Boxing is a brutal sport, and sometimes I think the world would be better off without it.
But it has always generated stories and men like this. So many things – even other remarkable sports events – come and go, never deviating too far from the mean. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only NFL team to ever go undefeated and win the Super Bowl in one season, but you rarely hear much about them or that incredible and singular feat, because the team itself was kind of….boring. They won all their games, grinding them out like a machine. None of them were terribly exciting.
But boxing is never like that: it’s all triumph and tragedy and riches and squalor and drama and immediacy. And larger than life personalities. It’s not a coincidence that when Mr. larger-than-life himself, Teddy Roosevelt, gave a great speech at the Sorbonne about the proper role of a man as a responsible citizen in his society, it came to be known as the “man in the arena” speech – an allusion to boxers.
Or maybe gladiators, from which (let’s face it) boxers are culturally descended.
TR gave that speech in 1910, and eleven years later Angelo Dundee was born. Destined never to be the man in the arena himself – too sweet and gentle for that, apparently – but in the end maybe something just as important.
We need our heroes in the arena, but they’re never quite what we believe them to be, or want them to be. There’s always a bit of illusion to it. The heroes know that they’re not the gods the crowd would make of them, but they also know the crowd demands precisely that. It weighs on them, the responsibility of meaning so much to so many, knowing the reality to be different. They can come to resent this imposition, and the very rabble that elevates them to their exalted place. This is always a bitter thing for everyone because well, like I said, we need our heroes.
Men like Angelo Dundee preempt that bitter result. They genuinely love the heroes as they are. And the rabble as they are. And the sport and the arena and the drama as they are.
They genuinely love. And that love holds things together that would otherwise very likely fall apart. Men like Dundee teach us, in other words, that love is the real power on earth, love that sustains rather than destroys. Which is especially poignant in this context, since on the surface boxing would seem to embody the most brutal, destructive and primitive displays of power. It’s another irony or paradox – that mysterious realm beyond reason where so much truth seems to lurk – that mesmerizing brute force and profoundly tender love live right next to each other in the same men. Indeed, inside the same man.
Angelo Dundee died Wednesday, February 1st. He was 90 years old. And the world will miss him, as it misses so many obscure others who were like him.