I was a kid when I first saw Dundee on black and white TV during the “Thrilla in Manila” on October 1, 1975 where he embraced the charismatic world heavyweight champion after referee Carlos Padilla Jr. declared Ali the winner by technical knockout (TKO) after Joe Frazer refused to answer the bell in the 14th round.
I finally met Dundee personally on December 4, 2008, two days before the world welterweight “Dream Match” duel between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao on December 6 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
In my brief interview with the legendary trainer from Philadelphia, he insisted that “Ali is the greatest fighter of all time.” While he admired the skills and power of Manny Pacquiao, Dundee said sports scribes should not compare Pacquiao to Ali (56 wins, 5 losses, 37 knockouts, 19 decisions) because Ali was a light heavyweight gold medalist in the 1960 Rome Olympics prior to becoming the world heavyweight champion Feb. 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida when he upset Sonny Liston as “Cassius Clay.”
When Clay beat Liston, he was the youngest boxer (age 22) ever to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion, a mark that stood until Mike Tyson won the title (age 20) from Trevor Berbick on November 22, 1986. At the time, Floyd Patterson (dethroned by Liston) had been the youngest heavyweight champ ever (age 21), but he won the title during an elimination tournament following Rocky Marciano's retirement by defeating Archie Moore, the light-heavyweight champion at the time.
Dundee met Ali on February 19, 1957 when the latter was in Louisville the day before a fight with light heavyweight champ Willie Pastrano.
The teenaged Golden Gloves winner traveled downtown to the fighter's hotel, called Dundee from the house phone, and was asked up to their room. He took advantage of the opportunity to query Dundee (who had worked with champions Sugar Ramos and Carmen Basilio) about what his fighters ate, how long they slept, how much roadwork (jogging) they did, and how long they sparred.
“When I met Ali, he was Cassius Clay and he talked too much the reason why he was called ‘The Louisville Lip’ and he was a gentleman,” recalled Dundee.
He admitted he was “disturbed a lot” when Ali was arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges; he was stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was eventually successful.
Ali would go on to become the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion.
Nicknamed "The Greatest," Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were three with rival Joe Frazier, which are considered among the greatest in boxing history, and one with George Foreman, where he finally regained his stripped titles seven years later. Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, which he described as "float(ing) like a butterfly, sting(ing) like a bee", and employing techniques such as the Ali Shuffle and the rope-a-dope.
BEAUTY AND GRACE
Dundee said Ali had brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports and through the wonderful excesses of skill and character; he had become the most famous athlete in the world. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would "trash talk" opponents, often with rhymes.
Dundee said he liked the Filipinos because “they treated us like celebrities” during the “Thrilla in Manila” and remembered the historic Manila Hotel in Intramuros where they stayed.
I met Dundee once more during the Pacquiao versus Shane Mosley fight on May 7, 2011 at the MGM Grand. With his death last February 1, he will be missed when Pacquiao squares off versus Timothy Ray Bradley Jr. on June 9, 2012.
Here’s how Dundee became a legend in boxing circles:
1921: August 30 - Born Angelo Mirena in Philadelphia.
1955: Helps Carmen Basilio win the world welterweight title against Tony DeMarco.
1960: Begins training one-fight novice Muhammad Ali, then still using his birth name Cassius Clay.
1964: Plays a crucial role in Ali avoiding defeat to Henry Cooper in London, illegally helping his fighter to the corner and using smelling salts after he was knocked down by a left hook. Allegedly tears a hole in one of Ali's gloves to buy more time for his fighter to recover.
1965: Ali defeats Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion.
1971: Ali, back from boxing exile, loses for the first time to Joe Frazier at New York's Madison Square Garden.
1974: January 28 - Helps Ali avenge Frazier defeat, winning points decision in rematch.
October 30 - Ali shocks George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, playing 'rope a dope' before stopping the heavy-hitting younger man in the eighth.
1975: Ali beats Frazier in the 'Thrilla in Manila' with an epic 14th-round stoppage victory.
1977: 'Sugar' Ray Leonard turns professional with Dundee in his corner.
1979: Leonard wins WBC welterweight title by beating Wilfred Benitez.
1980: Leonard loses to Roberto Duran.
1981: Leonard beats great rival Thomas Hearns in 'fight of the year', stopping the Detroit man in the 14th round. Dundee famously rallies his charge, warning him 'You're blowing it, son!' before Leonard scores the knockout. Ali retires following ignominious defeat by Trevor Berbick.
1987: Leonard returns to the ring to beat Marvin Hagler for the WBC middleweight belt.
1988: Dundee and Leonard split for the fighter's latest comeback, against Donnie Lalonde.
1992: Inducted into prestigious International Boxing Hall of Fame.
1994: Works Foreman's corner as the veteran knocks out Michael Moorer to regain the world heavyweight title.
2012: January - Attends Ali's 70th birthday celebrations in Louisville, Kentucky.
February 1 - Dies of a heart attack in Florida.