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I'm not an egotistical pig," Angelo Dundee, the manager of Cassius Clay, is saying, biting the ears off the rabbit's head on the end of his swizzle stick. Angelo is swarthy (100% Calabrian blood), his nose is gracefully arched and he has large, prominent, soulful eyes, what were once called lamps. "I'm an ear-breaker," he says. "I'm also a tape-chewer." He explains that in the corner he chews adhesive tape like gum. Now, in the Playboy Club in Miami, Angelo is facing his third Irish coffee, which he doesn't count as drinking since he stopped drinking. "I'm not spectacular," he goes on. "I lead a very uneventful life. I'm an ordinary guy. Out of town, I'm only looking to run. I enjoy a very happy home life. I go fishing all the time. Last week I caught a snook. I go square dancing twice a week, don't laugh, I'm a Palm Swinger and a Grand Square from the Northwest Shopping Center. I have my Grasshopper badge for doing it on grass. I'm a Moonlighter for dancing under the moon and a Square Duck for doing it in a swimming pool. I'm a backward type of guy. I'm not ostentatious. 'Me great hero. Me killum 9,000 Indians.' I don't go that route. It's no big schmier, the job I do."
What Angelo does is work with fighters, which, besides calling "time" and wiping off, means putting out "50 bananas" for their bail bonds, getting them a "roomski over thereski" and letting them beat you out of money. "Angelo is going to go down in history," says his big brother, Chris, "as the softest touch in the world."
Chris promotes boxing in Miami Beach, where Angelo shares a formica desk with him; on the office walls are photographs of Chris with his arm around the near great, the width of the lapels indicating the year they were taken. Chris never talks on less than two phones at the same time. "Hello," he says on his phones. "How are you? You're looking good," Says Chris: "Angelo's good because he's heard me over the phone all these years. He's a clean boy, he does no harm, and he has the patience of a.... Only he could have the patience he has. It's remarkable the patience Angelo has."
"If I was the type of a person that got bugged," says Angelo, "I'd be in an insane asylum. If I have it, they got it. I know it's a bad risk, but I love fighters. Making a living at fighting is a tough contract. It's harder than working. Anybody can go to work! One day I yelled 'W-O-R-K' in the gym and six guys jumped out the window. I love fighters. I admire their hardships. It's a heartwarming thing to help these fellows. The biggest feeling is seeing something grow—the fighter growing into manhood. But sometimes you see something that looks like the best piece of merchandise in captivity and then—bam! I love fighters, but they deuce me to death."
Fortunately, not all of Angelo's fighters go bam! in the middle of the ring. In addition to managing Clay, he is the manager of Willie Pastrano, who was the light heavyweight champion, the American representative of Luis Rodriguez, formerly the welterweight champion, and of Sugar Ramos, likewise the featherweight champion. "American representative" has got to be a euphemism—but for what? Angelo doesn't argue. "Call me anything," he says. "I'm working."
Says Angelo: "When you're working with a fighter, you're a surgeon, an engineer and a psychologist." He defines psychology as putting the fighter in the best "mental frame of mind." As Angelo told one of his fighters at the end of the eighth round, when, slumped wearily on his stool, he complained that his legs were killing him, "That's a very good sign. It means you're getting your second wind." Says Angelo: "Tired is a disgusting word. You never say tired to a fighter, even if he's ready to drop from exhaustion. If he even starts thinking about being tired, you're dead."
Angelo regards Johnny Holman as his psychological masterpiece. Holman came to Miami from Chicago in 1954 after Bob Satterfield had knocked him out twice in his last three fights. "His managers were going to retire him," Angelo says. "What he needed was a change of scenery. Atmosphere has a lot to do with a fighter. In Chicago, Holman was just another heavyweight. In Miami we wanted him to feel like a somebody. When he'd come up the steps to the gym I'd have everyone primed. As he came in sight, we'd all yell, 'Big John. Hey, Big John. What do you know, Big John?' He'd laugh. We'd given him a monicker. We'd tell him things to pep him up, tell him how good he was.
"What Big John wanted more than anything else was a house—with shutters on all the windows. He'd tell me about the shutters by the hour. Now he's fighting Ezzard Charles, and Charles is putting a licking on him. At the end of the fifth round I cuss him out in the corner. He wasn't used to me using the vernacular. 'What's the matter with you, Big John? This man's taking your house away from you. He's taking your shutters!' When the bell rings I threw him into the ring. He knocked Charles out.
"I always give my fighters a little lift," Angelo says. "It encourages them. In the first few rounds it's a tap on the rear end, but after a while it's a pretty good backhand. I also drop ice down their pants, pinch the flesh about the waist or slap them high on the inside of the thigh. You get to be too homey with a fighter, it's no good. You've got to be able to get a reaction from a fighter. You've got to be impersonal. You stop working when you get too attached. You're there to assist your fighter, not to get involved emotionally."
"Angelo tees up a man," says Drew (Bundini) Brown, Clay's trainer. "When you snatch a stool, do you know what the other man is going to do? Angelo gives a man spirit. He knows how to handle men, not telling them how to throw a left hook but giving them courage. Write it on the wall: Bundini was in the joint."