They just don’t make them like they used to. That’s the phrase people use when they’re talking about pieces of furniture, automobiles etc. However, I’d argue that the same phrase should be applied to boxing trainers. In today’s generation of unlimited social media, where there are numerous organizations in the boxing world that are willing to crown someone a champion, a champion fighter’s trainer instantly becomes a household name; even though that fighter or his trainer’s credentials may just not be that great.
That of course could and would never apply to Guerino ‘Goody’ Petronelli and Angelo ‘Angie’ Mirena Dundee, two legendary former boxing trainers who, up until this week, were the last of a dying breed. That is because in an ironic twist of fate, both Petronelli and Dundee died this week, both of natural causes, within four days of each other. Petronelli was 88, while Dundee was 90.
Besides their claim to fame in boxing, both Goody and Angie shared some other similarities as well. Both were of Italian descent born in boxing rich tough Eastern cities, Brockton, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, PA respectively, and both served their country proudly during World War II. Of course there was one more thing they shared, multiple world champions.
Goody Petronelli, like his childhood friend Rocky Marciano, began boxing while he was in the Navy. Petronelli had a successful amateur career, while Marciano went on to win the heavyweight championship of the world. The difference in success levels had nothing to with Petronelli’s lack of ability, but rather his reality. He viewed boxing as a long shot in terms of his future as a fighter and actually tried to convince Marciano of the same when after returning home from the war Rocky told him, “I’m thinking about turning pro.”
Upon hearing this, Petronelli actually tried to talk Marciano out of it, according to his nephew Tony. “You know Rocky, it’s a real tough game,” Petronelli is quoted as saying; just imagine if Marciano would have listened. Nonetheless, Petronelli would enter the game, but not as a fighter, rather as a trainer. Along with his brother Pat, who handled the managerial duties, they opened a gym in Brockton in 1969.
Not too long after a young amateur transplant from Newark, NJ named Marvin Hagler came through the doors and the rest as they say is history. Besides Hagler, Petronelli trained former world champion Steve Collins, USBA champ Robbie Sims, along with numerous other regional champions who contended for world titles. As for heavyweights, he is best known for training both Peter McNeely and Kevin McBride, who both had the distinction of fighting Mike Tyson; the latter ending Tyson’s career in 2006.
Meanwhile, Dundee made his bones in the boxing game in a different fashion. After the war, he had a couple of older brothers Chris and Joe who were working as a promoter and fighter respectively in boxing. Angie decided to join Chris as his assistant while the three of them adopted the name Dundee, so their parents wouldn’t know about their work in boxing.
Dundee enjoyed working in the corner so much he traveled to gyms in New York and Miami to work under fabled trainers such as Ray Arcel and Chickie Ferrera, cutting his teeth as a bucket boy. However, the grunt work proved its worth when Dundee started to use the knowledge he had garnered and coupled it with his uncanny ability to motivate. It was that trait that caught the eye of a young Olympic champion named Cassius Clay.
Clay had met Dundee in a chance meeting in 1959, the year before he won the gold medal, and once he turned pro, he already knew who he wanted as his professional trainer. Together the two would enjoy great success as Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali, went on to become “The Greatest.” That same type of accolade would follow Dundee as the mastermind behind the fighter.
Dundee was not just known for his motivation and master strategy, but for his ability to think outside the box (no pun intended). It was Dundee who decided to make an existing hole in Ali’s glove even bigger in his fight against Henry Cooper, when he saw his fighter needed an extra blow to regain himself. He did the same for Ali, when he was ready to give up in his third fight against Joe Frazier, the famed ‘Thrilla in Manila’, when Ali told him he couldn’t continue because of exhaustion.
He would go on to use these same techniques with his other legendary champion Sugar Ray Leonard. Calling Leonard a young Ali, coming out of the ’76 Olympics, Dundee was in Leonard’s corner against some of the greatest fighters in history,which included such opponents as Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran. It was against Hearns during their first fight in 1981 that Dundee would utter the now famous words to Leonard before the 13th round, “You’re blowing it kid, you’re blowing it.” Leonard would go on to score a 14 round TKO.
In 1987 Dundee worked with Leonard again, this time in the “Superfight” against none other than Marvelous Marvin Hagler. That meant that he was in the opposite corner of the aforementioned Goody Petronelli. The fight was about as close as you can get with Leonard pulling out a split decision that is still argued among fans to this day.
Granted the fight lived up to the hype because of the two champions involved; but it also had a lot to do with their trainers. Both are legends in this sport that made their way during the glory years of boxing, when it was on top of the sports world. More importantly, they were genuinely regarded by all that knew them as gentlemen. They truly were the last of a dying a breed.