When you’re born in South Philadelphia circa 1920 and named "Tootsie" Morena, that’s incentive enough to join the fight game. Angelo Dundee is still called Tootsie in his neighborhood but, nearly 84 years later, "icon" is more appropriate.
He was looking dapper, having dinner with Helen (his wife for 60 years) at esteemed Pietro’s in the Tropicana, guests of longtime friend and hotel exec Gene Kilroy. They reminisced for two hours of their days together with Muhammad Ali, and Angelo boasted of a young +380 underdog named David Estrada with the shot at upsetting Sugar Shane Mosley at Caesars Palace.
"I really do believe that David has the punch, smarts and ability to beat Sugar Shane," Dundee said of his young pupil. "I wouldn’t have gotten back in the fight game and trained this kid unless me and Helen truly believed that. She is my rock, a lot tougher than me."
Estrada came up short, losing a unanimous 10-round decision but it didn’t ruin the night. The fight card was a coming out party for Caesars as a boxing "player" again along with one more shot for the celebrated Hall of Fame trainer to step back in the ring on the grounds he helped make famous.
"You know, it sort of is like Rocky," Dundee said when asked to compare the Burgess Meredith character, who looked for his one shot back in the limelight. "I never really thought about it, but I guess David is my Rocky. I think he’s a lot better, though."
Maybe not, but Angelo is a far better trainer. He had the very best, from Carmen Basilio to Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. In between were Jimmy Ellis, Willie Pastrano and George Foreman, among many others. Champions all.
"Ali was without a doubt the greatest fighter ever," Dundee said. "The best I ever saw him was the very beginning in the first two bouts with Sonny Liston. We knew Liston was a bully. I told Muhammad that if he just stood up to him, Liston would fall. He was too old and past his prime."
It was Dundee who more than a generation ago shouted the famed "you’re blowing it son," at Leonard during that first epic matchup with Tommy Hearns at Caesars Palace.
"Well, he was," Dundee laughed. "I never really thought about what his reaction would be. I just explained what had to be done. I think Tommy Hearns was a more talented fighter than Ray, but he had the smarts."
Just like he did in the famous fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
"Especially at the beginning of the fight," Dundee said. "Marvin could have had a rematch, but he didn’t want it. I like Marvin. He’s in Italy now and doing well."
So is Angelo, rejuvenated with his new prodigy Estrada.
"I tell you, the kid can fight," Dundee said. "It’s fun to be back in Vegas with Helen and training again. I have no complaints."