A generation of boxing’s oldest and brightest lights is slowly going out, one at a time, and into the darkness they take with them a treasury of wisdom and history.
Boxing is one of the few sports where old men can still go to war—albeit from the corner of their younger brethren or from press row—and now those corners and soft seats are becoming empty.
Both Angelo Dundee and Bert Sugar enjoyed long lives that were full of years spent loving and shaping the sport they faithfully attended.
Sugar and Dundee loved boxing. They believed in the redeeming and mythic qualities of boxing. They were cared for and nurtured by that what they cared for and nurtured. They loved boxing and it loved them back.
Now, they are slipping from our grasp, moving to another country where it is always springtime, and in their absence I cannot help but wonder if we appreciated them enough.
I can honestly say it is one of my great regrets that I never got to meet Angelo Dundee or Bert Sugar. Of course, they would not have known who I was, and I would have been tongue-tied in their presence, looking more a fool than a fan, so in that regard, it is probably a good thing.
Still, it is a blessed thing that others knew their worth, because I have the books of Bert Sugar to read, time and again. I have the careers of greats like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard to watch, paying close attention to the wisdom in the words of Angelo Dundee.
Sugar and Dundee's passing makes me appreciate the other members of the old guard who are still with us: Lou Duva, Emanuel Steward, Larry Merchant.
It seems the contributions that such men make cannot be fully realized until they have left us behind for greener pastures and the grace of God’s glory, leaving for us a full body of work that inspires as well as educates.
And the past tense of that is the true rub.
As much as boxing has changed, it is fundamentally the same sport as it always has been: two men in a ring, striving to impose their will on each other, over each other, as we watch in wonder and awe.
The Angelo Dundees, the Lou Duvas and the Emanuel Stewards of the world have forgotten more about boxing than most of us are likely to ever imagine, or let alone learn.
It is thanks to writers and historians like Bert Sugar, who have such a keen grasp on the sport's intricacies, that typical fans can see and learn from some of boxing's greatest strategists and ambassadors. Simple words on a printed page, stoke the flames of passion and lead to understanding.
And now two of them are gone.
There will be no more conversations with Angelo Dundee or Bert Sugar, and as great as their legacies are, the sport of boxing will continue to confound and perplex us at every turn, and in those moments of uncertainty, their absence will be all the more poignant.
They were more than a trainer or a writer/historian, they were guides. They helped us grapple with the present by explaining the past.
My father got me into the sport of boxing as a small boy. He sat me on the sofa next to him and together we watched Muhammad Ali defeat some fighter whose name I cannot remember. But that was a magic moment for me, just like when I heard interviews with Dundee or read the writings of Bert Sugar.
Still, with the state of boxing being what it is, perhaps it is best that they left us when they did.
When you look at the landscape of the sport today, and compare it to what it once was, it seems this is no country for old men.