dress cuts, select challengers, psych out opponents, and handle his boxers with finesse. As a master strategist however he was not beyond bending the rules a little to his advantage. Indeed in his candid autobiography, “My View from the Corner (2008)”, Dundee disclosed a time he famously did: Confessing, for example, that he had tightened the ring ropes prior to Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle Fight’ with George Foreman in 1974, which allowed Ali to keep bouncing off the ropes while Foreman wore himself out punching him with the now famous ‘rope a dope’ tactic. 

He however made no such reference to the enduring ‘urban myth’ that he tore or cut the gloves of a young Cassius Clay between rounds to buy him time to recover after he had been floored by Britain’s Henry Cooper in 1963.

Angelo Dundee’s – Legacy

Throughout his career, Dundee was regarded as an utterly honorable man and a very respected and decent person in a sport that was often regarded as corrupt. ABC Sports great journalist ‘Howard Cosell’ perhaps provided him with the highest compliment in stating “If I had a son who wanted to be a fighter and I couldn’t talk him out of it, the only man I would let train him is Angelo Dundee”.

Such was his greatness, Angelo Dundee was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 long before he died in 2012.

Angelo Dundee Retirement 

Even in retirement Angelo Dundee remained a revered and sought after individual. In 2005 for example, even at the age of 83 he was hired to train Russell Crowe for Crowe’s depiction of James J Braddock in the film ‘Cinderella Man’ – a boxing fans’ must watch movie. Moreover, in November 2018 he was also hired as a special consultant for the ‘Mega Fight’ between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao – showing the respect he had garnered throughout his career was still recognised in the way he was regarded even at the age of 86. 

Angelo Dundee the final K.O.

Angelo Dundee died peacefully in his sleep aged 90 at his senior resident apartment on the 1st of February 2012 in Tampa Florida. The funeral was held on the 10th of February 2012 at the Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater Florida. Attended by a crowd of circa 600 hundred mourners, among them was a frail, shaking, but determined Muhammed Ali. Dundee’s body was buried in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park Cemetery in Clearwater.

Among memorable moments eulogised there were Angelo Dundee’s son Jimmy Dundee recalling his father’s most memorable moments in boxing, including refusing to allow;

  • A then young Cassius Clay to quit in his first title fight against Sonny Liston when Clay was convinced some astringent had been rubbed into his eyes during their 1964 title bout as part of a ‘mob’ conspiracy to deny him the title.
  • And practically willing Ray Leonard to shrug off a vicious beating he was taking from Thomas Hearns to win in their 1981 classic with the words, “You’re blowin’ it son, you’re blowin it.” Ray Leonard subsequently reacting by stopping Hearns in the 14th round despite trailing on point in this classic championship bout.

Has there ever been a greater all round trainer? The ‘ring set’ has certainly been set very high!  

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