While I wish I could tell you a tale of my lifelong dream coming true with the chance to interview Muhammad Ali’s famed trainer Angelo Dundee, it would only be a tall tale.
Truth be told, a month ago I didn’t know who Angelo Dundee was.
Sure, I consider myself a big sports fan, but a boxing historian I am not. Even though I could name you all of Tiger Woods caddies over the years, I’m embarrassed to admit Angelo Dundee wasn’t on my radar.
That all changed as our station prepared for Ali’s 70th birthday celebration here in Louisville on Jan. 14. In setting up some stories, I was alerted that Ali’s 90 year old trainer would be in town and was given his son Jim’s phone number to see if Angelo would be up for an interview. I made the call and when Angelo obliged my request, we set the interview up for the morning of Ali’s party.
I knew I needed to study up.
Literally minutes after setting the interview I received a phone call from some friends I hadn’t seen in forever. They let me know they’d be in Louisville for the weekend and I told them I couldn’t wait for them to stay with me, ready to show them the town.
Saturday, Jan. 14 was a day off for me. My friends had arrived, and I considered passing the interview with Angelo off to someone else, or canceling it all together. I selfishly thought “you work so much, you deserve a day all to yourself.” As I started to research Angelo, I knew I had to meet him and that my friends as they so often do, would just have to get over it!
We did the interview in the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at the Ali Center. From the moment Angelo entered the room I knew this would not only be an informative interview but a fun one. I had my questions prepared and ready to fire away, but once we started talking it became like a wise grandparent teaching you family history. All I could do was sit back and soak it in.
He told me about his early days in Philly and New York, the move to Miami Beach and the 5th Street Gym, and of course his 20 plus years in the ring with Ali and their long lasting friendship.
Believe me when I say Angelo didn’t pull any punches.
I laughed more than I questioned, and when our interview was over I told my friends and co-workers about it for days.
On Wednesday night, around 10:30 p.m. I was putting the finishing touches on my story of local reaction to the passing of Soul Train creator Don Cornelius. Like an unexpected uppercut to the jaw, we received word Angelo Dundee had passed away.
As is common, we sprung into action quickly getting something together on his passing for the 11 p.m. news.
In these situations in my profession I’ve found, the emotion of what’s happened doesn’t set in until the news is over, you’re back home, and you’ve finally had time to reflect on what’s happened. As I did, I felt content for Angelo. He lived such a full life, had a hand in history, and I would later learn he spent his final moments on earth in peace surrounded by his family. It was the way he wanted to go.
Angelo told me every fight with Ali was like going to a party and they partied together one last time at Ali’s 70th birthday. I remember he was so happy to have the chance to be here with his buddy Muhammad.
One of Angelo’s famous phrases was “It doesn’t cost anything more to be nice.”
He sure brought those words to life! He was nice enough to take time out of his busy visit to chat with a guy who barely knew anything about him and treated me like I was Bob Costas, not Mike Colombo.
I’ll never forget our two hours together, my morning with Angelo.