There were flower bouquets, paintings of boxers, a slide show and Sinatra singing quietly in the background. Muhammad Ali sat front row center. Next to him was his wife, Lonnie, and next to her were Terri and Jimmy Dundee, the son and daughter of the late Angelo Dundee. Just off to the right if you were looking at the memorial from the cushioned seats that could hold thousands, was Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. Mixed into the crowd were former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, former light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver and trainer Jimmy Williams. And that was just from a quick glance.
Friday afternoon, they all came to the Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater, FL to say a final good-bye to Dundee, who died of a heart attack at the age of 90 on Feb. 1 in Safety Harbor just north of Clearwater.
It wasn’t a packed house – maybe 600 – but it was heavy with boxing people and that’s the way Dundee would have wanted it. The trainer of 15 world champions, including Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman, Dundee was the greatest ambassador the fight game has ever had.
The service was filled with applause, film clips and a 10-count, a few people wiping their eyes, but no one openly weeping. That’s because it was more of a celebration than a good-bye, a chance to tell Angelo Dundee stories people have cherished and carried with them for most of their lives.
Between speakers and stories, they showed film clips of Dundee when he was a young trainer working with an even younger Cassius Clay. Or they showed Dundee telling Leonard in the corner, “You’re blowing it son, you’re blowing it,” just before Leonard went out and stopped Tommy Hearns.
The speakers included old friends, new friends and family. Even Arum got up and spoke, told a few stories about how good a trainer – more important, how good a man – Dundee was.
“In 1965, I had just gotten out of the Justice Department and I became Ali’s promoter, though I’d never even seen a boxing match,” Arum said. “One of the first people I met was Angelo Dundee, and I thought to myself, ‘everyone in the sport is probably as nice as he is.’ He was a wonderful, wonderful person and the greatest motivator the sport has ever had. There will never be another cornerman like Angelo Dundee.”
Though they only knew Dundee for five or six years, local sports talk radio personalities Ron Diaz and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ian Beckles of the Ron and Ian Show on 620 WDAE-FM radio told how Dundee had a different policy than all the other sports celebrities they interviewed on the radio.
“Angelo was the only guy who could come into the radio studio any time and we’d make room to put him on the air,” Ron said. “Angelo just made life better for anyone who was around him. He was a gracious man and he had a great life.”
“He was one of my favorite people of all time,” Beckles said. “He was a sweet man and I loved the guy. If we all tried to be a little more like Angelo, it would be a better world.”
One of the film clips was a Pizza Hut commercial showing an older Dundee working with a young fighter, telling him to move and slip and throw hooks. Finally, the frustrated young prospect, quits and yells at Dundee saying Dundee doesn’t know anything about boxing.
“OK,” Dundee says. “Let’s go get a pizza, son.”
As the young fighter and Dundee sit at their table, a waitress brings over a deep-dish pizza and tells Dundee and the young prospect that the pizza is compliments of “that man over there in the corner. He says he just wants to thank you for teaching him everything he knows about boxing.” Both Dundee and the young prospect turn around to look. The guy in the corner is Muhammad Ali.
Another clip showed Ali doing roadwork in Miami Beach. In a voice over, Dundee is telling the story of how Ali was once running across the causeway when the cops stopped him. Ali told the cops he was one of Dundee’s fighters.
“They called me and asked me if he was one of my fighters,” Dundee says. “I told them, ‘yeah, he’s one of my fighters. And he’s a great fighter.’ ”
They never stopped Ali again.
Toward the end of the service, Jimmy and Terri Dundee spoke about their father, both smiling at the stories they’d been listening to about their Dad. And they also remembered their Mom, Helen, who died in December 2010 after 58 years of marriage to their Dad.
“I think Dad is going to be (mad) that he wasn’t here to see this,” Jimmy said.
“I think Mom is going to say to Dad, ‘where have you been Angelo?’ “ Terri said. “Tomorrow (Saturday) would have been their 60th wedding anniversary.”