Boxing


Teddy Atlas: “Obviously Klitschko is going to be a difficult task”

atlasby Geoffrey Ciani - This week’s edition of On the Ropes Boxing Radio featured an exclusive interview with boxing trainer and fight commentator, Teddy Atlas. As a trainer, Atlas is best known for twice leading Michael Moorer to the heavyweight championship. He currently works as a commentator on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” and is also presently training the IBF’s number one ranked heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin who will possibly face Wladimir Klitschko for the titles in his next fight. Here are some excerpts of what Teddy had to say:

On why he started training Alexander Povetkin:
“The only reason I’m back training fighters is because Alexander Povetkin is a kid I think with good character. He’s a terrific kid to work with. It’s actually nice to be in the gym. I didn’t want to be in the gym anymore and deal with some of the things that you have to deal with in this business, but it has been fun with him and his character has been a big part of it bringing me back to the teaching part of boxing..

On the negotiations between Klitschko and Povetkin:
“Right now we’re planning on bringing him in to New Jersey where we set up a training camp next week to start training for what is going to be in front of us. We’re not sure if it’s going to be Klitschko. If it is, it will probably be some time in the fall. Again, we’re the mandatory but we’re not sure. Klitschko is also negotiating to fight David Haye. We’re going to see how that negotiation goes and if that negotiation goes forward and Klitschko indeed fights Haye, then we would do what I think would be right for my fighter, Povetkin, which would be to get some more development fights, stay busy, and continue to move forward and progress as a fighter.”



On the key areas of Povetkin’s game he has focused on improving:
“Well one of the things we’re improving is for him to see and recognize things a little better—to be a little calmer, to see what his options are in the ring, and to improve his defense. To allow his defense to be part of his offense—you make somebody miss, you create opportunities offensively. To be more definitive about what it is that he’s trying to do when he steps inside the ropes—in other words, to have a better sense of his identity. Sometimes he would think about boxing and other times he would think about pressing and being a forward moving guy. I want him to know at all times really what it is that he’s trying to accomplish—again, what his identity is.”

On how working with Povetkin has helped him as a trainer:
“It reminded me that the thing that I was first in this business, before I fought years ago, the real thing that tied me to this business was teaching—being a trainer, but teaching, helping somebody improve, helping somebody get from one place to another place where maybe you could be part of that journey and part of the success of that journey. I had gotten to the point where the other parts in boxing chased me away from it—the disloyalty, the betrayal, the excuses, the lies, the managers, the promoters, their end of it, and what their end clearly usually is, is just about money. It kind of tainted the sport for me and chased me away and made me not want to be around it anymore. He kind of reinvigorated the notion that it’s still great when you’re in the gym alone. There’s nothing quite like being in the gym alone away from all the rest of it and teaching, being able to impart something to a person and watching them grow right in front of you. Watching them grow not just technically and physically which is part of it, but emotionally. Knowing that they can do something they weren’t sure they can do before, knowing they can try something that they weren’t sure they should even try before, getting a little more confidence, and watching that kind of development is something that once you’re a teacher it’s always with you and when it’s brought back it reminds you of why you invested in the business, why you were in the business to begin with and that’s a pretty good thing.”

His assessment of Wladimir Klitschko as a fighter:
“Well he’s not the prettiest guy to watch. He’s not the most entertaining or enticing guy. He’s not going to bring ratings up. I mean, they sell out a lot of stadiums in Europe and in Germany specifically and if he fights David Haye I guess they would sell out in Wembley over in England because there are not a lot of challenges to the sport over there. There is not a Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, and baseball and football, and all the other sports. Where they promote properly over there, they identify with the fighters and they make big events over there and they bring in crowds that we don’t bring in in the United States. So they do very well in that way but as far as the TV market, the TV part of it, they’re not the most enticing stylistic guys to watch but they’re very effective. You have to give them credit. They’ve made a lot of money, they’ve accomplished a lot personally and professionally, and they’re the best guys out there right now. They know what they are, they understand their ring identities, and they’ve developed mentally. The older brother has developed mentally and the younger brother has developed mentally a little bit, not as much as the older brother but he takes his great physical assets and attributes, which is size and strength, and he puts himself in a position where he can use them in such a consistent manner that any of his shortcomings are hidden a little bit. They’re hidden behind a great wall where to get to those shortcomings you have to get past his physical abilities which is controlling range, using height, using the jab to keep his opponent at a certain distance where he can catch them before they can catch him and therefore, he keeps the pressure on them to take the chances to make the fight, to take the chances to get into offensive position. He makes them take chances and then he capitalizes on their recklessness. He capitalizes on their chances, and when they take chances, he’s ready to hit them with the right hand which he’s a good straight accurate powerful right hand puncher. So he forces you to fight his fight. He forces you in a position where it’s very hard to exploit his weaknesses and he extends his strengths. He’s become very consistent. If he has any shortcomings in the mental areas where he’s been stopped in the past, where he’s been disintegrated by pressure, he’s become so consistent with using his physical tools that he hides those shortcomings very well. He surrounds them. He really insulates himself from those shortcomings and he makes it a very difficult proposition to get in the ring with him.”

On what he believes would be the key for Povetkin in a fight against Wladimir:
“We would have to understand very clearly what our fight plan would have to be and there’s not a lot of margin for error because he’s a good puncher. If you make a mistake somewhere along the line he has a chance to really make you pay ultimately for that mistake so you have to a very clear proper fight plan and then you’d have to have obviously the technique and discipline to carry that plan out.”

On training amateur kids in the Catskills when he worked with Cus D’Amato:
“That was a formative part of my youth and my development as a trainer where I trained the kids up in the Catskills at Cus D’Amato’s and I did all the training. Cus would come in the gym maybe once a week at night just to overlook everything and see what was going on. I had the responsibility and the trust of everybody up there to develop these kids that came up to the gym and we did a pretty good job with it from pro fighters to amateur fighters. All these kids, I would keep them on the floor and teach them the basics, and once they learned the basics then I would let them box and I would always let them box with more experienced guys. Why? And I think people should understand this because if you put them in with inexperienced kids they’re just going to be flailing away and not gaining much and doing some damage, but if you put them in with a more experienced fighter, he can control himself, he can play defense and control his ego, control his discipline and his temperament and have enough skills where he doesn’t have to hurt the kid. He can let the kid develop, he can let the kid get his feet under him, let the kid learn. This way, you develop fighters that way. You don’t lose fighters, you don’t get them discouraged and a lot of kids if you give them a chance they will develop—if you give them a chance and teach them properly. Once we got to that point where they could start sparring in a more accelerated rate where I can let them start boxing with guys and take the handcuffs off of them a little more. Then you had to take them out to get experience and there wasn’t a lot of places upstate to get too much experience, there was some places, so I started taking them down to the Bronx to these “smokers”. It was quite an atmosphere. It was its own world.”

On taking some of the kids he trained for weekly trips to the “smokers” (unsanctioned amateur bouts) where every week he would drive his kids from the Catskills to the South Bronx:
“You take them to these ‘smokers’, I did all the match-making. I made sure that they were matched right. That in itself was quite a journey and quite an experience because everybody was lying about how many fights their kids had. They all wanted an edge, but after awhile you understood what the code was, you understood what the lies were. So it was like you were speaking the truth, just in scripted ways and in encoded ways. Like if somebody said they had no fights, you know they had three fights—two to three. If they said they had two or three, well then you knew they had probably eight or nine. If they ever dared to admit they had anywhere near seven, eight, or nine—well then you knew they were close to being a pro. I mean they were open fighters, they probably had thirty fights. So there was a way of understanding and you had to understand that to look out for your kids. That was what you were dealing with and you had to understand all those things and all those dimensions, otherwise you were just going to be a babe in the woods and you shouldn’t be a babe in the woods when you have kids that you’re responsible for. You can’t afford to do that, you have to protect those kids. So I made sure that I matched them right and go about that business and you have to get them experience so they can start to get calmer in the ring, start to grow in the ring, start to see things they needed to see—and the only way to do that was get real fights. This was one of the places to do it, so we go down every week and take the two and a half to three hour drive.”

On what it was like training Willem Dafoe how to box for the movie Triumph of the Spirit:
“You go about it with the same blueprint—you’re organized about what you’re doing, hopefully—and you teach fundamentals. If I never built a house—and I’ve never built a house—I would know enough to dig a foundation. I would know enough to get cinder blocks and that the basement is the first part of the house. I would understand that, and it’s not much different in boxing, even if you have a guy who’s not a boxer for trade and he’s not going to be a boxer for trade. You teach the fundamentals from the ground up—from the foot placement, to the balance, to where they keep their hands, to the understanding of throwing the proper kind of punches without warning where you can get full power and at the same time not waste any motion and not telegraph anything, where you move after your last punch so you have defense added to the equation of offense, where you understand what range you should be punching at; you should also understand when you should and shouldn’t punch. There’s a time to and a time not to punch. You understand that kind of judgment, you explain those things, you show those things—you’re a teacher and they learn. It reminded me that the quality, the most important thing not just for a boxer—it’s not the trade you’re in—but it’s about the same qualities that all professional people, where if you get to that level where you could get the great praise of being called a ‘professional’, no matter what it is that they’re into—whether it’s boxing, whether it’s being a doctor, or a carpenter, a teacher, a lawyer—whatever it is that the qualities are consistent. That they control their emotions, they work hard, they understand where the concentration and dedication needs to be, and they allow themselves to learn. But the most important thing a professional does is he learns to make himself do and make himself accountable to do whatever has to be done. Whatever that profession calls for, no matter how he might be feeling at that moment, that’s consistent as a pro—as a fighter, as a baseball player, as a doctor, as anybody. They understand that the first qualification and the most important one is doing what you have to do even when you don’t necessarily feel like it and he had that goal with him as an actor. He had picked that up. He had never used it in a physical domain before, but from a mental standpoint in his domain, he embraced that. He understood that.”

On his experience when he trained Michael Moorer in his historical losing effort against a 45 year old George Foreman who became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title:
“Every day in Palm Springs training camp I would start and finish the workout by saying, ‘Listen, George has the thing where he tricks you with a jab. It doesn’t really hit you, it doesn’t really do damage. He flicks it out there, flicks it out there, flicks it out there and he makes you feel comfortable. It’s his experience. There’s something behind it that’s brilliant, that’s planned and he makes you feel comfortable. He doesn’t throw it all the way out, he throws it out about three quarters so you feel like that range is the end of his punches—but it’s not, there’s another four inches before you’re really out of danger. He makes you feel like that range is okay, that nothing can hurt you in that range. You’re safe, and once he gets comfortable he just throws a right hand right behind it which doesn’t look like much but you never see it. It’s right behind the jab, so the last thing you see is that jab in your face and nothing else. That’s the best thing he does. We can’t let ourselves lose because of that because then I will have ghosts for years to carry around and I don’t feel like going through what George went through’. Every day we would start and it got to the point where Michael goes, ‘I know, I know, I know—we have to do it again.’ I said, ‘Yeah we got to do it again’. He said, ‘I know, he throws the jab, makes you think you’re safe here, and then he throws the right hand’. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go over it again’ and we got hit with that punch. That’s the thing that’s my own little ghost. My God. Hit me with something I’m not ready for or not prepared for. I’d still be upset, I’d be upset we didn’t prepare for it, but when you get my fighter with something that we prepared for and we understood and we know about and you still do it, it sticks in your claw. It’s difficult.”

On how he sees a fight going between Povetkin and Wladimir Klitschko:
“Well, I mean my kid’s got nineteen fights. Obviously Klitschko, with his size and the way he uses his size, with the confidence that he’s gained, with the experience that he’s gained being on that stage and having been successful on that kind of stage—it’s going to be a difficult task. If it didn’t happen right away and we got a chance to get a few more fights I wouldn’t be against that, but if it’s going to happen that way I’ll do everything to prepare my fighter to win that fight. It will be about understanding exactly what the fight plan should be and needs to be and then having the discipline to execute it. I do understand what that fight plan needs to be, and I would obviously have to make sure my fighter understood that.”

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For those interested in listening to the Teddy Atlas interview in its entirety, it begins approximately fifteen minutes into the show.

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To view a complete list of past guests from On the Ropes Boxing Radio please visit our website:
http://www.ontheropesboxingradio.com/profiles.html

To contact Geoffrey Ciani or Jenna J:
ontheropes@eastsideboxing.com

To read more by Ciani or Jenna please visit The Mushroom Mag:
http://www.eatthemushroom.com/mag

Article posted on 21.06.2010



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