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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Angelo Dundee Q/A
By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007
He was born Angelo Mirena, but when his brother Joe chose to hide his boxing career from their dad, he took on the name Dundee, after a pair of famous Philadelphia fighters who ironically had changed their last name from Lazzaro. As Angelo Dundee, he became one of boxing's most notable trainers, guiding 15 fighters to world championships, including guys like Willie Pastrano, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. In his new book, My View From The Corner, Dundee - now an 86-year-old, still-going-strong Tampa Bay resident - looks back at his humble start, his years amid the swirling fireball that was Ali, to transforming George Foreman into a lovable champion. ¶ Between book signings, Dundee talked with Times boxing writer John C. Cotey about his book, his life and his new home.
So, what makes one want to write a book after all these years?
Well, Bert Sugar came up to me and said, 'Hey, you want to do a book?' I told him I just did one.
I Only Talk Winning, in 1985 you wrote that. What was that one about?
It was a love story. It was about how I met my wife through boxing. People liked it, but the boxing public wasn't aware of it. So now, they're more aware of it because Bert Sugar and I do the ESPN Classics and we've done quite a few programs together and were a pretty good team.
This was more intricate because I have a guy like Bert Sugar that knows boxing from a-to-z picking my mind. So I gave him all the stuff that occurred that he thought would be interesting to the public and it looks like it's taking hold because people are interested in the book and like it.
Bert's a character. I'm surprised you got any work done at all.
He's tremendous. But he's a knowledgeable guy in the profession and he was a joy to talk to.
How's it been received? I know you're pretty busy.
I'm busy as I could be making a lot of personal appearances. I go to black tie affairs. I've been making book signings. I just came back from Jersey and going to one at the Crazy Horse in Miami Dec. 11. I'll be in Las Vegas, too, for Hatton-Mayweather, and I'll be signing books all the way.
That fun for you?
I love it. I love meeting the fight fans.
You wrote about your first meeting with Ali, then a young brash Cassius Clay. Years before you guys actually hooked up and became the most famous fight-trainer duo ever.
I was in Louisville with Willie Pastrano and we got a call from the lobby and it went like this: "My name is Cassius Marcellus Clay, I'm the gold gloves champion of Louisville." This is 1958 and he said 'I'm going to win the Olympics' and that wasn't until 1960. That was my first meeting with the kid. He came up and spoke to me for three hours in the room. He was a student of boxing. He wanted to know every facet of how a kid should train, what I would do with my fighters. He used to see me on TV with Carmen Basilio, with Luis Rodriguez, guys of that ilk. I used to be on TV quite a bit and he wanted to meet me and we had a very nice meeting.
I'd guess it would be impossible to pick a most memorable Ali moment.
There were so many. This kid would walk into the gym and it was a happening. When he first came to Miami Beach, he came in there and said 'Okay Angelo, line up all your bums, I'm going to knock them all out.' But every fighter in that joint loved him because he kept the Fifth Street Gym alive.
He was able to pull off the whole trash talk thing and be lovable at the same time. Guys now just sound arrogant. How'd he do that?
Well, you gotta remember one thing - he was the first kid to talk. Usually you had to go around the horn to get to the star. So I think what he did was he created something for the media, because I pushed him toward the media. Because if the media don't write about you, they don't know you and I explained this to the kid early on. So he did all the talking and I stayed in the background on purpose. They figured I was a mute. But that was okay. As long as he spoke, that meant we were in action.
One of the more famous rumors that has floated around is that you loosened the ring ropes before Ali's fight with George Foreman in Zaire, to make the Rope-a-Dope more effective. In the book, you dispel both.
Thing is, with the ropes, I tightened the ropes at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. But I didn't take into consideration the heat and the heat was awesome. The fight didn't take place 'til 4 a.m. the next day so the heat took effect on the ropes. By then, they were loose as a goose.
And the Rope-a-Dope?
The Rope-a-Dope was Muhammad's innovation. Not mine. They were giving me credit for it, but I would be remiss if I took credit. If he had fallen through the ropes, we would have been all over.
So it surprised you as much as it did Foreman?
Oh God yes. I gave him hell every time he got in the corner.
"Get the heck out there!"
He'd say "I know what I'm doing, I know what I'm doing."
"You don't know what the heck you're doing!"
And a couple of times, when he was around my corner, I smacked him in the butt to get off the ropes.
That actually led to you getting the job training Foreman years later during his comeback?
George was with HBO, he saw me at a fight. He said he could still remember that squeaky voice yelling "Get off the ropes" and said it was right before he was going to land his big punch and Ali got out of the way. He said 'I want that guy in my corner.'
You actually call the second Ali-Frazier meeting boring in the book.
How could you copy the first one? It was a happening, it was New York City, the Mecca, it was something that couldn't be repeated.
Worst decision you ever saw? You did work Sugar Ray Leonard's corner in his dubious win over Marvin Hagler.
Well, you know, you're a biased bum when you work for the fighters, you gotta admit it. Whatever your guy does, it's beautiful. Whatever the other guy does is zero. But to error is human. The judges are human, the refs are human, so you gotta take that into consideration and hope one time the ball bounces your way.
You've gone Hollywood a little. Doing a little work on Cinderella Man.
I loved that. I did a movie before, but I wasn't in it. Because the man said Angelo, stick to your business. I trained Will Smith for the Ali movie. But Ron Howard for Cinderella Man, he asked me if I wanted to be an actor and I said I can try. All I ever did, though, was do what I've been doing my entire life.
You got Will Smith ready for the Ali movie?
I sure did. That's why he looked so good, didn't he?
That had to be strange, working on a movie about a man you knew so well, in scenes that you lived?
Will Smith was a joy. Will Smith coulda been a fighter but look what a career I would have ruined. But the guy enjoyed it. He enjoyed working with the pros. James Toney played Joe Frazier, and Will Smith had the illusion of thinking he could beat him and I said 'you better not, you best go with the script.'
Your son is a doctor in Tampa Bay. Your daughter lived in Land O'Lakes. Now you live here too, huh?
I've been coming here for years. Always loved it here. I live in a place called Oldsmar.
No more back and forth between Miami?
I think I'm here forever. I came up here and the wife (Helen) got sick on me so we couldn't go back and forth so I am now a West Coast man instead of an East Coast man. I've been living here for a month. I'm here to stay. You're stuck with me.
And you still train fighters.
I have two I'm working with right now.
You'll train forever?
Retirement is a dirty word. I'll retire when I die.