Interviewer: Louis Massiah
Production Team: B
Interview Date: March 23, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2108, 2109
Sound Rolls: 251
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Angelo Dundee, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 23, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK, tell me how you first met Cassius Clay?
Well, that was a very interesting experience. I used to go to Louisville, Kentucky quite a bit with a lot of my fighters. And I happened to be there with Willie Pastrano. And we were at the Sheraton Hotel and we were sitting in a room and I'd stay in the same room with Willie because he was not exactly the kind of kid that we know, he used to chase chicks like, you know a fox terrier would chase a dog in heat. So I stayed in the same room with the kid. And the phone rings, we were watching TV, and I pick up the phone and I said, ah, "Hello," he says, the voice on the other phone was, "Hey, my Ca--my name is Cassious Marcellus Clay, Jr., I'm the, and I won the Golden Glove Championship in Louisville, Kentucky. I won the Golden Gloves in, ah, Washington State and I won the Chicago Golden Gloves." This was 1958 mind you. And he said, "I want to win the Olympics in 1960." I said, "That's great. Glad to hear it." So, I didn't know who he was because I didn't pay too much attention to amateurs, still don't. I'm strictly a professional guy and that's what I do. So, I held my hand over the phone and I told Willie, I said," Hey, some sort of a nut downstairs, he wants to talk to us." That was the beginning of, up comes Cassius Marcellus Clay, with his brother, ah, Rudy and, ah, they walk into the room and we proceeded to have some of the finest conversation I've ever had with a human being, ah, who was then a student of boxing. He was very, he wanted to know how I trained my fighters, what they do, when to eat, when not to eat. A very, very in depth young man. And he had, he knew what direction he wanted to go. His brother, oddly enough, looked like the artist of the two because he had a mannequin, a face he had done in clay and he had a picture he had painted. The whole family was very artistic. Because Cassius Senior was a painter. A painter paints signs, "Paint this." "You paint it." "I'll do it." You know, that kind of stuff. But, ah, we proceeded to talk for three or four hours and that was the beginning. That was the beginning of a friendship that I nurture to this day because he's one of my best friends. Cassius Marcelleus Clay was the nicest thing that ever happened to my life and I think the nicest thing that every happened to boxing.
Sounds like a wonderful place to stop down. Let me just check--
After Clay turned pro, he trained for a while with Archie Moore. Can you tell about the conversation you had with Dick Sadler after you had taken over as Clay's trainer?
Well, you know, think about Archie Moore, I got to give him due because what people didn't understand, there was no conflict there. It was just a clash of star quality. Because Archie Moore was a star. Archie Moore was a great champion. So, ah, when the kid went up there and he would ask him, "Hey I want to fight." He said, "You're not ready." So, he don't, "I'm not ready. Geeze, I've got so many amateur fights, I'm not ready?" Well actually it was a clash of star quality. And then what, what broke it off actually, Archie Moore asked him to sweep the kitchen. That did it. He said, "I don't sweep the kitchen for my mother, why I got to sweep the kitchen for Archie Moore?" So, actually it was a clash of personalities. Where they got together, a Louisville group called me, we got together, no problem. I sat down and explained, "I'll take my time with the kid," and actually this was in October. And then, ah, I told them, "Well why don't you let the kid stay home for the holidays, you know. We'll start in January, fresh, bright eyed, bushy tailed." Well that was fine with them, with the Louisville group. But then what they said was, "No, he wants to come down now." But see, they had come down and interviewed me and I gave them my ideas and what I, Bill Faversham came down with Morris Bingham, a couple from the Louisville group. And I explained to them, my, the way I would move him, nice and easy, nice and slow, so he could learn his profession. And then bang, he wanted to come down right away. Now, Dick Sadler, was oddly enough, is a good pal of mine. We, we in boxing have a lot of camaraderie and people don't understand this. Dick's a pal of mine, great and Dick is beautiful, good man, good boxing man. So, he came up to me, it was during a time we were having some fights. He says, he said, "You still with that kid?" I says, "Yeah." "And he didn't drive you crazy yet?" I said, "No, we had a great time together." He said, "Man," he says, "You got to have the purple heart with nine clusters if you're hanging in with that kid because he almost drove me up a wall," he says because he had a, he went on a train ride with him once to Texas and he described the train ride, it was second to none. He's yelling the, the, car, is going through, he says, "I'm the champ and my name is Cassius Marcellus Clay. I'm the beau--the most beautiful fighter in the world today," on and on and on. And then he says, "Dick," said, "You got to shut up, you're going to get us killed." But that was, that was the kid full of pep and ginger. And I didn't curtail that because you don't do that. You just project on it and smooth it out a little bit and the people liked it.
OK, when do you first realize that Cassius Clay might have had some associations with the Muslims?
Oh, I knew that, ah, two weeks before the fight.
OK, now, that's an example.
I knew about, ah, Muhammad's association with the Muslims about two weeks before the fight. I didn't know anything about, you know, in fact, ah, ah, Cassius Marcellus Clay, ah, they came to me, the promoter, Jim McDonald, and my brother was associated with the, with the promotion. And he came to me, he says, "Angelo, unless Cassius Marcellus Clay refutes the reports out of Chicago that he's not a Muslim, I'm going to cancel the fight." So, I said, "Well, geeze, I'll talk to the kid." And I said, "Better still," I said, "you go talk to the kid." And I made him go off into another area and speak to the fighter. So, Cassius came back and I'm sitting in the office and he says, "Ange, I don't think I'm going to have a fight." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well because they want me to say I'm not a Muslim and I am a Muslim."** "Marvelous, whatever you want to do, you do Muhammad. I mean it's up to you." Cassius then, you know, because what the heck, what's in a name? The thing with me was the individual. But the, the tough, tough thing about it really was that it was such a pretty name. We had nutured it and played it up, you know, Cassius Marcellus Clay and we used to rhyme on it. It was a beautiful name. And then he chaned it to Muhammad Ali. People resented that. You know why? Why? A lot of people wouldn't call him. But what's in a name? To me, he was still the same individual, same guy and I actually, I didn't know what a Muslim was, really. Because I thought it was a piece of cloth** and I, I, I mean that with all my heart. What the heck's the difference what a guy, religion is? That doesn't project to me what an individual is. What the heck, I was, I hoped later on, I said this, "I hope I was as good a Catholic as Muhammad was Muslim."
Was it hard for you to get used to calling him Muhammad Ali?
It was easy. No problem. Fact the funniest bit was with, ah, with Rudy, ah, Rudy came back to the gym, this is later on, and he says, "Angelo I've got great news for you." Because I was very close to the brother and he says, I said, "What's that?" He said, "I got a new name." I say, "What's that?" He says, "Rahnan R-A-H-N-A-N, Rahnan Ali," because Elijah had given him the name. I said, "That's OK. I'll call you Rocky." He said, "No, you ain't." This was the, the little taste I got of it. But I didn't give a damn. What's the difference? And I didn't go around the mulberry bush and call him champ. What's that? That's balogna. I was still dealing with the same individual, same guy, great fighter. I mean he proved that night with Sonny Liston. So what the heck's in a name to me? Nothing.
OK let's stop down and see where we are on this roll.
I want to go back to just before the Sonny Liston fight again and pick up that whole business about Cassius Clay becoming a Muslim. We're curious, how did the press react when they found out or they suspected?
Well, they can, you know dig and dig and--
Tell us about the press.
The press kept digging and, ah, I just played it cool. I said, "I don't know. I don't know anything about it really." And, ah, this happened where the guy went to Chicago and Chicago came back. Well, I don't bird dog my fighters. I never do that. I believed that, ah, press, socializing with your fighter and getting too up close with your fighter, you negate your influence with your fighter. I don't believe in that balogna. If a kid wants to go out and take a ride. Let him take a ride. See there's only room for one star in my profession. He was the star. So, I kept it that way. I kept it loose as a goose. Always had a great sense of humor with the kid. But you got to remember one thing, he was the most available super star of our era. Because the media got to talk to him, one on one. I pushed that because they want to hear what the star has to say. No one cares what Angelo Dundee wants to say. The assistant trainer, the seconds, the doctor, the lawyer, the Indian Chief, they spoke to him. That was very important.
Did the press change after they found out he became a Muslim?
Well, some, some anti, some plus, whatever. And if you, you dealt in the physical individual, the fighter, why change?
OK. We must be close to the end of that roll, let's just change the roll and ask him a couple more questions here.
I want you to recall that fight between Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson. What happened that night?
Well it was, It was a good guy, bad guy situation where Patterson was a well loved individual and, ah, he's fighting Muhammad Ali. And, ah, Floyd had the, always had this thing about saying, "Cassius, Cassius, Cassius," you know. And it gets to be rub after a while. His name was Muhammad Ali**. Ah, I'm Angelo Dundee. Ah, I was Angelo Marina, so what's the big deal? Ah, so I didn't see any reason for anybody to be calling him Cassius Clay. The guy's got a God-given right to be called what he wants to be called. So, the fight with Patterson, ah, my kid was doing a number on him, saying, "What's my name?" Pop. "What's my name?" Pop. You know, I, I felt sorry for Floyd because, ah, Muhammad did a number on him**. But, not with vengeance, but, Muhammad don't dislike anybody. Muhammad likes everybody. He got no axe to grind with anybody. I mean, to this day, he's that way and he was that way from the beginning. And I never, never had an argument with Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali. We always had a great time together. It was a fun trip. And this guy, when he fought Patterson, he just sort of resented not being called by his proper name. He's always saying, "My name is Muhammad Ali. So call me Muhammad Ali. It isn't tough. In fact it's shorter, right? Cassius Marcellus Clay, a little longer."
Well now Ali says that Patterson eventually did answer Muhammad Ali, is that--
Well, that's nice. Floyd's a nice guy. So, I'm happy Floyd, ah, finally, ah, dissolved that balogna because all it was was a bunch of balogna to me. Call the man what he wants to be called, as long as you don't call him late for breakfast.
In April of 1967, Ali refused to be drafted into the Army. What did Ali's stand on Vietnam cost him as a fighter?
Well, I mean he lost three and a half years. We probably never did get to see the best of Ali 'cause Ali, before he departed, was right at the brink of the, he was great anyhow, but to me, his full potential was going to be resolved then. So the three and a half layoff didn't do him any good because he wasn't a kid that would have kept running, kept training. I mean although every time he came to Miami Beach he used to work out, you know. And he asked, me, kiddingly, he says, "Do you mind if I come to the gym?" I says, "Please!" Because Jimmy Ellis was training for a fight. And I actually made him spar with Jimmy Ellis, not as a sparring partner, he assisted him. But I remunerated him for him assisting us. In fact, ah, he was there with his family and I took care of the hotel because it was a pleasure. Because Jimmy was in action and Jimmy was fighting. But Muhammad was that kind of guy. To this day, you know, Muhammad comes down here and he trains and he sweats. He loves to sweat. And, ah--
You mentioned what happened to him as a fighter, he lost three and a half years that were very important. What about the man, Muhammad Ali? Did he--
Muhammad Ali was the same man, that left three and a half years before. He had no axe to grind with anybody. He wasn't mad at anybody. He's too big a man to get that way, and to this day, ah, if he doesn't have anything nice to say about a guy, he'd say nothing. He don't have an axe to grind with anybody. Muhammad is a great individual, in and out of the ring. Forget about it.
Tell me what's so special about him.
He was just great. He, ah, professional, no a great human being. Ah, ah, he actually, I actually had a guy was robbing him. And I made him aware of it. I said, "Willie's a heck of a thief." He said, "Isn't he?" So, he found a plus about a guy. He was the kind of guy, if he didn't have anything good to say, he would say nothing. Muhammad taught me, he taught me patience, "Well you see, there's no time for getting mad at anybody. You get glad. You don't get mad. You evaluate and you go further." He just never got, felt that he was done out of anything. He was happy to be back because being in boxing, he had fun. He would never admit it that he loved boxing but he had fun with boxing.
Tell me what you would like to tell me about Muhammad Ali, anything that I haven't asked you about.
Muhammad Ali was the greatest thing that ever happened to boxing. He changed the whole concept.
Remember where you were? Start over again.
See, you can always repeat honesty, never bullshit.
Muhammad Ali is probably the greatest thing that ever happened to boxing. It was a thrill for me to be involved with him from the beginning. It was so interesting. So good, you know, there's a, a young man, the, the greatest time I had with Muhammad was from '60 to '64, a development nuturing talent, fighting certain guys, preparing, ah, licking adversity, ah, it was such a big kick. But see what I nutured was making him available. The media always could have him. We used to attack press conferences. Because let me tell you, without the media, without that camera, without that radio, we're dead city. You guys want to talk to us, God love you. He did the greatest thing for boxing of all time because he was the most available super star of our era. You guys got to talk to the man. You want to speak to Muhammad, bang, talk to him. Put him in another room. And this is what something that I feel good about. Because he, prior to that, you couldn't talk to a fighter. You had to go through the press guy, the mother-in-law, the father-in-law, the sister-in-law, the brother-in-law, the seconds, the trainers, then you got to talk to the fighter. That's not right. You got to speak to the star. The star was Muhammad Ali. And I was just happy to be there on the sidelines helping him.
Weren't you afraid that when he would go out and tell everybody he was the greatest and go on like that that he would turn people off?
Well that was wonderful. Isn't it? Wouldn't it been terrible if he had been a closed-mouth guy and you wouldn't get to enjoy this guy? Fifty percent would love him and 50 percent would hate him. At least, when we used to go down the aisles of a fight and they were booing the heck out him, he'd say, "Well, we know there's people here." It was great. I loved it.
Thank you very much Mr. Dundee.
I've got two quick ones for you. You'll like this because they were funny because we laugh at that today. Ah, Herbert Muhammad became Muhammad's manager and Muhammad, in fact, there was a guy up in the, ah, gym, all, everyday, he used to come there. Ah, his name was Sam. And he was very friendly with Muhammad and he'd come to the gym. So, after he announced that he was a Muslim, this is two weeks before the fight, ah, Sam would come up there, sit there and I'd sit beside Sam, and, ah, I'm talking to Sam I say, "Gee, ain't it a shame, Cassius Marcellus Clay, what a great name." See the people not, not going to accept it because we made it such a beautiful name. You know Muhammad Ali ain't a bad name. So, I'm going over and over every day with Sam. So finally, a couple of young kids with dark suits came up one day and they walk up to Sam. Says, "Captain Sam," he was a muslim. I didn't know it. Now the other funny one is that we're in the gym training and Pat Putnam who is now with Sports Illustrated, was from the Miami Herald, so he was sitting in the gym. So, I had seen Malcolm X's picture in the L.A. papers. So, up come Malcolm X. So, he's sitting and walking around. So, I told Rahan, I said, "Rudy, do me a favor. Tell that guy to get out of here. We're going to get bad press." So, he said to me, "You tell him away." "No way Jose." I didn't say nothing. But Malcolm was up in the gym 'cause he had came down and he was visiting with the kid. But Sam, he's now a minister by the way, Sam, I didn't know this.
Did he ever confide to you why he was opposed to the war in Vietnam?
I am a very lucky individual. I learned, early in life, you don't mess around with a fighter's personal life or his religion. You got to lose on both counts. Because everybody believes their religion is the best religion. And you don't ever want to get into a guy's house because you hear him argue with his wife and then you, this happened to me in New York City, now it's a true story, '49. A young kind come up to me. I was working with him. He says, "Ang," he said, "Boy that wife of mine, she's, ooh, God." I say, "Well, you know how women are." So, end the story, I wound up losing the fighter and I lost the friendship of his wife because he went back and told his wife, "Even Angelo believes I'm right."
I never got involved. It's none of my business. All I worried about was the professional end of the business. I worked with a great fighter, probably the greatest heavyweight I'll ever see in my lifetime. And it was a joy working with Muhammad Ali. It was a fun trip.
OK. Thank you very much.