As the world mourns the death of Muhammad Ali, let us remember that it was one of Bokey’s own who was a key member of the champion’s inner circle.
Midway-born and Sanford-raised Drew “Bundini” Brown was Ali’s confidant and alter ego. When Ali was down or in a tight fight, it was Bundini who psyched up the champ and got his mind right.
Bundini also gave Ali his most famous quote: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.”
(Pictured above are Ali, center, Sanford’s Bundini Brown, right, and trainer Angeli Dundee. Photo credit: Al Satterwhite)
Ali was the heavyweight champion in the ring, but Bundini knocked out the Louisville Lip when it came to jawing.
According to a 1971 Sports Illustrated article, middleweight boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson’s brother-in-law, Bob Nelson, introduced Bundini to Ali by saying “You think you can talk, you must hear this man.”
“After listening to Bo-dini for 10 minutes, I gave up,” Ali admitted.
(Despite the spelling, Bundini pronounced his nickname “Bo-dini,” and Ali did the same.”)
There are rumors that before Ali shocked the world by beating heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on Feb. 25, 1964, that Bundini convinced Ali’s entourage to visit Sanford before traveling to Miami for the fight. However, I have never seen solid proof that Ali spent time in Sanford.
Bundini grew up in Sanford during the depression and earned the first of many nicknames – Baby Gator – carrying water for the men building bridges in the Central Florida swamps.
He lied about his age and joined the Navy at age 13, a few months after Pearl Harbor.
He then spent 12 years with the Merchant Marine, and circled the world 27 times.
While in port in Beirut for ship repairs, he met a Lebanese family who called him Bundini, the name that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
“I don’t know what the name mean,” he told Sports Illustrated. “Just like I have my eyes I have the name. People try to give it mystery. Say it mean lover or witch doctor. But a name don’t mean much now. It’s only the claim behind the name that’s important.”
After leaving the Merchant Marine, Bundini was introduced to the middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson by a Philadelphia boxer named Johnny Bratton. Like he would later do for Ali, Bundini was the guy who got Robinson’s motor running when the champ needed a mental lift.
Bundini died at age 59 from the effects of a car crash. He pinched a nerve in his spine during the crash and later suffered a serious fall at home from which he never recovered.