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MY VIEW FROM THE CORNER
A LIFE IN BOXING
By ANGELO DUNDEE, BERT RANDOLPH SUGAR
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2009Angelo Dundee and Bert Randolph Sugar
All rights reserved.
Fifty-Plus Years in the Fight Game: How Did I Get Here?
Here I am after more than fifty years in boxing—almost sixty, but who's counting?—and with all those wonderful moments pressed somewhere in the pages of my memory, I don't know where to start. Finally, after looking at it every which way, I decided to start with a tale of two of the most unforgettable characters I've ever met: Muhammad Ali and Willie Pastrano. But it's not the kind of story you'd expect.
The story goes back to 1952, when I took two fighters to New Orleans to appear on a local show. As luck would have it, the two fought on the same card as two youngsters trained and managed by Whitey Esenault, a New Orleans legend known as "Mr. Whitey." After the fights were over, Esenault approached me and asked if I'd be interested in working with his two kids. "Ange," Esenault said, "I got these two kids. They're both underage and can only fight six-rounders here, but they're something special. If I sent them to you, would you work with them?" Would I? Having seen the two, both of whom had won their fights and showed promise, I hastily accepted Esenault's generous offer.
The two boys, and I do mean boys, were Ralph Dupas and Willie Pastrano, two sixteen-year-old kids who had grown up a couple of houses from each other in the French Quarter, Ralph the oldest of the two by six weeks. Their entry into boxing was as dissimilar as their backgrounds similar, Ralph having been a tough, hard-nosed street brawler, while Willie, in his own words, having been a five-foot, two hundred–pound butterball who was "a fat little coward who ran from even the slightest suggestion of a fight." Ralph, after watching Willie in action, or inaction, took his friend, then called "Fat Meat," to Esenault's gym over at the St. Mary's Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) to learn how to defend himself—and, not incidentally, to lose weight. The lessons took, and Willie soon followed his neighbor's lead into boxing.
The two arrived at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach soon afterward, looking weary and tired and carrying all their gear in paper bags and their records in newspaper clippings. Dupas, having doctored his birth certificate so that he was able to turn pro at the age of fourteen, had a gaudy 24–2–3 record; Willie, entering the pro ranks later, had a more modest one of 5–0–l.
Now, training fighters is like trying to catch fish. It's not the strength but the technique; you've got to play the fish nice and easy and go with what's there. And what was there in these two kids was that "something special" Whitey had first seen.
Over the next few weeks I added to their meager gear, giving them headguards, new trunks, and new jockstraps. And these two works in progress repaid me in kind, putting in the time and effort as they trained under my guidance. That is, Ralph did, taking to training. Willie took to something less. See, each fighter is different; they're all individuals. And if you listened to Willie's quote book you could tell he was an individual—one not given to training. Every day, as he climbed the steps to the gym, he would mutter, "I'm on my way to hell." Willie also wanted to invent a roadwork pill. According to Willie, "You get up in the morning, take the pill, have breakfast, then a deep breath, and look around, and you've done five miles on the road." He even said his ambition was to make enough money so he could "dynamite the gym."
Soon the two began appearing on my brother Chris's Tuesday night cards at the Miami Beach Auditorium and were adopted as hometown heroes. Here's Chris's genius in developing the two: he changed the amount of time of the rounds in their fights from three to two minutes so the two could fight eight two-minute rounds instead of the six three-minute rounds they had previously been limited to. Now, fighting eight-round bouts, they both kept busy. Ralph, fighting as a lightweight, had fifteen fights in 1952 and twelve more in '53, both in Miami Beach and New Orleans; he won twenty-four times and rose as high as number nine in The Ring ratings. Willie, fighting as a welter, won seventeen in '52 and '53 and also rose in the ratings.
Willie was a particularly clever fighter who had become known as "Will o' the Wisp." He also was becoming known for something else. For Willie worked his hands as though he was outlining the form of a beautiful woman—which was only fair because that seemed to be all that was on Willie's mind. Willie's motto was "Show me a guy who doesn't have sex with his girl at least four times a week, and I'll show you a girl that can be had." And Willie was always in search of girls who could. Not only that, he didn't care who knew it, believing it paid to advertise. One time columnist Jimmy Cannon said to him, "Willie, you must be a good dancer the way you move around the ring," following with the question, "What's your favorite dance?" Willie came back, "the horizontal tango," and wouldn't you know it, Willie's quote appeared in the paper the next morning.
A member of the you-can't-take-it-with-you-so-why-not-wear-it-out-while-you're-here school of thought, Willie was always out in search of two-legged wildlife, his out-of-the-ring nocturnal antics including things you wouldn't find on French postcards. Once, during a sit-down interview with British sportswriter Dick Curry, Willie went into such graphic detail recounting his various sexcapades that a shocked Curry had to excuse himself to, as they say over there, go out to regurgitate.
The combination of sex and fighting has long been one of boxing's greatest controversies, old-timers believing it to be a no-no that would sap a fighter's strength, especially before a fight. Veteran trainer Freddie Brown once told me that his fighter, Tony Janiro, was a real chick magnet: "Coulda been a champion, but sex was his problem. That's what ruined him. For the first four, five rounds, no trouble ... but the next four, five ... no strength." And former lightweight champion Ike Williams was quoted as saying, "I did it once, and I got the hell whipped out of me."
Others, however, have come down on the opposite side of the question—and the blanket. One of them was Carmen Basilio who, when asked about sex before a fight, said, "It's not bad for the married guys 'cause they're at home. They're in bed early, and they get their sleep and get up and do their roadwork. It's those young guys who are single. They go out all night trying to pick up some bimbo and they're not going to get up and do their roadwork. That's where the lack of conditioning comes from. It's not about the sex." And Evander Holyfield, when asked about prohibiting sex before a fight, just laughed and said: "Managers, yes; fighters, no." In other words, to quote Casey Stengel, "It ain't the sex that'll kill you; it's the chasing after it."
Still, the prevailing feeling among trainers is that while abstinence not only makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes their fighters meaner sons of bitches when they climb into the ring ready to take their frustrations out on their opponent. Former light-heavyweight champion Bob Foster gave voice to this belief, saying, "You can't see your wife for two and a half months. I was a mean SOB when I was training.... I didn't like my sparring partners ... I didn't like my trainers ... I didn't like nobody."
Now when it comes to the question of sex before boxing, I've got to tell you I keep business and personal life separate. It's never been my style to get involved with my fighter's personal life. I learned my lesson very early on when I had a four-round fighter who came to me one day and said, "That wife of mine, what a pain in the ass she is...." Distracted, I ju
Excerpted from MY VIEW FROM THE CORNER by ANGELO DUNDEE, BERT RANDOLPH SUGAR. Copyright © 2009 by Angelo Dundee and Bert Randolph Sugar. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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