In this corner with Russ Anber – reflections on Angelo Dundee

In the first of a new column for Boxing Social, boxing’s master of all trades Russ Anber reflects on his friendship with the late, great Angelo Dundee…

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it was easy to know about Angelo Dundee because he was so deeply associated with the greatest fighter in the world in Muhammad Ali.

When you studied boxing history like I did you soon learned of Angelo’s exploits.

There was the time Ali fought in the UK and that tear appeared in his glove after Henry Cooper knocked him down, which bought Ali time and deprived Cooper of an opportunity that might have changed boxing history.

And there was the time when Ali challenged world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, liniment got in his eyes and Ali wanted to quit on his stool. Angelo shoved him out for the next round told him: ‘there’s no quitting here, kid’ and gave Ali just one instruction – run!

So, yes, it was easy to know about Angelo Dundee.

As a youngster, I used to listen to him religiously when he was a colour commentator on CBS. He worked alongside Gil Clancy and Tim Ryan in what I still think is the greatest combination of on-air talent ever. Gil and Angelo often had different views about what they were seeing and it was always interesting to listen to the repartee between them.

The first time I met Angelo was in 1980. Vinnie Curto and I drove to Miami to train at the 5th Street Gym. I spent three weeks there with Vinnie and every day was a new adventure at the 5th Street. I looked forward to seeing Angelo and his brother Chris. When they weren’t there, I was disappointed.

A few years later Angelo came to Canada. I can’t quite remember why but he attended the Canadian national amateur championships. I walked up, introduced myself and told him that we had met many years earlier in Miami. I don’t think he remembered but when I told him I had been with Vinnie Curto that got his attention.

We started to talk, exchanged phone numbers and became friends.

‘The greatest’ Muhammad Ali and the great Angelo Dundee.

Later when I had my TV show ‘In This Corner’ on TSN in Canada, we brought Angelo to Toronto as a guest on the show. We had him on to talk about his book My View from the Corner. Afterwards we went to dinner and I did magic tricks for him. Every time I did a trick, he would roar with laughter and say “Muhammad would have loved that”! We talked boxing and from then on our relationship became a lot closer.

Whenever I went to Florida, I’d call him up and say, ‘Hey, Ang, I’m in town.’

Before I knew Angelo personally, I learned so much by watching the way he worked a corner. There are a lot of things I’ve taken from Angelo because to me – alongside Freddie Brown, Ray Arcel, Eddie Futch and Gil Clancy – he was the quintessential trainer and cornerman.

All those guys were cut from the same cloth as far as how you work a corner, how you motivate a fighter, how you say just the right thing at just the right times to your fighter and to the referee, and how you conduct yourself.

There’s a certain way that you need to carry yourself in a corner. It’s about the confidence you have to say things at the right moment; it’s about making sure your corner is calm and everything works smoothly.

The transition of the fighter coming to the corner is vital – sitting down, getting the mouthpiece out, getting water, getting the Vaseline, giving instructions…

Angelo took care of all those things. And I studied the way he did things so hard because I wanted so much to achieve in my own life that same level of professionalism, down to every detail, from how I accessed my Q-tips, to how I got the adrenaline, to how I handled the sponge.

There’s a way of doing all these things that I studied so hard to get right. And, as a result, it really upsets me when I see people have someone in their corner because they’re a sponsor or a friend or a gym mate or whatever. If you do that, you’re really belittling the profession and how important that three-man team in the corner is.

I see so many examples today of fighters whose corners and corner work would never have been accepted by Angelo.

Because I studied Angelo and what he did so carefully, when I got to know him it was like making a connection with a long-lost friend. I felt like I knew him already.

Speaking to him was always so easy. We would talk about boxing, about working a corner, how to be dignified in a corner, how to dress properly in a corner, how to be the fight guy in the corner.

Angelo had a fantastic personality and was great fun to be around. He was so outgoing, and his voice was so unique with that thick New York accent. He used catchphrases and expressions that were special to him and he was a great raconteur and storyteller. He was such a large personality, so flamboyant and a great talker.

I felt empty when he passed. To be honest, I felt like I’d got to know him too late to really develop the friendship to its full potential. So I felt a little bit cheated when Angelo died, particularly as he seemed healthy and hadn’t been sick.

I felt like I’d been friends with Angelo my whole life – that’s how he made people feel. And, as a result, part of me felt like Angelo would always be there … and then suddenly he wasn’t.

His legacy lives on, of course, and because I started training fighters so early I sort of feel like I am the last living trainer with a connection to those great trainers of the past.

While Angelo was always a ‘larger than life’ figure for me, I cannot begin to describe how honoured I am that I got to know Angelo and Ralph Citro, and that I got to meet Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel. Roger Larivee was the Angelo Dundee of Canada and I was so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn and work with him during my time with Curto. John Davenport, who would go on to train Lennox Lewis, was my first real mentor. An old school guy who took me under his wing and gave me an education I could never have gotten anywhere else.

It means so much to me that I’m probably the last connection to those old school guys. In my mind, the true legends of the game, and my friends.

Russ was talking to Luke G. Williams.

Russ Anber is the founder/CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasyl Lomachenko, Aleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.