Angelo Dundee saved a young Cassius Clay when he was in trouble in England, convinced Sugar Ray Leonard he could overcome the fearsome Tommy Hearns. He worked thousands of corners and had just as many stories about fighters and the games they played in the ring.
The best work of his life, though, may have been selling a sport that was often tough to sell. Anyone who met him was his friend, whether in his corner or across the ring. To those who wondered why, Dundee always had the same reply: "It doesn't cost anything more to be nice."
"He spread goodwill for a sport that often doesn't have a lot of goodwill," retired Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. said. "What he did to promote boxing is his greatest contribution to the sport."
Dundee, who lived in Palm Harbor and died in a Tampa Bay area assisted living facility Wednesday at 90, was a master motivator who shared the world stage with the greatest fighters of his time. But it was his 53-year relationship with Muhammad Ali, nee Cassius Clay, and the way they shocked the world that will always be his legacy.
Ali didn't need anyone to tell him how to box. He came by it so naturally that Dundee wasn't going to teach him much about technique to help him become legendary. What Ali needed was someone in his corner shouting motivation, someone in his corner who always had his back.
"There was a time you couldn't tell Ali anything, but Angelo knew how to motivate Ali," promoter Bob Arum said. "Without Angelo, Ali doesn't get out of the 'Thrilla in Manila.' … (Ali) needed someone like that in his corner."
So did Leonard, who was taking a beating in his epic first fight with Hearns in 1981. His face was swollen by the thunderous right hands landed by Hearns, and he seemed baffled when Hearns began boxing him from the outside instead of trying to slug it out as he had in the early rounds.
After the end of the 12th round, Leonard came back to his corner, exhausted. "You're blowing it, son!" Dundee yelled at him. "You're blowing it!"
Leonard rallied in the 13th round before stopping Hearns in the 14th of a fight he was trailing on all three ringside scorecards. It was a masterful performance by a great fighter, but without Dundee in his face, many believe Leonard would have come up short.
"He really knew how to motivate a guy," Arum said. "He was a good trainer, but … he was the greatest cornerman I've ever seen."
Dundee wasn't above resorting to a few tricks if that was what it took to help his guy win.
British fight fans still talk about the night at London's Wembley Stadium in June 1963 when their great hope, Henry Cooper, floored Ali — who had yet to change his name from Clay — in the final seconds of the fourth round.
Dundee got his fighter to the corner when the bell rang, but Ali didn't know where he was. Thinking fast, Dundee pointed out a small split in Ali's glove to the referee, sending officials in search of new gloves and gaining time for Ali to recover and stop Cooper in the next round.
Dundee, though, couldn't claim credit for Ali's greatest strategic move, when he used the "rope-a-dope" to stop George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle." Though popular lore was that Dundee had the ring ropes loosened so Ali could lay against them and make Foreman tire himself out, Dundee had gotten the ropes tightened just before the fight began and was screaming at Ali to get off them as Foreman unloaded punch after punch before running out of gas.
Dundee was still in relatively good health when he traveled to Louisville, Ky., last month for Ali's 70th birthday. "I've had a lot of great fighters and a lot of great times," Dundee said then. "But the greatest time of my life was with Muhammad Ali."