How Teddy Atlas was persuaded to train Timothy Bradley

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

His days as a trainer were long over. There was no way that anyone was going to get Teddy Atlas to leave a comfortable, and lucrative, position as one of boxing's most influential broadcasters to immerse himself in the seamy side of the sport again.

Memories of the end of his run with heavyweight Alexander Povetkin were too fresh.

Teddy Atlas, right, instructs Timothy Bradley. (Photo courtesy Top Rank, Inc.)
Teddy Atlas, right, instructs Timothy Bradley. (Photo courtesy Top Rank, Inc.)

Atlas and Povetkin had a deal, and it worked well, until Povetkin apparently broke it. For a guy who so relies on honor, and believes so deeply in the meaning of a handshake, that was a knockout blow.

"At the end of the day, they didn't keep their word," Atlas told Yahoo Sports, explaining that training locations were at the heart of the conflict. "And at that point, all of the other dimensions of this business showed their ugly side."

So Atlas parted ways with Povetkin and saw himself as a broadcaster. He could no longer deal with the betrayal, the lack of commitment from fighters and the interference from friends and family that diminished his relationship with the boxers he was teaching.

But then he got a call from Monica Bradley, the wife of WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley. She explained that her husband had split with longtime trainer Joel Diaz and was interested in working with Atlas, if he was interested in working with them.

Atlas hesitated. He's become an outstanding and very popular broadcaster during his stint on ESPN, and called boxing at the Olympics for NBC Sports.

None of the hassles, the headaches, the deviousness that pervade boxing were an issue for him when he was behind the microphone at ringside.

He was inclined to say no. He said he declined the offer five separate times. But as he mulled it one more time, following a lot of thought and plenty of cajoling by his 32-year-old daughter, Nicole, he said yes.

Nicole is an attorney, and she made a classic closing argument to persuade her father not to abandon the job that made him famous.

"She told me, 'You're a teacher and you've been doing this 40 years. It's what you were born to do,' " Atlas said. "She said, 'You're a trainer. You're a teacher.' I know she's biased, but she told me that even though I've become a great broadcaster. At my soul, the core of who I am, is being a trainer, a teacher.

"She said, 'If you're not going to do it anymore, if you don't feel that feeling you get when you help make somebody better, then don't do it. But I think that feeling is still in there, and if it is, then you owe it to yourself to allow yourself to do it.' "

And that pushed Atlas most of the way back, where he would help Bradley prepare for his Nov. 7 bout in Las Vegas against Brandon Rios.

Alexander Povetkin hugs Teddy Atlas after winning the WBA heavyweight title bout against Ruslan Chagaev in 2011. (AP)
Alexander Povetkin hugs Teddy Atlas after winning the WBA heavyweight title bout against Ruslan Chagaev in 2011. (AP)

But having that fire in his belly to teach and help a boxer improve wasn't all that Atlas needed. He needed to feel good about the people he was going to work with, and he had to feel some kind of bond, not only with Bradley but with his family members and his closest associates who would be in camp with him.

So Atlas flew from New York to Palm Springs, Calif., to meet with the Bradleys and sort of audition.

"At this point in my life, I wasn't going to be around someone I didn't like or someone I wasn't happy being around," said Atlas, 59. "I didn't want to be around anyone I didn't like, if you want to get right to it. If I was going to do this again, it had to be with somebody that I liked and somebody I felt had meritable qualities as a human being."

The Bradleys are among the nicest and most easy-going people in the sport, and they instantly felt a connection. Atlas took on the job after his audition, much to Bradley's delight.

Whatever happened after Bradley's long relationship with Diaz is something for another time. He liked what Atlas brought.

"I am confident with Teddy Atlas with me," Bradley said. "He has great boxing knowledge. I want that knowledge. We can do some damage together."

Atlas needed to do an examination of Bradley, who is only 32, holds a world title and is 32-1-1. But Bradley has taken a lot of punishment in the past few years in bouts with Manny Pacquiao, Ruslan Provodnikov and Diego Chaves, in particular.

Atlas worried that Bradley may have been hit too much and not have much left to offer.

Before he flew to Palm Springs, he re-watched Bradley's bouts with Provodnikov and Jessie Vargas, making eight pages of handwritten notes.

The simple answer was that Bradley was standing in front of opponents and was there to be hit. But Atlas saw a much deeper problem that he's spent the past several weeks trying to address.

"I went to his house and we watched the fights together," Atlas said. "The Provodnikov fight, a lot of people would have just thrown that out. Obviously, he stood in front of him and he got hurt. Should he have done that? Clearly, no, and here's the thing: It's very easy to say he fought the wrong fight, and he didn't need Teddy Atlas to tell him that."

What Bradley needed was for an expert to break down every move and explain to him, often in excruciating detail, why he fought the wrong fight. Fighting the wrong fight is more than just the larger strategy.

It's when to throw specific punches and in what number.

Atlas, left, is helping Bradley get back to the basics. (Photo courtesy Top Rank, Inc.)
Atlas, left, is helping Bradley get back to the basics. (Photo courtesy Top Rank, Inc.)

"I told him there were specific reasons he got caught and I said, 'I don't think you realize those reasons, and I think you need to understand them to move forward,' " Atlas said. " … There were times he got caught when he was doing things technically that he shouldn't have been doing. For the most part, it was throwing the wrong punches at the wrong time. I'm a great believer that one of the most important things you can learn as a fighter is range and distance. But it's also throwing the right punches at the right time and at the right place.

"You have to throw certain punches from certain positions. He was throwing left hooks where Provodnikov could hit him with right hands. There were other things he was doing that were similar. If he would have thrown those same punches, but from a little better position, the things that happened and impacted him wouldn't have happened. So I've been working with him to make him aware of those things."

After two weeks of drilling, Atlas finally had Bradley begin sparring on Tuesday. He's a work in progress, Atlas said, but he's found Bradley to be bright and receptive to his teaching.

Bradley, he said, is also committed, though Atlas agreed that years of old habits are hard to break.

"Cus D'Amato [Atlas' late mentor] used to say to me, 'Teddy, keep them doing it until he couldn't do it wrong if he wanted to,' " Atlas said. "So we're working on these things and he's doing well. He wants to make the changes he needs to make. He wants to be as good as he can be, and so we're going at it day by day."

And it's been a rewarding couple of weeks from the guy who thought he had already trained his last fighter.

"There's a certain sanctuary about just being in the gym alone with your fighter and being able to teach him," Atlas said. "Being away from all the other crap, all the other b.s., all the other turmoil, and just you and the fighter working on what you've got to work on to make his life better and your life better, you forget the other parts of boxing. Being in the gym with him is like in a haven.

"Nicole was right. This is who I am. I'm a teacher. And I've found that I still have that fire, and the love to help my fighter become better, and it's such a good feeling."

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