When he got the call several months ago about taking over as Tim Bradley’s trainer, Teddy Atlas shrugged.
He had been there and done that. He had learned, by experience, to dislike it.
Atlas had a comfortable and lucrative job as an ESPN boxing commentator. He was 59 now and he carried more internal scars than the one that runs vertically six or seven inches along the left side of his face, the result of a street fight knife wound that took 400 stitches to close.
Those were his younger days, when he was an amateur fighter in legendary Cus D’Amato’s gym in the Catskills. He had no fear and the same amount of respect for the law. He came from a wealthy New York family, his father a doctor and his mother a onetime contestant in the Miss America pageant.
None of that role-modeling kept him out of trouble. He served time for an armed robbery, and his Internet bio says he once took a gun to Mike Tyson’s head, while Tyson was training at D’Amato’s camp, in a dispute over Tyson allegedly touching one of Atlas’ female relatives inappropriately.
Eventually, Atlas suffered a back injury that, at D’Amato’s advice, prompted him to quite fighting and start training. In that, he has been greatly successful, most recently directing Russian Alexander Povetkin to the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight title in August 2011.
But the ESPN work had been ongoing back then, and after Povetkin became a champion and reneged on part of their deal, Atlas looked upon the training part of his life in boxing with distaste. And finality.
So when the call came from Bradley, the first reaction from Atlas was no, not again.
“I didn’t think I could be talked into it this time,” he said.
Povetkin had agreed to spend part of the training time in New York, where Atlas still had his broadcast work.
“I didn’t like to go to Russia,” Atlas said, “and he didn’t like to come to America. But we did that and got a title. Once he got the title, that deal changed.”
So Atlas said goodbye, and remains philosophical about that decision today. As a matter of fact, from Atlas, you get none of the macho and shallow fight hype you might expect from an ex-con with a face of scar tissue. You get a fascinating cerebral approach.
“Together, you achieve a goal [in the ring],” he said, “and then, you realize that, at the end of the day, you never taught him [Povetkin] to be noble, to be honorable.
“In this job, you need complete trust, and I didn’t know if I could ever embrace that again.”
This time, as with Povetkin, it was Atlas’ daughter, Nicole, a lawyer, who talked him back into the ring corner.
“She made it clear to me that the Russian situation hadn’t been a failure, that it succeeded,” Atlas said. “She told me I was a teacher, that’s that what I do best. He failed, she said, and if that is what is going to keep me from helping someone else, that would be the damage he did.”
So Atlas came to Palm Springs, spent three days in August with Bradley, and is now the trainer of record for the World Boxing Organization champion in his Nov. 7 fight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas against Brandon Rios.
With Manny Pacquiao recovering from a shoulder injury and Floyd Mayweather Jr. allegedly retired, much of the buzz in boxing these days is about the talented and dominating Gennady Golovkin, and the Nov. 21 Las Vegas fight between Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto that will establish Triple G’s next opponent.
But Bradley-Rios is no side lounge act.
Bradley is 32-1-1, Rios 33-2-1. Two-thirds of their collective defeats have been at the hands of Pacquiao.
Sometime after his June fight with Jessie Vargas at the StubHub Center in Carson, Bradley fired his longtime trainer, Joel Diaz. In that fight, though Bradley won, he took some serious shots and may have been saved by a mistake by referee Pat Russell, who ended the fight at the sound of the 10-second clapper in the final round, not at the sound of the bell.
Bradley had been stung by Vargas and appeared to be in trouble. He said afterward he could have weathered the final 10 seconds. Vargas said he would have finished him. The scorecards showed that, prior to that, Bradley had dominated.
In March 2013, also in Carson, Bradley had beaten Ruslan Provodnikov in the type of brawl that was both wildly entertaining and dangerous to the future health of each boxer.
A recent history of that sort of thing for Bradley left many to assume that the dismissal of Diaz and the inclusion of Atlas was based on the Bradley camp’s desire not to have their fighter hit so often, to have more defense taught.
Atlas didn’t deny that, but also gave credit to Diaz for Bradley’s career to date.
“He should be properly applauded,” Atlas said.
He also said, “I can only look at the now. One goal here is to stop going down the exact road that he has been going down.
“Cus said it best. He told me, ‘When you show a fighter he is going to get hit less, he becomes a great student.’ ”
Atlas said he does little other than sleep, eat, train Bradley in the gym across the freeway from Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio and watch film.
Bradley said he is delighted with the setup, that all has gone well so far.
“It’s been fantastic,” Bradley said. “The strides we have made have been great.”
These boxing marriages always sound, two weeks before the fight, like they have been made in heaven. This one sounds as if there is a chance for some anniversaries.