I've heard it said — by more than one person — that Muhammad Ali never would have become who he was if not for trainer Angelo Dundee.
I guess Dundee, who died yesterday at the age of 90, will always be remembered as the man who was in Ali's corner in all but two of his fights, but, in fact, Dundee worked with many noteworthy fighters, including Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman.
He left his fingerprints all over the sport of boxing. While his name probably will always be linked to Ali's, he was really so much more than that. He was even more than a man who trained more than a dozen champions.
Did you happen to see "Cinderella Man," the movie about the life of James J. Braddock starring Russell Crowe? Dundee was too young to have trained Braddock — but he was hired to train Crowe to portray Braddock in the film.
" I think I would have to go so far as to say Russell is Jim Braddock," Dundee said. "I'm amazed the way Russell picked up his mannerisms, his smoothness, the legs, the way he slides, that slip, slide, block, slide, jab — boom! Like Jim, he has just about the greatest left hook I've ever seen. He's got the speed, the rhythm, the determination and especially the will. Best of all, he has learned to think like a fighter. One thing about Braddock is that he was a smart fighter, and Russell uses his noodle just like Braddock did. I do think if he wasn't an actor, Russell could have been a great fighter."
Dundee was generous with his praise, but he just might have been able to train anyone.
A decade ago, he was portrayed on the silver screen by Ron Silver in the 2001 biopic "Ali."
Ali was certainly the most high–profile fighter with whom Dundee worked, but he might never have become the figure he became if not for Dundee.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Steve Springer describes the scene: "At the end of the fourth round of a 1963 fight against Henry Cooper, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, was surprised by a left–hand punch that floored him and left him dazed. Fortunately for Clay, it was the end of the round, allowing him to stagger back to his corner.
"It was there that Dundee, trying to buy time until his fighter's head cleared, stuck his finger in a slight split in the seams of one of Clay's gloves, causing a slightly bigger split. That allowed Dundee to ask the referee for another pair of gloves. None were available, but the incident added valuable seconds to Clay's rest time, allowing him to recover and go on to win on a fifth–round technical knockout.
"His next fight, against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, might not have occurred if Clay had lost to Cooper."
Springer goes on to observe that Dundee applied more creativity when Ali fought Sonny Liston for the title in 1964.
Dundee was an old–school kind of guy.