Angelo Dundee was a star boxing trainer . . . and savior

Feb 5 2012 - 8:01pm

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The obligation of a trainer to a boxer is to always be in his corner, even when the opponent's haymakers are landing with cruel efficiency, or in some cases, the fighter is on the ropes with self-inflicted wounds. Sometimes, the pain cuts both ways.

Angelo Dundee told Pinklon Thomas -- the man he once helped nurture into a world champion -- to get lost in 1989. He had his secretary call Pinklon, who handed the phone to Dundee to deliver a shot of tough love:

"Pink, forget my name and number, and forget that you ever knew me." Click.

Thomas had brought it all onto himself, lost in a hazy blur of smoking cocaine in a depressive funk after losing to Evander Holyfield in September of 1988. He was wasting away, literally, dropping 13 pounds in his drug-induced stupor. Dundee had spent a few days with Pink at a boxing memorabilia show and had seen enough. No mas.

Pink had the good sense to check himself into a drug rehab facility, the Eastwood Clinic near Detroit. He used an alias, "Thomas West."' After a few days, he fessed up to his counselor: "Hey, I'm Pinklon Thomas, the boxer. Can you help me?"

Pink got himself scared straight in 21 days. When he did, one of the first people to call him was Angelo Dundee.

"Let's work another show, Pink," he said.

Thomas, who now lives in Orlando, told me that story Thursday, tears welling in his eyes. It had been a brutal day emotionally for him since learning that Dundee, 90, had died Wednesday night in his home in Clearwater.

He had talked frequently with Dundee up to Angie's dying day, sometimes twice a day. There was another show in the mix, this one in Canada. That one didn't work out either, but Angie has assured Pink that "it was all gonna be all right."

And then, boom, the blindside punch. Angie was gone.

"It's been a bad day for me," Thomas said. "I'm kind of speechless. I can't stop crying, but I don't care. I'm going to let it out."

Boxing is all about ego and testosterone. But it's also about a brotherhood that is rare in professional sports. Boxers, trainers, publicist and the occasional journalist often form bonds that last lifetimes.

You hang around a gym long enough, and people get to know your name and face. You are good to go.

Angelo Dundee was one of those men who embraced you into the inner family, usually with a smile and a gracious hello. "Angie" had no pretenses, nor any visions of grandeur, even thought he was one of the best trainers to ever work the corner.

He died surrounded by family. It was a good way to go for a man who was all about family -- whether it was blood relatives, the 15 world champions he trained, and even lowly cub reporters like me who occasionally trickled into the famous Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach.

That's where he trained guys like Muhammad Ali, shaping the future of boxing history.

Dundee had a unique occupation: He taught the art of beating up people, and did it quite well. Dundee had a fabulous resume, etched in two defining moments -- he cut off Ali's gloves when Ali was fighting Henry Cooper in England to give Ali more time to recover after he was knocked down. And then there was his motivational pitch to Sugar Ray Leonard -- "You're blowing it son" -- that helped will Leonard to a 14th round TKO victory against Thomas Hearns in 1981.

And then there are the moments you don't hear about, until you are talking to a man who once towered above all as world heavyweight champion, and the tears won't stop.

"If it wasn't for Angelo, I don't know where I'd be," Thomas said. "I loved Angelo. I can't even say how much. It goes way beyond boxing, as a man, as a father."

Pinklon Thomas is now approaching the 23rd anniversary of his sobriety -- Feb. 19, 1989. Angelo Dundee never once hung up the phone in all those years.

 

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