CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Hall of Fame boxing trainer Angelo Dundee was remembered Friday as a master motivator and a man who left a legacy of kindness that was just as impressive as what he accomplished in the ring molding a record 15 world champions, including Muhammad Ali.
“If you only knew him as a trainer, you missed out on something pretty special,” the Rev. Stephen King said, beginning the funeral service Friday for Dundee, who died last week at the age of 90.
Ali was among about 600 people who paid final respects at the Countryside Christian Center. The self-proclaimed “Greatest” wore a black suit and sunglasses and sat in front of the casket and a stage lined with flowers, pictures, paintings, and a pair of red boxing gloves sitting on a stool.
Ali’s wife, Lonnie, spoke during the service on behalf of her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease.
“He used to call us all the time and say it doesn’t cost nothing to be nice. … It was like his mantra,” she said. “Whenever we saw Angelo there was a smile of his face. He was always a happy guy.”
“You can’t call too many men sweet. Angelo Dundee was a sweet man,” added former NFL player Ian Beckles, who co-hosts a local radio show and became friends with the legendary trainer after Dundee moved to the Tampa Bay area a few years ago.
“Angelo didn’t give you a choice,” Beckles added. “You had to love him.”
That was the prevailing sentiment throughout the 80-minute service attended by many of the friends Dundee made through boxing and his charitable endeavors, including promoter Bob Arum and former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas.
“As a man, he taught me so much,” Thomas said before the service.
Arum was among the speakers, calling Dundee “one of the nicest people I ever met.” Former Ali business manager Gene Kilroy talked about the bond that the trainer and boxer retained long after both retired.
“You can’t buy loyalty today,” Kilroy said. “Boxing has lost a great man.”
Dundee died Feb. 1 at his apartment. His son said he recently had been hospitalized for a blood clot and briefly spent time in a rehabilitation center before returning home, where he was surrounded by family members when he died.
Best known for being Ali’s corner man for most of the former heavyweight champion’s career, Dundee was a brilliant motivator who trained 14 other world champions, including Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Carmen Basilio and Jose Napoles.
“When you think about the beauty of Angelo, when you think about the personalities that he had to coach and train, I actually have to start with Muhammad,” Lonnie Ali said.
“Muhammad’s not an easy person when it comes to boxing because Muhammad thought he knew how to train himself. He had that ego. But Angelo somehow realized that the best way to make Muhammad great was to get out of his way, to let him do his thing. He really didn’t have to coach him. He just had to come in and do the little things. … Angelo was able to do that with each and every one of his fighters.”
Dundee’s career, which led to his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992, spanned six decades. He last got together with Ali for The Greatest’s 70th birthday party last month in Louisville, Ky. — a visit that Dundee’s son said meant a lot to his father.
With the native of south Philadelphia in his corner, Ali became the first to win the heavyweight title three times. Dundee began working with Leonard late in Ali’s career and trained him for many of the former welterweight champion’s biggest fights, too.
Dundee joined Foreman in 1994 to help him become the oldest heavyweight champion at age 45.
“He made all of our lives better,” said Arum, who promoted some of Ali’s biggest bouts.
“Dad was a simple guy. He never thought he was anything special,” Jimmy Dundee said, adding that his father treated everyone he met — from wide-eyed little kids on the street to the fighters he helped win championships — the same.
“Dad loved everyone. No one wasn’t his friend. We’ve got people here from the rehab center where he stayed six days. … All the fighters in dad’s past life loved him because they weren’t fighters, they were family.”
Two hours before the service, Jimmy Dundee smiled while recalling some of his father’s most memorable moments in boxing, including refusing to allow a then young Cassius Clay to quit in his first title fight against Sonny Liston, and practically willing Leonard to shrug off a beating he was taking from Thomas Hearns to win a championship bout.
“When you walk through history, there are moments you have to grab to make them special,” the son said. “Dad always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.