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Angelo Dundee: Legendary Boxing Trainer – But So Much More

Ang Dad and BBExclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Interview conducted March 2000 – Copyrighted in the boxing book Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime)

Photo from the Berkwitt Family Collection

The phone rings, and on the other end, a woman says “Hello Angelo Dundee’s Office”. I tell her who I am she says, “Hold on Brad I will tell Angelo you’re on the phone”. There is a short pause and than, Angelo picks up and without hesitation says, “Brad, How are you doing?” I replied, “good” and than he said, “There ain’t no fad when you talk to Brad.”

This is the kind of man Angelo is. A man of humor, warmth, honor and above all, loyalty – a loyalty he has shown his fighters over so many years. I had the pleasure of meeting Angelo several times in the early 80’s at the gym I used to train at  in North Miami Beach Florida named Allen Park.

Many years later, while home on leave from Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I would again run into Angelo with my late father, at the famous Lorenzo’s Italian Restaurant in North Miami Beach Florida. The event was the closed circuit fight between Tommy Hearns and Virgil Hill. My dad, who knew Angelo over the years, took me to his table and asked if he would take a picture with us. Angelo didn’t hesitate. To this day, the picture hangs in my office at home.

In my opinion, Angelo is to boxing what Frank Sinatra is to music. Both legends who moved their respectful industries in a positive manner, adding CLASS, and a body of work to admire, for many years to come. If you ever have the chance to meet Angelo, you will know what I did in about 30 seconds of talking with this sweet man.

In your 50 plus years of boxing, what is the greatest fight you have ever seen?

I have seen so many great fights. When you think back in your memory, you don’t want to be like the old Over-the Hill-Gang that gives you some BS about some old-time fights. Fact is, we see some great fights coming on now, and I have been personally involved in them by working the corner.

You have to say Muhammad Ali Vs Sonny Liston I, Willie Pastrano Vs Harold Johnson, where the impossible happened. Finally, how can you top the Thrilla in Manilla and the first Frazier Vs Ali at the Garden? It’s hard to name just one.

In all your years of boxing, what fighter do you feel had the total package?

It had to be Muhammad Ali. Muhammad changed the whole gist of boxing where the media got to talk to the superstar. I pride myself with that because I pushed Ali to them, because I knew if you get the proper media and you don’t beat on each other, this would cultivate a romance. This is what Muhammad created. The first superstar available of our era was Muhammad Ali. He could handle it inside and outside the ring with his talent. Bottom line: He changed the whole sport of boxing.

Who inspired you to be a trainer?

Nothing actually inspired me. I was in England during World War II. My brother Jimmy and I were there. At that time I was in what was called the Air Corp and with the 459 Service Squadron, 318th Service Group. We naturally were in Europe and my brother Chris knew these guys with the USO.

They had boxing tournaments over there or boxing exhibitions ala Joe Louis. They needed guys for those inner military tournaments, so Jim and I, low and behold, used to second them. God help those fighters if they really needed something. They were in deep stuff. I didn’t even know how to hold a bucket back then. When my time was up I came back to the states. I was an aircraft inspector with a place in Philly, but the types of planes I inspected had changed and I wanted to move on.

I called my brother Chris who was stationed in New York at the time and asked him if I could come there and give boxing a shot. I took it all in by listening, watching and learning from the best in those days, with guys such as Charley Goldman and Ray Arcel. I was the bucket guy in the corner. I used to watch these guys in the gym and noticed that each guy was a different study.

I admired these guys because they truly gave of themselves. I had so many wonderful teachers and got one heck of an education.

Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

YES! We need to find a way to do this maybe like a slush fund for these kids. I am all for it. Take the money off the purse, promoter, or any place you can. It will line up if you do it from the start. They did that in California for awhile. (We both agreed deeply that fighters should have something afterwards when they retire, because accolades do not put food on their families’ tables).

What qualities must a boxer possess in order for you to train him or her?

First of all, I must feel that they have a future. There is no tougher profession than being a fighter. It’s tough, due to the simple reason that the managerial end of it has been taken away, because what’s happening is the promoters are handling the fighters. I feel that the personal touch is the thing you need with each other. I always have a personal touch with a fighter.

By doing this, it allows you to get out of each other what’s there. So when you get a fighter, he needs to respect you and vice versa. If they have the talent to exploit, then you have a party, yet you must still bring up the talent gradually.

I am known for being a slow guy. I like to take my time and allow my fighter to have every advantage. I don’t want to give away too much in a learning experience. In other words, when I have a young kid, I don’t want to give away too much maturity, punch, and want my guy to have the edge where he can win. So with that said, the qualities are that the kid has got to want it.

What are your words of wisdom to the young man or woman that wants to become a trainer?

If you have the talent and the quality, then it’s a tremendous adventure. But you must have the talent and the quality to do it. You must persevere because it’s not gonna come easy.
What was your favorite Ali fight that you were involved in and why?

First of all I must say that Muhammad was so much fun and this is what you need in the profession to excel at it. Brad, I had fun since day one with him and still to this day, when we see each other, it’s so much fun. I would say my favorite was the Thrilla in Manilla.

It’s my favorite because it brought back that these guys have a way of sucking it up, which is a mark of greatness. Here was Muhammad who in the 11th round looked like he could have tossed it in, but he sucked it up and dominated Frazier, causing him to throw it in. This was Muhammad!

Do you think it’s fair to say that the years Muhammad was out because of the War issue would have been his best years?

I don’t think Muhammad lost, I think the public did. They didn’t see him at his greatest. When he came back he did lose some of the magic he had before the layoff.

What was your favorite Sugar Ray Leonard fight that you were involved in and why?

Marvin Hagler because everyone figured no chance that Ray could win. I would also have to say the Hearns fight, as well.

What do you think of each division having three titles?

I think it’s nuts. We should have one title because too many champions mix up the fans. They don’t know who is around and the real McCoy in there. You don’t want to mix up a fight fan.

Is there any profession besides for boxing that you wanted to pursue?

Brad I have been doing this since 1948 and have known about boxing from way before that.

Who was your first fighter to challenge for a title and what was the outcome?

Carmen Basilo was my first. He knocked out Tony Demarco in the 12th round to win the Welterweight Championship.

If you could put together the perfect fighter, what qualities would you pull and from what fighter?

Boxing style would have to be Willie Pep because of the quickness of the jab and the mobility. Willie Pastrano would feint you out of your socks and hit you with a shot and wouldn’t be there. Willie was the original hit and doesn’t get hit.

This is something you got to have because it gives you longevity. I would take the left hook of a Carmen Basilo. As I said early, for the jab Pep, but would throw Muhammad’s jab in too. For defense, Luis Rodriguez. Footwork Willie Pastrano and Ali. Right hand, Joe Louis.

Of all the honors bestowed upon you, which one are you most proud of?

Brad, listen I am proud of anything. I once got an award from a guy in Ohio that said, GOOD GUYS WIND UP FIRST! (I loved that Angelo said that with such a wonderful, honest laugh.) Look, I am very happy that people acknowledge my presence on this earth.

Finally, how would you like your legions of fans to remember you?

Not for anything special, just as a guy who enjoyed what he did.

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