GUY RAZ, HOST:
Behind every great boxer is a great trainer. The man behind 15 championship boxers was Angelo Dundee. Over a 60-year period, he worked with the best, including two living legends, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. Angelo Dundee died this week at the age of 90 at his home in Tampa, Florida. We called up Sugar Ray Leonard to ask him how he ended up connecting with a man who would eventually become his mentor and, of course, his cornerman.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: When I won the gold medal in 1976 in the Olympics, I had no intention of turning professional. But once that decision was made, I was told to get Angelo Dundee, and that was through the advice of Muhammad Ali. And he said to me, if you turn professional, you got to get Angelo Dundee because he has the right connections and the right complexion. I didn't quite know what that meant, but I did select Angelo. And from day one, I knew I had made the right decision to have him in my corner throughout my career.
RAZ: What was he like as a cornerman?
LEONARD: He was very clever in what he would say, the advice he would give in the corner. He never showed signs of desperation or frustration. He would say the perfect sound bites that really activated my reserve when the fight was close. He said the right things at the right time. That was Angelo Dundee style.
RAZ: I'm curious to know what he said to you in 1979. This is after you won your biggest match to date at that point. It was a WBC welterweight fight. You beat Wilfred Benitez. And it was - obviously, it was a grueling match, down to - almost to the bitter end. It was called in your favor with just six seconds left on the clock. What did Dundee say to you after you won, you got the title?
LEONARD: That fight took so much out of me because I never stopped throwing punches. I tried to throw as many punches as I possibly could. And Angelo just said after the fight: Great job. And that solidified that I won the fight.
RAZ: Mm. And then, of course, there was that famous moment in 1981. You're fighting Tommy Hearns. It gets down to the end of round 12, and you are losing the fight. You go back to the corner, and this is what Angelo Dundee says to you.
ANGELO DUNDEE: You got nine minutes. You're blowing it now, son. You're blowing it.
RAZ: He says, Sugar Ray, you're blowing it, son. You're blowing it. Tell me what you were thinking about at that moment?
LEONARD: I wasn't thinking about too many things. I was too tired to think.
LEONARD: I mean, I was totally spent. I mean, it was over 100 degrees in that ring. And you're so exhausted. Your legs, your lungs, everything's burning and on fire. And at that point, most guys would quit. And Angelo said: You're blowing it, you're blowing it, which made me just get up there and try one more time. And with that little boost of confidence, with that little boost of, let's do it, I won the title.
RAZ: This is what Muhammad Ali said about Angelo Dundee back in the '70s. He was on the "Phil Donahue Show."
MUHAMMAD ALI: You see, a real trainer, when he gets a real fighter, he don't have to train him. He just coach him on what to do, who he's fighting, what type of style to fight, what to look for.
RAZ: Did you find that to be true, that he wasn't necessarily, you know, telling you what to do, but he would advise you, and he would say things to you that he knew about other people that you didn't know.
LEONARD: This is so amazing, because I've never heard this audio. The fact that Angelo didn't really train me per se, but we would work on strategies and tactics and things that would be effective at the time because he was the best cornerman as far as taking care of cuts and what have you. He was also great with the media. Angelo was just the perfect guy for these huge events.
RAZ: Some people call him the greatest ambassador for boxing. What did people mean by that?
LEONARD: He respected the sport. He loved the sport. He was passionate about the sport. Angie was good for boxing.
RAZ: Well, Sugar Ray Leonard, thank you so much for your remembrances.
LEONARD: Thank you.
RAZ: That's the legendary boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard remembering his trainer and cornerman Angelo Dundee. Dundee died this past week at the age of 90. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.