Teddy Atlas rediscovers passion for training in Bradley assignment
Teddy Atlas, no stranger to histrionics, didn’t waste any time demonstrating to Tim Bradley that working with the ESPN commentator would be a departure from anything that Bradley had previously experienced.
In one of their first training sessions together last month as they prepared to face Brandon Rios on Nov. 7, Atlas issued an unexpected challenge.
The man who once prevented Michael Moorer from sitting on his stool in between rounds of a heavyweight championship (“Do you want me to take over?”) did something straight from the Atlas School of Head Games: He questioned Bradley’s toughness.
“I challenged him to something he didn’t expect to hear,” Atlas told RingTV.com in a phone interview on Wednesday night from Indio, California, where he is training Bradley for the first time. “He’s a great kid and I have great admiration for him. I challenged him. I said, ‘Let’s find out how tough you are.'”
Bradley, who engaged in the 2013 Fight of the Year for his ferocious slugfest with Ruslan Provodnikov, looked at Atlas as if he had suddenly sprouted a second head.
“Teddy, we don’t know how tough I am,” Atlas said Bradley (32-1-1, 12 knockouts) replied.
“I said, ‘No,'” Atlas relayed on Wednesday. “I said, ‘I saw what you did with Provodnikov. I saw the heart as big as the Grand Canyon. I get it. I get all that. But let’s find out how tough you are.'”
The Staten Island-based trainer wasn’t talking about his ability to weather punishment.
No, he was discussing his ability to change old habits, of being able to defy impulses, of resisting the urge to please fans by trading punches, traits that Atlas believes have held him back as a fighter recently and made him vulnerable.
Atlas believes the same quality that made Bradley a cult hero in the sport – his willingness to suffer through a rainstorm of abuse in his fights – is what’s ailing him as a fighter.
So Atlas challenged him to an in-ring makeover by hitting the nerve center of every fighter’s soul and calling out his toughness.
“Are you tough enough to make this change?” Atlas said of the speech he gave to Bradley, the WBO welterweight titleholder. “Are you tough enough to resist going in there and pleasing yourself and of course the fans at the same time by showing that you’re a fighter? Are you tough enough to say, ‘No – I will not show I have to show that in order to be successful.’ Are you tough enough to do that? Are you tough enough to stay outside and not take the bait and not go into the trenches and yet find a way to control things and win in a different way? Are you tough enough to do that?”
To make those changes, Atlas suggested that Bradley would have to come to some sort of emotional arrangement with himself so that he doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his manhood as a fighter for the sake of victory.
The 32-year-old Bradley, who will face Rios in Las Vegas on HBO, would have to be secure enough with himself to ignore the pangs of pride and howls from the crowd to throw caution to the wind to be a more disciplined, controlled fighter, Atlas said.
“You have to be able to feel okay about this stuff to still be able to feel satisfied with the man you are without having to prove who the man you are is in the way you have in the past,” Atlas said. “Know who you are and know that there’s a higher road to take here. And a better road to take here. And as much as it takes to do the things you have done, it’s a different degree of challenge, a different degree of discipline, a different degree of control. It takes a lot of guts to make that choice versus the other.”
The 59-year-old Atlas seemed to delight in such talk.
Atlas initially turned down Bradley’s requests to train him after Bradley parted ways with longtime trainer Joel Diaz.
Atlas has always been somewhat reluctant to submerge himself into the unpredictable waters of the boxer-trainer relationship, seemingly suspicious of surrendering control, of sticking his neck out there when he really doesn’t have to.
He said he was burned when he last trained a fighter – Atlas guided Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin to a title in 2011.
But amid claims that Povetkin’s management team reneged on an agreement they had about training sites, the relationship was severed and Atlas once again returned to commentating and raising awareness for his Atlas Foundation.
However, Atlas realized he still had the desire to train fighters.
And with his commentating duties reduced on ESPN to monthly shows – he will do a fight with Devon Alexander vs. Aron Martinez next Wednesday on a Premier Boxing Champions card in Arizona – Atlas now had more time to devote to other pursuits.
“That made the decision (to train Bradley) easier,” said Atlas, who will miss a single day of training to cover the show.
So after numerous attempts by Bradley’s wife, Monica, to convince Atlas to take on the job, Atlas relented and took the challenge.
Atlas described Bradley as “excited” and “anxious” by his current situation.
Atlas is thrilled as well.
“The juices are still flowing,” Atlas said. “When I got back in that setting, it reminded me of why I got into this all those years ago when I started as a 19-, 20-year-old kid with Cus D’Amato. It was for the purity of teaching. It was minus all the BS. It was minus all the back-stabbing. And minus everything except you and the fighter and partnering up to find a way to get in the ring and be able to keep another man from controlling you and ultimately controlling that man and get the better of that man in a smart way.”