Sometimes the words of the greats live on long past when they are gone. Angelo Dundee was regarded as one of the greatest trainers in boxing history, having worked with Carmen Basilio, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and countless other champions. In this “On The Ropes” classics interview with Angelo Dundee, he talked about some of his more memorable moments from his training career, speaking on The Rumble in the Jungle, The Thrilla in Manila, and The Fight of the Century. Dundee also spoke in detail about one of biggest stars in boxing, Manny Pacquiao and also gave his thoughts on the super event he wanted to see then, that people still want to see today, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Here is what the legendary boxing trainer had to say.
Jenna J: Angelo, the first boxer you trained to a world title was Carmen Basilio. He had a storied career and is most known for his victory over Sugar Ray Robinson. Can you talk a little about that fight?
Angelo Dundee: Well the fight with Robinson was an interesting fight because people didn’t know that Carmen could box because Carmen had to outbox Robinson to get inside and then bang with him. It was an interesting fight and Carmen just fought the perfect fight and he beat the great Ray Robinson.
Jenna J: The most famous fighter you worked with was of course Muhammad Ali. What was it like working with him?
Angelo Dundee: It was like going to a party every other day. It just was a tease, like I’ll give you a little insight. Everybody says Drew Brown. Drew Brown had met Muhammad in New York and then Muhammad comes back from New York and he’s training for a fight. He says, ‘Ang’—he’s training for the (Sonny) Liston fight—he says, ‘Ang, I’m bringing Drew Brown down here.’ I said, ‘What for?’. He said, ‘He makes me laugh.’ I said, ‘Okay!’
Jenna J: What were your thoughts going into Ali’s first title shot against Sonny Liston?
Angelo Dundee: Muhammad felt that he was going to a party. Every fight was like that. Nothing ever bothered him. He wasn’t concerned about the guy. I kept telling Muhammad, ‘you’re bigger than this guy’, because people don’t realize Muhammad went from 182 to 212 pounds. He got bigger, he was a young kid. So when he got in the ring, I told him, ‘When you get in the middle of the ring, stand tall—and look down on the guy’. And Muhammad did exactly that and said, ‘I got you sucker.’, and this was the beginning of the fight.
Jenna J: Ali won the title from Liston, and defended it, but then he was exiled from boxing due to his beliefs and spent over 3 years out of the ring. He had a few tune up fights and then came the “Fight of the Century.” What did you think of that event?
Angelo Dundee: Oh God, that was a happening—great time. What people don’t know is we never left Madison Square Garden after the weigh-in. We couldn’t, there were so many people surrounding Madison Square Garden. So we stayed in the Garden from the weigh-in until the night of the fight. I never used that, they figured you’re going to lift the top out and make an excuse, but we really did and we walked around Madison Square Garden to walk off the food they fed us at the sport club. I sent the guys back and I told them to bring his equipment and to tell my wife I’m not coming and that I’ll see her at the fight.
Jenna J: After the first Frazier fight, Muhammad went on to fight Ken Norton splitting two fights with him, and went on to win a rematch against Frazier, setting up “The Rumble in the Jungle.” What are your thoughts on that one?
Angelo Dundee: Well you know, when I heard I was going to be on your program—On the Ropes—I said to myself they’re going to ask me about the ropes in Zaire. (laughs) And I’m going to tell you, I tightened those stinking ropes at four o’clock in the afternoon but the fight wasn’t until 4am the next day. And you know what happened—the heat stretched the ropes. They were brand new hemp ropes. I didn’t want those ropes to be loose. People try to say that I designed the ‘rope-a-dope’. I thought Muhammad was a dope to be on the ropes. If Foreman hit him with a forearm he would have went through the ropes. That ring was like six feet up in the air—he would have broke his back, the fight would have been all over but thank God it didn’t happen. He was so agile, and so quick, and so smart—he really did some good stuff.
Jenna J: Now the most famous fight of Ali’s career is arguably “The Thrilla in Manila.” It was the third Ali-Frazier bout and it was a war that pushed both men to the edge, and what I am wondering is, if Ali really said to you after the 14th round to stop the fight?
Angelo Dundee: Muhammad always had a knack to suck it up. He came back to the corner and that documentary was a bunch of bologna because he came back to the corner and I said, ‘You got him baby! Get him out of there!’ This is the round they claimed I said he wanted it stopped. No, there was never any stop in Muhammad. I had to stop him that one time and it broke my heart to do it, but Muhammad wasn’t firing back. Muhammad always sucked something up; he had a knack of bringing it out and taking it to get the best of the other guy.
Jenna J: Alright lets talks about one of your other famous fighters, that being Sugar Ray Leonard. How did you end up working with him?
Angelo Dundee: The Olympic team was in New York and we were there, and Muhammad was around and he told Ray, ‘Hey! You want a good trainer? Get Angelo.’ That helped, but then when the group in Washington took him over they asked me if I would like to handle the kid. I told them I’d love to, and I got involved with Ray and he got out of the Olympics. I got along great with Ray. Then when we went to places like Providence and Boston, I made him an honorary Italian. (laughs) Hey listen! I showed him the proper way to twist spaghetti with a fork without using a spoon.
Jenna J: One of the moments from your training career that is the most iconic is when you told Leonard that he was quote “Blowing it.” How do you feel about those words being remembered?
Angelo Dundee: Boy, were those camera guys nice to me. They didn’t tape what I told him before ‘You’re blowing it kid’. (laughs) ‘You dumb, sorry you, what are you slowing down for, what are you doing, you’re fighting the guy’s fight’. Then when I was getting out of the ropes, I said ‘You’re blowing it kid’. Thank God they taped that.
Jenna J: Out of all the moments in your career Angelo, the one that might be the most surprising was when a 45 year old George Foreman landed a right hand that made him the oldest Heavyweight champion in history. Where you surprised he landed that shot?
Angelo Dundee: No, we were looking for that. The guy was dropping his hands so George tapped him with the jab and came right through with the right hand and it was all over. George was that kind of a puncher. You see what he did with Joe Frazier, he picked him up literally with a left uppercut. I was there in Jamaica at that fight. If you see the tape you see a head popping up say, ‘Stop the fight’—that was me. I was watching the fight outside the ring. George was that kind of a puncher. If he got an opening he can get a guy out of there. Old George was a better fighter than young George, he was slower but steadier.
Jenna J: Now Angelo, the last time you were seen working with a high profiled boxer was when Oscar De La Hoya added you to his camp for the Pacquiao fight. Why do you think Oscar came up short in that fight?
Angelo Dundee: The way he (De La Hoya) looked in the gym it looked like he was the winner, but see, the gym is a false impression. To me, you got to know the individual. Pac-Man just was dominant. He was the guy that night and he was the better fighter.
Jenna J: As a trainer, what are your thoughts on Pacquiao as a fighter?
Angelo Dundee: Well he’s got everything going for him. He’s got a great trainer in Freddie Roach. Freddie Roach is a pupil of one of my best friends, Eddie Futch. I knew Freddie Roach as a fighter, God bless him, and he’s a great trainer. He’s a great kid, and it’s a good blend him and Pacquiao.
Jenna J: Finally Angelo, the fight the boxing world still wants to see, is Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, do you think those two will ever step into the ring with each other?
Angelo Dundee: I think Pacquiao and (Floyd) Mayweather will fight. I know the fans want to see that fight and if they have any kind of sense of humanity about it, either fighter, they should fight each other—just for the good of boxing. You know what? I want to go see that fight, that’s going to be a great fight. But you never know with fights. Pacquiao’s fighting a tough guy. You never know one night which fighter is going to win and it’s interesting because it’s one-on-one and to me it’s a kick to watch these guys. And I want to thank you for having me on the radio, because as long as you are talking that means we’re in action.