It is very hard to find any truly nice people in the unsavory world of boxing. As long as I can remember, the sport has been populated with thugs who lie and cheat and would run over their grandmother if it would put money in their pocket.
Today, I want to tell you about a man who was the antithesis of that.
Angelo Dundee, who died Feb. 1 at age 90, will forever be remembered as Muhammad Ali's trainer, but he was so much more.
Anyone who ever came in contact with Angie probably would describe him as one of the nicest persons they had ever met.
Dundee often said: "It doesn't cost anything more to be nice." I'm proud to say I was one of the thousands of beneficiaries of his niceness. (It was Angie who set me up for a rare one-on-one interview with Ali in 1972.)
Two weeks before he died, Dundee flew to Louisville for Ali's 70th birthday party. "We're like family," he said at the celebration. And on Feb. 10, Ali sat in the front row with the family at Angelo's funeral in Clearwater, Fla.
Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, approached Dundee for advice after he won a gold medal at age 18 in the 1960 Olympics. They were partners from then on, ruling the heavyweight boxing division with color and flair.
Dundee soon realized that the man he always called "the kid" was not your orthodox fighter.
"I never touched that natural stuff with him. This kid had to be handled with kid gloves," he wrote in a memoir. They got along well partly because they only talked about boxing. Dundee left race and religion alone.
Many observers, including me, feel that Ali would not have been "The Greatest" without Dundee to urge him on.
A prime example was in 1964 at Miami Beach when Clay fought Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title.
He had Liston on the ropes in the fourth round, but when he returned to his corner, Clay complained that there was something burning in his eyes and he could not see. He had been blinded by some ointment on Liston's gloves.
Clay shouted, "Cut off my gloves," but Dundee responded, "this is the big one, daddy ... we're not quitting now."
By the sixth round, Clay's sight had cleared and Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round. The kid was the world champion.
Who knows what would have happened to Ali's career if Dundee hadn't forced the issue.
Dundee was a brilliant motivator. He trained 14 other world champions, including another Olympic phenom, Sugar Ray Leonard, who like Ali, needed a Dundee push to win a big fight early in his career.
It was in the 12th round of Leonard's showdown with Thomas Hearns for the welterweight title in 1981. Leonard was letting an early lead slip away when, between rounds, Dundee yelled: "You're blowing it, son."
Leonard came out roaring in the 13th round and won on a TKO in the 14th.
In 1987, Leonard and Dundee came to Hilton Head in preparation for a title bout with Marvin Hagler. The boxer and some of his sparring mates needed mouthpieces and connected with Dr. Robert Savarese, DMD.
Turns out Dundee and Savarese's grandfather, Bobby Gleason, were old friends from earlier days at New York's famed Gleason's Gym.
"Angelo was wonderful, not only to me, but everyone in my office," Savarese recalls. "He gave us all VIP treatment at Sugar Ray's training site. He brought me right up to the front row."
Just another example of Angelo being Angelo.