A debut historical novel chronicles the career of one of the most successful boxing trainers of all time.
Angelo Dundee, “born Angelo Mirena” in 1921, grows up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in south Philadelphia. In response to bullying by street toughs, he is encouraged to train at a local gym, a fateful move that will influence the rest of his life. Dundee goes off to war in 1944 but continues to work informally as a trainer and quickly establishes a sterling reputation as a cornerman “seconding” fighters. When he returns to the United States, he follows his older brother, Chris, to New York City to work at the famed Stillman’s Gym, picking up extra money sporadically as a bucket boy, barely making ends meet. But his luck turns after he moves to Miami and is signed as trainer for Carmen Basilio, a rising star who will go on to win the welterweight crown. In 1956, the Chicago Sportswriters and Broadcasters recognizes Dundee’s accomplishments and votes him Boxing Trainer of the Year. Brown meticulously documents the high points of Dundee’s extraordinary career, including training Cassius Clay (and after his religious conversion, Muhammad Ali), Sugar Ray Leonard, and George Foreman. The author expertly presents a portrait of Dundee as morally uncompromising, whether defending Ali’s decision to become a Muslim, battling the racism so common at the time, or standing up to mobsters. When a well-known gangster brings up the trainer’s wife in conversation, Dundee responds: “We can talk boxing, we can talk bourbon, or we can even talk birds and bees if you want, but we don’t talk about my wife.” Brown’s research couldn’t be more diligent, and while his prose never reaches literary heights—and the dialogue can be flat—he still provides an astute interpretation of a historically significant and captivating life. An installment in the Barbera Foundation’s Mentoris Project, which focuses on eminent Italians and Italian-Americans, this is an inspiring story of a man’s ascendancy from obscurity to greatness.
A journalistically rigorous depiction of both Angelo Dundee and boxing.