The Sweet Science of Angelo Dundee

The world's greatest boxing trainer is still going strong, fueled by the prospect of finding the next champion

Training Levin has proved to be hard work for everybody, and not just the physical aspect. Early last year former lightweight champion George Scott, a European who fought with Dundee and Lagerman in his corner, offered Levin, Lagerman and three other Royalty Gym fighters "a lot of money, just a lot of stuff to go with him," Levin says. "I did, and it was a big mistake, a bad mistake. I was naive. I didn't know. I shouldn't have done it."

Three other fighters under salaried contract with Dundee's company, Royalty Management, joined Levin to fight for Scott in Europe. Ultimately an American judge ordered them back to Royalty rather than giving them the go-ahead to fight in the United States under other sponsors.

Scott's move was widely criticized in fight circles, and Lagerman insists that's why he didn't join Scott. That and loyalty to Dundee. "It wouldn't have been right," Lagerman says. "I think in fighting sometimes the more dishonest you are the more money you can make. Some trainers take on fighters who are too old, for example. But Angelo and me, we turn them away. I say, 'Hey guy, don't do this, OK? You could get hurt.'"

Trainer Angelo Dundee uses an instructive right hand to sharpen cruiserweight Kenny Lunkins
Melissa Jones
Trainer Angelo Dundee uses an instructive right hand to sharpen cruiserweight Kenny Lunkins

That's one way to stay honest. Another reason Dundee has avoided the scandal boxing sometimes spawns has to do with the company he chooses.

"We don't work with Don King," Lagerman explains. "I'm not saying King is corrupt -- I don't know what he's up to. But we don't work with him."

Dundee puts it differently. It comes in a quick shot of advice calculated to help his fighters maintain the often solitary, Spartan existence required to succeed. And it comes punctuated with the profanity Dundee occasionally uses to make his points. "If you walk with a fuck-up, you're a fuck-up," he says.

Dundee's greatest fighters have not fallen into that category while under his tutelage. For their toughness and courage, for their monkish discipline and their victories, all are beloved to him, he says. But none -- not even Ali, recently named Time magazine's athlete of the century -- is enough for the man from South Philadelphia.

Only the idea of the next great fighter is enough, he says, that and the music. "There's music in a gym, and I love it," Dundee exclaims boyishly. He pauses and cocks his head, urging a visitor to listen to it: the machine-gun rhythm of the speed bag, the artillerylike thump of the heavy bag, the quick intake of breath wrenched suddenly from the air and released in small explosions, the high-top shoes squeaking sharply as men spin and dance on the canvas. Like a conductor Dundee shapes the music, too. When a fighter sparring with Levin begins to grunt each time he throws a punch, telegraphing his moves, Dundee adds his broad South Philly patois to the fight-gym symphony: "Tell that man not to grunt," he instructs.

Fighters are encouraged to share what they know and see as other fighters spar, with only this rule: no yelling in the gym because it embarrasses people, Dundee believes. "Move around him, move your feet," calls Ismael Kone, a promising Swedish heavyweight who remains close friends with Levin.

The advice elicits a smile from Dundee -- all part of what compels him to lean eagerly into the work. He drops his smile only once at the tasteless mention of the word retirement.

"Retire? That's goofy," he says explosively, as if the thought suggests a grave that remains another lifetime away. "As long as I got young guys to teach, no." He glances around at the young guys for reassurance and notices Levin, the heavyweight from Stockholm.

"Eight months or a year to his first big one, maybe," Dundee muses, like a man with all the time in the world. "Maybe a little longer. You can't rush it."

Contact Roger Williams at his e-mail address:

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