Story and photos by Bill Hillmann
Angelo Dundee recently turned 90 years old. They held a special birthday celebration for him at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago last weekend. Dundee recently had hip replacement surgery and used a walker in his entrance. Even so, Dundee is still full of that famed boisterous spunk.
When asked for an interview by Fightnews he replied “Of Course! Every time you snap a picture, or ask me a question, I say thank you! God-bless you! Cause that means I’m still alive!”
One of Dunee’s most famous pupils Sugar Ray Leonard was in attendance. Who could forget the legendary line Dundee uttered after the 12th round of Leonard’s 16-round title fight with Tommy Hearns. Dundee laughingly remembers that the two sentences before the famous line where edited out of boxing history. “You dumb sucka! What are you doing!” Then Dundee delivered the famous: “You’re blowing it son.”
Sugar Ray Leonard told Fightnews. “When he said it, something clicked. It told me, go out there and fight hard and to fight without desperation.” Later Leonard jovially recalled “Then I got up and I kicked Tommy’s ass!”
Dundee’s most famed pupil Muhammad Ali was unable to attend. Ali had just beaten a bout of pneumonia and his physician wouldn’t allow him to travel. When Dundee looks back at all the trouble Ali’s talk stirred up over the years. He’s glad he never once tried to reign in that Louisville Lip.
“I loved it! He was a communicator. Muhammad was the most available superstar or our era. That’s what separated him from other great fighters. I was always glad when my fighters were talking. It was when they were silent that I got worried. And Muhammad was really an introvert. The poetry; that was me that started that, it just sounded better coming from him and he ran with it!”
If you wondered about the closeness between the Ali’s and Dundee, the bond is nothing short of familial. Muhammad’s daughter Rasheedah was in attendance. She gave Dundee a birthday-card and later showed him some childhood photos on her phone.
“Since he was 16, that kid, he was mine.” Dundee said. “He’s been my best friend for all these years. That Parkinson’s is kicking the hell out of him right now. It’s hard to see that. I know he’ll be fighting until the end.”
Later, Muhammad Ali surprised Dundee with a happy-birthday video, projected on the big screen in the grand-hall. Ali sat together with his wife Yolanda on a couch at home. The Parkinson’s has progressed and taken even more from the Great One. He spoke in a sort of shorthand which Yolanda translated but if you listened closely, you could catch it.
“Angelo; you old,” Ali said, the room roared.
He then thanked and wished his friend a happy birthday. At the end of the video Yolanda asked, Muhammad, “Are you thinking of making a comeback?”
“Not really” Ali replied.
“Well, if you did, who’d be in your corner?” She asked.
Ali struggled for a moment, then said, “Angelo.”
If there is a heaven for prizefighters, surely somewhere down the line, Muhammad Ali will be making that comeback with Angelo Dundee in his corner.