Simply the sight of Muhammad Ali was enough to bring Angelo Dundee to tears.
The year was 2002, and Dundee — Ali’s legendary cornerman — was turning 81. To celebrate, Miami Beach put up a plaque on the corner of Fifth and Washington, where Dundee’s famed Fifth Street Gym stood.
“Angelo had no clue that Ali was going to be [at the dedication],” trainer Matt Baiamonte, Dundee’s protege, told the Miami Herald Saturday. “As soon as they saw each other, they both started crying.”
Baiamonte continued: “It was an epic moment. Walking back to the gym was insane. I've been around a lot of athletes, but nothing like that. You walk two blocks of the street with that guy, and word had spread that he was there, so in two blocks, there were thousands of people trying to touch him.”
Both titans of boxing are now gone. Dundee died in 2012.
Ali passed away Friday.
Boxing history cannot be written without either man.
“As every decade goes by, for every sport, everyone forgets about the athlete,” said Baiamonte, who has become a trainer to the stars, both in sport and entertainment. “It becomes more about the man. They'll remember the fights, but they'll remember more what they did for humanity.”
Baiamonte saw Ali, who famously battled Parkinson’s for decades before has passing, twice more.
The first time was in 2010, when investors re-opened Dundee’s Fifth Street Gym. Ali dropped by unannounced a few years later.
“The gym was 2,600 square feet,” Baiamonte said. “We had to squeeze in 600 people, 700 people in [for the re-opening]. Now I know how a sardine feels. There was a little roped off area for Ali. When we walked into the room ... even now, the hairs are sticking up on my arm.”
Why? The room exploded with chants of the unforgettable “Ali Bomaye!” from Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman.
Even in his frail condition, Ali raised his hands up to salute the room.
“I think he taught everybody how to fight, not boxing-wise, but for what you believe in,” Baiamonte said. “If what you believe in is true, you're going to win. Muhammad did win. He was able to sacrifice anything for his beliefs.
“I don't think there's ever going to be a heavyweight like him again.”