In the days following Muhammad Ali’s death, every phase of the legendary heavyweight champion’s life was reflected upon warmly by the millions of fans who admired the world’s most recognized athlete.
An important time period that helped spawn the Ali phenomena occurred during the formative years of his professional career in the early 1960s, when Ali, then Cassius Clay, moved to Miami. Two Miami Beach-based men, brothers Angelo and Chris Dundee, would play influential roles in Ali’s path to the world title and eventual stardom.
Under Angelo’s guidance as his trainer, Ali ascended to contention and became the trusted influence that stayed with him through the rest of his career — from the highs of championship accomplishments to the depths of suspension and eroding ring skills.
Chris’ promotional acumen provided Ali the opportunity to land important early fights —most notably the title-winning- performance against Sonny Liston in 1964 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. And, as proprietor of the famed 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach, Chris afforded Ali not only a location to hone his skills but a boxing mecca that became a destination for Ali worshippers.
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The bond between Ali and the Dundee brothers will remain important chapters of Ali’s life story. Yet, with the passage of time, the Dundees’ accomplishments could result in a generational disconnect with surviving family members and Ali admirers.
Chris’ daughter, Suzanne, and Angelo’s son, Jim, attended Ali’s memorial service Friday in Louisville not only to respect the fighters’ life and achievements but also to value and preserve their fathers’ roles in the life of such a renowned world figure. Chris died in 1998 and Angelo passed away four years ago.
“Jimmy and I felt the importance of not just to pay our respects but to represent our fathers,” Suzanne Dundee Bonner said before she returned to Miami Saturday morning. “It was a beautiful tribute, well deserved for what Muhammad accomplished. But it was also as if Chris and Angelo were leaving us again.”
Jim, who lives in Bradenton, also felt the need to symbolize the Dundee legacy.
“We reunited with so many people that were important in Muhammad’s life and also understood what my uncle and dad did for his career,” Jim Dundee said. “As a kid growing up, you didn’t truly appreciate what your dad did and the type of presence he had in Muhammad’s life. We experienced so much of that admiration during our days in Louisville.
“The backstory that hopefully will not be forgotten is my uncle’s and dad’s contributions, in addition to the guidance and love they had for Muhammad.”
The Dundee cousins’ trip to Louisville also enabled Jim to again appreciate the importance Ali had in their respective lives.
“He became a member of our family,” Jim Dundee said. “We spent time in his house and he spent time in ours. This was also during segregation, when these types of visits were prohibited. It made my dad so sad and disappointed because he considered Muhammad another son.”
Suzanne said attendance at the ceremony mirrored a cross-section of those who admired Ali.
“You had your political and religious leaders, celebrities and athletes but the audience also reflected many who probably never met Muhammad yet he meant so much in their lives,” Suzanne said. “For all his accomplishments, he had this special quality that brought happiness and pride to people.
“We met two African American women in their 20s from Atlanta who had never met Muhammad but considered it important to visit Louisville and pay their respects. That’s the type of influence he had on people from different generations.”
Ali’s death also reminded Jim of his father’s final weeks before his death in February 2012. Angelo Dundee, 90, was suffering from blood clots and advised by his physician not to travel for Ali’s 70 th birthday celebration Jan. 17.
“It was important for dad to make the trip and be part of Muhammad’s celebration,” Jim said. “He didn’t care what the doctors advised. Muhammad was more than another one of his fighters. For all he knew, this was going to be last time he would see Muhammad.”
Saturday (8:30 p.m., NBC-Ch. 6): Juan Carlos Payano vs. Raushee Warren, 12, for Payano’s WBA bantamweight title.