By Kieran Mulvaney
The principal focus of last Saturday’s World Championship Boxing broadcast was, of course, on the televised bouts, which in Nonito Donaire and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. featured two of the most popular of the current generation of pugilists.
But between the two contests, the emphasis shifted, and sadly so; because even as a young wave of fighters – the likes of Donaire, Adrien Broner, Gary Russell Jr, and others – prepares to assume its role in the spotlight, the past several months have seen one member after another of one of boxing’s golden ages leave the stage.
Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, died in November in the same week that one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters of all time, Manny Pacquiao, prepared to meet his nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. Smokin’ Joe was joined shortly afterward by another of the great crop of 1970s heavyweights, Ron Lyle, whose slugfest with George Foreman was the first fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and remains one of the best.
And now, we have lost two heavyweights among trainers, with the passing of Goody Petronelli and Angelo Dundee.
Petronelli helped steer, at various times, the careers of fighters such as former middleweight and super middleweight Steve Collins, and unlikely Mike Tyson conqueror Kevin McBride. But, with his brother Pat he was best known for managing and training Marvelous Marvin Hagler, one of the very best middleweights ever to lace up the gloves (and one of the best southpaws to do so, which was directly attributable to Petronelli, who took the naturally right-handed fighter and turned him lefty). Hagler earned a middleweight shot later than he should have done – as Petronelli lamented, Hagler’s problem was that he was left-handed, black and good – and when his opportunity finally arrived, against Vito Antuofermo in November 1979, he had to be content with a draw. Ten months later, his turn came again, against new champion Alan Minter, and this time he would not leave his fate in the hands of the judges. Hagler bloodied Minter’s face over three rounds to annex the middleweight crown, a title he kept until he lost it in the final contest of his career, on April 6 1987.
His opponent in that fight was Sugar Ray Leonard, and Leonard’s trainer on that night, as throughout his career, was Angelo Dundee. If Petronelli was especially famed for his involvement with one great fighter, Dundee was forever celebrated for training two – Leonard and, before him, Muhammad Ali. When both had retired, he steered the second career of George Foreman, and was in his corner when Foreman shocked Michael Moorer and the world in 1994.
Hagler described Petronelli, a gentle and universally-loved figure, as an “unbelievably great human being”; much the same has been said repeatedly of Dundee, and with good reason. To speak with Dundee, even as he approached 90, was to speak with a man of genuine humility who seemed forever surprised and grateful that anybody would want to hear what he had to say. He loved boxing and everyone associated with it, and would not hesitate to help anybody – fighter, writer, trainer or spit-bucket carrier – who needed or wanted assistance or advice.
Twenty-five years after working in opposite corners, Petronelli and Dundee were united again, Petronelli leaving us on January 29 and Dundee passing away three days later. The world of boxing mourns their departure, but their achievements and their gentle personalities shall not soon be forgotten.