LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Boxing guru Teddy Atlas had to think long and hard before he finally decided to come out of retirement as a trainer and help prepare Timothy Bradley for his WBO welterweight title defense against Brandon Rios next month.
It had been more than four years since Atlas last worked as a trainer, acting as cornerman for Alexander Povetkin when the Russian won the vacant WBA heavyweight championship title in 2011 before their relationship soured and they parted ways.
For Atlas to be tempted away from a successful career as a boxing commentator, he first had to be convinced by his attorney daughter, Nicole, and then had to ensure he would be working with a boxer he could respect both in and outside the ring.
“I have a good job in broadcasting and the big difference is that nobody can talk back to me and I don’t have to worry about who wins,” Atlas, 59, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“And that’s always a big worry for a trainer, so I said to my kids, I’m not coming back to train and be around somebody that I don’t enjoy being around ... who I don’t think is a decent person.
“And I found Timothy to be as decent a person as I could find. I spent time in his house, saw him as a family guy. I also saw him in the gym as very coachable.”
Atlas, who has worked as a boxing commentator for NBC’s coverage of the last four editions of the Olympic Games, started out as an amateur boxer under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Cus D’Amato in the Catskills of New York state.
A back injury forced him to quit competitive boxing and he immediately switched to training, once again under the tutelage of D’Amato, where his responsibilities included working with a teenaged Mike Tyson.
“As Cus used to say, the most important element of someone being coachable was them being interested,” Atlas recalled. “He would say, ‘When you can show them how to get hit less, that makes them very interested.’
“And I found Timothy to be both very interested and very intelligent. He looks at things, he examines things. So with all of that put together ...”
Despite the instant appeal of Bradley after Atlas had spent three days working with the American boxer at his home near Palm Springs in California, he did not immediately commit to a business relationship.
“I told him I would go home to New York and let him know soon,” said Atlas. “And I thought about those moments when I was in the gym with him ... there’s a purity of being in that gym when someone needs you.
“I’ve been in this business for 40 years and I started training fighters very young with Cus D’Amato and working with Timothy reminded of what motivated me back then.
“It’s still that simple,” said Atlas, whose daughter advised him to go back to training if he still had the burning desire to teach. “It’s being able to help somebody and, at the same time, serve yourself while you are doing that.”
In Bradley, Atlas has a 32-year-old boxer with a 32-1-1 record who has received great punishment in recent years — especially at the hands of Manny Pacquiao (winning once and losing once), Ruslan Provodnikov and Diego Chaves.
“Timothy’s got good speed but he’s got to use it in a different way,” Atlas said of the challenge facing his fighter on Nov. 7 when he defends his WBO welterweight title at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“Instead of using it in such aggressive fashion, he’s got to use it in a different fashion. You control yourself and you look for the right time. You know that you can handle your opponent but you don’t have to let yourself do it on his terms.
“Timothy’s already shown that his heart is as big as the Grand Canyon but now he needs to show me a different kind of toughness.”
Editing by Frank Pingue