Angelo Dundee: Three Masterpieces From Boxing’s Greatest Trainer

On what would have been his 100th birthday, we celebrate the legendary trainer who sharpened the skills of Ali and Leonard.
08:00, 30 Aug 2021

Perhaps the greatest cornerman of all-time, Angelo Dundee guided the careers of sixteen world champions including Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. Universally respected as an honourable man in an often dishonourable sport, Dundee was a beloved fight figure until his sad death in 2012. On what would have been his 100th birthday, we honour Angelo Dundee by looking at three of the trainer’s greatest fights.

Buying The Greatest Some Time

In 1963, Muhammad Ali was a rising heavyweight prospect named Cassius Clay. A rising prospect Henry Cooper had just put on the floor in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. The fight wasn’t supposed to go this way. Clay was on the verge of a shot at World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston, and was expected to defeat the Brit with energy to spare.

After a strong Clay start, a dynamite left hook from Cooper dumped the Louisville man onto the canvas with two seconds remaining in the round. The future Ali had to be helped back to his corner, and his senses were so scrambled that he attempted to stand up from his stool while the cutman was still working on him. Sensing the fight slipping away from his man, there are a number of Angelo Dundee tales that supposedly unfolded in the following minute and a half. 

Some observers claim Dundee poured ice down Clay’s shorts, others allege the trainer used illegal smelling salts to revive his charge. One theory that is borne out by the footage is that Dundee drew the referee’s attention to loose threading in Clay’s glove, delaying the restart and buying precious seconds of rest for the wobbled Cassius.

A refreshed Clay would secure a TKO victory in the very next round, when the fight was waved off with the Englishman carrying a grisly eye injury caused by the sharp punching of the young contender. In his next fight, Clay would secure his first world championship by defeating Liston. He would meet Cooper again three years later, and stop him once again on cuts.

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From “Blowing It” To Blowing Hearns Away

Sometimes the role of a trainer goes beyond the tactical. When Sugar Ray Leonard fought Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns in their clash for the unified welterweight title, the game-plan he’d worked on with Dundee was not bearing fruit. The rangy Hearns was outboxing Leonard, who could not rely on his speed to outfox the bigger man. Of his own accord, Leonard pivoted to the role of puncher, and attempted to knock the legendary Kronk Gym product out.

The strategy worked initially, Leonard rocked his opponent with a fine left hook. But Hearns turned the tide from round 9 onwards. In the interval between the 12th and 13th rounds, Dundee showed why he is a master motivator. Delivering a furious pep talk to his charge, Angelo famously told Ray “You're blowing it now, son! You're blowing it!”. Coming out with a renewed vigour, Leonard dropped the ‘Hitman’ twice in the 13th round, sending him spiraling through the ropes. He closed the show in the following stanza, with the referee waving the fight off as Sugar Ray fired in combinations with Hearns pinned to the ropes.

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Making Big George A Miracle Man

Angelo Dundee had arguably been the architect behind the lowest point in George Foreman’s career. Ali’s cornerman for the famed ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, the veteran trainer had coached his man to a knockout win over Foreman in Zaire. He would also play a crucial role in ‘Big’ George’s greatest triumph.

When Foreman made his comeback a decade removed from the Ali fight, he became a different fighter. Much of this was down to Dundee, who introduced his former foe to the cross-arm defence he would carry throughout his second career. This was a key adjustment that led to a successful second coming for the former heavyweight champion.

Foreman’s comeback was initially viewed with scepticism, but after pushing Evander Holyfield to the limit in a 1991 war with Dundee running the corner, fans and analysts began to take notice. None of them could have expected the next trick from the fighter and trainer duo.

Aged 45, Foreman stepped into the ring with the WBA/IBF World Heavyweight Champion Michael Moorer, wearing the same red shorts he had worn when Dundee and Ali planned his downfall in the Kinshasa heat. He would enjoy far happier memories of them from now on. Behind on the cards, but having absorbed many of Moorer’s damaging blows on his arms thanks to Dundee’s defensive coaching, Foreman scored a 10th round knockout to become the oldest-ever heavyweight king. Dundee may have helped strip Foreman of that title nearly two decades before, but he was instrumental in reuniting the affable preacher with his beloved belts. 

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