Daily News from New York, New York on March 24, 1996 · 187
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Daily News from New York, New York · 187

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 24, 1996
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mm , 1 i VITALITY M v ' 1 m 4wr you go c Will' -mMKs pick yiwle y! , J liiie. BtFs sparriig f lafi sfteeifs Mia FOR YEARS NOW, I've called Angelo Dundee and he's called me whenever either of us felt an urge to "rap about boxing," as he puts it. We go back a long time, and when I rap boxing with Angelo, it's at least 30 minutes of good, solid fun phone talk. I enjoy talking boxing with guy who not only know their stuff, but who also listen. They express strong opinions without being argumentative. And, somewhere along the line, you're going to learn something. Angelo and I talked the other day, and the subject was Muhammad Ali, his all-time prize heavyweight. Dundee trained Ali from the beginning and was the one who knew his gym habits better than anyone. Ali had just finished his "60 Minutes" segment, and it wasn't long before people were saying how sad and slow and uncommunicative he appeared. After Sunday's show, everyone was concerned. "Is Ali going to be all right?" you heard all around town. The doctors had already told us about this great personality a few years ago, and they were reconfirming it. It was no revelation that doctors who examined Ali said he was suffering from puglis-tic dementia, better known as "pugilistic brain syndrome." Despite his Parkinson's Syndrome disease, Ali's current physician. Dr. Dennis Cope, points out there is nothing wrong with the great man's mind. Ali still has that wonderful sense of humor and shows it most when he plays tricks on the people he likes. He loves life and enjoys everyday of it Dundee watched the show without concern because he has seen Ali in his present condition and knows his guy is "all right" Although Angelo doesn't buy that Ali got that way from fighting, he does concede that "those shots could not have done him any good." I've always had a theory about Ali's current problem: It is that the damage wasn't done in his 61 pro fights. Examine his record, and you'll see that he didn't take too many shellackings in fights. Ali was a great defensive fighter, and he took pride in his ability to slip punches. Dundee agrees with me that the only three times Ali took what you would call real beatings were two fights with Joe Frazier (the first, and the Thrilla in Manila w hich he won), and when he was stopped in 11 by Larry Holmes. Most doctors agree that just three fights probably could not do the damage Ali has been dealt. So what did it? Where does a fighter like Ali absorb so much punishment that it leaves him with slow speech and quivering hands? The answer is the gym. In the words of Dundee, "Ali never won a decision in the gym. He took shellackings in the gym only because that was the way he wanted to train." Ali's thinking was that a sparring partner was there to get him sharp ... to remind himself to slip punches ... to gear himself to take a good punch to the body and head. "Ali didn't like calling them sparring partners," says Angelo. "They were his guys, and he paid them well and treated them with great respect. Never did Ali throw a hard punch in a sparring session." Dundee tells us that Ali used only the best sparring partners, and there were times when they hit the champ hard enough to deck him. One of these was a tough heavyweight by the name of Solomon McTeer, who could hit pretty good. Another big hitter named Chip Johnson once put Ali down with a right hand. Angelo says that in all the years Ali spent preparing for a fight, never once did he ask his guys to "let up" on him. The fact is, he encouraged them to go all out. Some well-known names were once sparmates of Ali like Larry Holmes. Jimmy Ellis and Ingemar Johansson. You figure the amount of time Ali spent in the gym, and it's not too far-fetched to assume he sparred over 2.000 rounds. That's a lot of leather being pounded at a man's head. Something has to happen. I remembered when Ali once said, "After I'm 33. 1 believe I'll start slipping." (His last fight was in 1981. He was 39) Then I asked Dundee if he had ever seen changes in Ali, any signs? "Frankly, now that I think of it, there was only one thing," said Angelo. "It was near the end of his career, maybe his last three fights, that I noticed he was starting to talk low, like in a whisper and miss some beats while skipping rope." Before I got off the phone, Angelo said this of Ali: "You know everybody loves him. And they should. He's one of the great people I know in the world. "The greatest years I had in my life were from 1960 to 1964, the years leading to the championship. We had more fun!" en r -m CO to to o

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