By Rick Reeno
Trainer and ESPN's Friday Night Fights analyst Teddy Atlas spoke to BoxingScene.com about the reasons behind his parting of ways with WBA "regular" champion Alexander Povetkin. He wasn't happy with a recent article that appeared on BoxingScene, where Povetkin's manager Vladimir Hryunov explained the current situation with Atlas . Povetkin is training in Russia for a scheduled defense of his title against WBO cruiserweight champion Marco Huck, which takes place on February 25th in Germany.
Atlas discussed the background of his relationship with Povetkin and why the relationship fell apart. According to Atlas, there is a clause in his contract agreement with Povetkin's management which requires the boxer to train in the United States. The clause is only valid when Atlas is obligated to work for ESPN's Friday Night Fights. The new season of Friday Night Fights began earlier this month.
BoxingScene.com: The History of Getting Together With Povetkin.
Atlas: Two and a half years ago, they asked me to train this kid and I didn't really want to train fighters anymore. I didn't want to get back. I like teaching in the gym but I don't like the rest of it. I don't like people not keeping their word. I don't like excuses from people for not keeping their word. I don't like promoters and fighters betraying what they said they would do and doing what's more convenient for themselves when things change, when the landscape changes, when they get what they want.
I turned them down two times. It was my daughter who told me 'Dad, why don't you fly out there to Russia, I want you to have another heavyweight champion. You need to have another heavyweight champ. Maybe you can help make this guy a champion. Maybe you will see the good part of it again.' I went out there and spent five days with him and I liked the kid.
I told him, that if I trained him, he would have to come to the United States. He was a kid who didn't like to leave Russia. He liked to stay at home in his homeland. I told him, 'if I train you, you can't.' And he told me 'if you train me, I will go to the United States.' I work for ESPN. That's how I take care of my family and that’s what I've been doing for the last ten or twelve years. I didn't want to train fighters anymore. Working for ESPN allowed me to take care of my family without training fighters.
I started training him and he came to the United States, six weeks at a time, seven weeks at a time and eight weeks I think was his longest stay. I started making a plan of how to develop him. I thought he was a little raw, but he threw punches and he was a game enough kid.
BoxingScene.com: Advising Povetkin He Wasn't Ready To Face Wladimir Klitschko in 2010. In the end, Povetkin took a big gamble by stepping away from a mandatory title fight worth $2 million dollars.
Atlas: The bottom line was, I didn't think he could win the fight. I didn't think he was ready. I felt that he could become better. If I thought that was the best that he could be, then the responsible thing would have been to tell him to [take the fight]. But when you think someone could get better, and now you're doing things towards that, and I saw those things showing themselves and showing results - I had hope that he would get better and have a better chance to win. I didn't think he had much of a chance at that point, dealing with the size of Klitschko. And mentally being ready to deal with it, not just technically and physically, but mentally. More importantly, I talked to him and he agreed. He said 'I would like to have more time.' I thought it was my responsibility to make that decision.
I knew a lot of people wouldn't like that [Povetkin withdrew]. I knew it was going to come down strong with a lot of different people’s opinions on taking him out of a $2 million dollar fight for the title. He might never get that chance again. That's true, very true. He might never get a chance to fight for that kind of purse again. But, I wanted to make sure the fighter was completely ready for this fight. And if he's not ready, in his mind, then he truly doesn’t have a chance to become successful. I would never make a fighter say that he doesn't want to fight. I spoke to him, with the interpreter, and told him that 'I think that you need more time.'
Sauerland [who promote Povetkin] and his people wanted him to get on a plane for a press conference. It was a few days later, on a Monday, where the match would be signed and it would be announced. He said 'no, if Teddy Atlast tells me not to get on a plane I won't.'
We [Atlas and Sauerland] never recovered our relationship after that moment, because Sauerland was very upset. They were going to get 40% off the top. They were allowed to do that. Whether its right or wrong, they were allowed to do that. That was the deal. The father gets 15% as manager and the son gets 25% as the promoter. That's $800,000 that comes off the top before he gets in the ring and that's before I get my $200,000 , which is what my contract called for, and that was before the other manager got his percentage - and that's another 20% from what I understand, so at the end of the day I just didn't think it made sense for him. The trainer is supposed to look out for the fighter and I couldn't see any way where it was the right thing.
I'll admit, I was scared too. I thought 'what if I'm wrong and he doesn't get another shot.' Because I told the management people 'something will come along that makes sense, something will open up in one of these organizations.' I thought it would be David Haye, I have to be honest. I didn't think it would be [Ruslan] Chagaev. But Chagaev turned out to be the perfect, perfect, perfect spot. I knew there would be an alternative to Klitschko. I didn't know how long it was going to take, but I knew that we were going to have to continue improving him and keep moving forward and keep winning. I knew that if we lose, I would look like I destroyed somebody's career, I knew that. We would all lose.
BoxingScene.com: The Start of The Training Issues.
Atlas: He was supposed to come here to train for that fight. I was still working for ESPN. The season wasn't over. The season ended at the end of August. He was supposed to come here for several weeks. I wanted a seven to eight week camp. They tried to say this and that, but at the end of the day they weren’t coming. They wanted me to go there, and I said 'I can't go there, you know that. That was the agreement. That's what we've been doing for the last two and a half years. Why have you been coming here for the last two and half years? Because you felt like it? No, because that was the agreement. No we're fighting for the title and you're trying to get out of that agreement.'
Then there other problems. They sent a bout agreement with the wrong figures on the bout agreement. The person who was representing me, asked me 'what was the fight for.' They sent a bout agreement and it didn't feel right, it didn't feel proper and I questioned him on it. And at the end of the conversation, the management people agreed. They were told that they sent a bout agreement with false numbers, so they said 'when Teddy comes here we'll give him the right numbers.' That's not the way you do business.
At that point, I said I'm not doing it. I spent two years with the guy, more than two years and now you're not doing what you said you would do. You're sending wrong figures on a bout agreement and the most important thing is you’re not coming here, and you know I have to make a living with ESPN. You know that all along and you know I have a commitment with them and I wont do it. I told them that 'you're forcing me to walk away and not be involved in this.'
It was my birthday, July 29th, I was in Vegas doing ESPN. In-between getting ready for doing the show, I got a voicemail and when I checked my voicemail it was my fighter, Povetkin and he was telling me happy birthday. After he said happy birthday, it made me realize why I said yes to this kid, I liked him. He was a good kid. He thought about people. He cared about people. I was thinking about this kid and he was thinking about me. I found out, through one of my interpreters over there, that he still thought I was coming out there. It was one month before the fight.
I was in contract negotiations with ESPN. It was the end of my contract. After I got back I signed a new contract for two years, but the contract wasn't signed [at the time of the Chagaev camp] and obviously I was concerned about that because that’s who I take care of my family. I realized the kid was going to go into that fight with no proper preparation. All along, whatever they were telling him wasn't the truth. He still thought I was coming.
BoxingScene.com: Major Problems Once Arriving in Russia To Train Povetkin For The Ruslan Chagaev Title Fight.
Atlas: Sure enough, after three rounds [of sparring] his tongue was hanging out. I was nervous, I thought he was training while I was over there [in America]. He didn't do any boxing and it was what it was. I knew that if pushed him too hard, that I would overtrain him and push him right over the cliff. I thought, and I've never thought this in my entire life in boxing, 40 years. I thought that I have to get him ready for an eight round fight. I couldn't get him ready for a twelve round fight, it was impossible and I would do more damage than good. That was the reality. I tried to make it a pace that was conducive to an eight round fight.
I felt like a pilot flying a fighter jet who didn't have enough fuel to get there, so I started chucking stuff out that I didn't need. I'll throw out these seats and sit on the floor. And that's what happened. One day I threw out the bag, I didn't need the bag work, so I could get in another round of boxing. Because if I do both it would be too much. I cut out a mile out of road work, so I could get in another two rounds of boxing. And every day I was thinking of things you normally don't do.
I was scared. I couldn't let my fighter know that. I knew the fight was going to go twelve rounds. Chagaev was a tough a guy, a former champion with a good chin and his only loss was to Klitschko.
BoxingScene.com: Issues Once Again Surfaced For Huck Training Camp
Atlas: There were supposed to come here and they said that they were having trouble with the visas. I gave them the benefit of the doubt but then I saw that they weren’t having trouble, they just weren’t going to come. Its disappointing. A lot of it is disappointing. I'm also disappointed at the fighter. At the time when I took him over, he was telling people that he wasn't going to box anymore. It wasn't fun for him anymore. He didn't feel like he was growing.
I fulfilled my commitment to him and he told me he was ready to fulfill his, and he was grateful for the partnership that we made between trainer and fighter and he understood what he had to do and he did up until he won a world title. And now he forgets? He didn't forget that he had to come to a place that he didn't like. He made it very clear that he didn't like coming to the United States. Now he gets to that place and he cant keep that commitment. He kept it before. I’m disappointed because the only reason I said yes to the fighter was because of his character and I guess I was wrong. I didn't want to be wrong.
BoxingScene.com: Response To Povetkin's manager offering compensation for a leave from ESPN to train Povetkin in Russia.
Compensate me? Whoever cared about the money? Of course you care about money, but who cares about it where it made the decision for you. In other words, you pay me to turn my back on ESPN. That's ok? That makes it alright? They said he’s fighting in Europe so he should be training Europe. He never fought anywhere else. Look at his record, I don't see any fights in the U.S. He trained in the U.S. and fought in Europe. And I don't see any [losses], I see only [wins]. For them to say that, its the same old stuff.