Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

From a corner, Angelo Dundee ruled any boxing ring

PALM HARBOR — Since news of the death of Angelo Dundee at 90 on Wednesday, media outlets from the Tripoli Post to the Japan News have eulogized one of the most famous trainers in boxing history.

Mr. Dundee had been hospitalized with a blood clot in mid January, after returning from Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday party. He died at an assisted-living facility.

Mr. Dundee molded the career of Ali and guided Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman to upset victories, and was an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

But there was another dimension to Mr. Dundee — his deep connection to the Tampa Bay area.

Mr. Dundee moved to Oldsmar a decade ago to be closer to his family. But he had frequented the area much longer, and often visited gyms from Ybor City to St. Petersburg to encourage fighters and offer advice.

"I would describe him as a boxing honeybee," said longtime ring announcer and boxing analyst Mark Beiro. "He used to go around, pollinating all these gyms with his knowledge and wisdom."

He was a regular at Fight Night Promotions at the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa, and most any other boxing event.

"He'd just call and say, 'I'm coming,' and I'm sure he had a VIP seat," said Jim McLoughlin, a fight promoter and founder of what is now the Fourth Street Boxing Club in St. Petersburg. "He never had to buy a ticket."

While Fight Night Promotions features professional fighters and has been showcased on ESPN, Mr. Dundee was no boxing elitist.

"There was no card too small for him to attend, and because of that he was very much appreciated by the up-and-coming fighters," Beiro said. "It showed that he cared about the guys at the bottom of the totem pole and not just the top."

Locals saw Mr. Dundee and his son, Jim, a Belleair Bluffs optician, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, where they had season tickets. Mr. Dundee could be found addressing chamber of commerce gatherings, at children's charity functions or throwing out the first pitch at a Rays game.

He also spent countless hours reminiscing about his career in local Italian restaurants, his fork pausing in mid-air to gesture.

Boxing writer and ESPN analyst Bert Sugar, who co-wrote Mr. Dundee's 2008 autobiography, recently reviewed his notes from those interviews.

"They are speckled with pasta and pesto," Sugar said.

St. Petersburg trainer Dan Birmingham knew Mr. Dundee for at least 25 years. In 1991 at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa, Mr. Dundee watched as a young Ronald "Winky" Wright, who had just turned pro, showed the reflexes and hand-eye coordination that would make him famous.

When the fight was over, Birmingham recalled, "He turned to me and said, 'You've got a future world champion here!' "

In or out of the ring, it seemed Mr. Dundee always knew just what to say.

"He was a little pixie," Sugar said. "He was wonderful, full of so much fun. He could finish Muhammad Ali's doggerel."

While Ali was a prolific pre-fight poet, it was Mr. Dundee, according to Sugar, who often tweaked the champ's verses so that they would rhyme. It was just another part of a job description so diversified, he referred to himself as a "mixologist."

At different times, Mr. Dundee once suggested, he was "a doctor, an engineer, a psychologist and sometimes an actor."

"Nobody knows what the hell a trainer is, anyway," Sugar said.

He used ring psychology to hook the public on upcoming fights, even those with which he had nothing to do.

"If you had a big local fight going on somewhere, he would always have time for the press," said fight promoter Johnny Bos of St. Petersburg. When asked to handicap a match, Bos said, "He would always pick against the local guy. You know why?"

It helped ticket sales, he said.

Away from the ring, Mr. Dundee was happiest at home with his wife, Helen.

"He said she was the toughest fighter he ever knew," said boxing writer Rick Folstad.

Helen Dundee, his wife of 50 years, died in 2010. Mr. Dundee moved to an assisted-living facility in Palm Harbor, but continued to visit local gyms to talk to boxers, sometimes at the behest of trainers.

"Some savvy managers in the business always got word to Angelo," said Beiro. "He would show up at the gym and talk to (boxers), and basically encourage them.

"They would call Angelo to add to whatever they didn't know."

Even at 90, Mr. Dundee was still open to the idea of training somebody new, said Folstad, who writes a column for a boxing website, the Sweet Science.

"If you could have found a heavyweight contender for him, he would have been happy to handle him," Folstad said.

Asked in 2010 when he might retire, Mr. Dundee replied quickly.

"When I die," he said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

     
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