Boxing writers tend to look toward the event they are covering differently than you might think.
Lousy fight? That’s O.K., as long as the people fighting, or the people promoting, or the people training, are good talkers. Great reading does not come from bland descriptions of left hooks and fancy footwork. Nor does it come from rehashing ticket prices and statistics.
We need fresh. We need new, different, something articulate or even quirky. We need to give the reader that special thing that brings him or her to the point in the story where we are embraced with the ultimate approval when they say, “Hey, I didn’t know that.”
So, on behalf of my boxing-writer brethren, I kneel today and look heavenward in gratitude for Teddy Atlas and Freddie Roach.
Atlas trains TIM BRADLEY. Roach trains MANNY PACQUIAO. Bradley and Pacquiao will fight April 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Odds are, it won’t be a lousy fight. Thanks to Atlas and Roach, it won’t be a lousy promotion.
This week came a wonderful reminder of that, a simple conference call with Bradley and Atlas. These calls are the routine, a robotic nudge by promoters to get ink-stained wretches out of bed a little early to listen to hype and hope something strikes a chord and ends up in a newspaper or on a web site. Might be 20 more tickets sold, or even 100 more pay-per-views.
But on this call, along with Bradley, there was Atlas, who has the ability to make you think you are hearing from Plato, not some pug.
In quick summary, Atlas is a guy who has been around boxing forever, has trained and feuded with some of the best, has provided for his family nicely over the last 20 years by working as a commentator for ESPN. He has this long scar on his face that leaves the first impression that he is perfect to be commentating on a sport that leaves so many of the same. And when he talks, there is enough street tone and “dems and does” to contribute to the believability.
But content is king, and this guy can give you content — fresh, visionary, I-am-my-own-man content.
An oft-asked boxing question is the difference between heavyweights, once the marquee division of the sport, and the lighter-weight fighters. Atlas responded with fresh clarity:
“The difference is about 75 pounds,” he said, drawing giggles.
He then proceeded to nail the real difference.
“Sometimes, heavyweights are a bit more temperamental,” he said, warming up. “Don’t know if that’s fair, but it is to me because I’ve been down that road and I find that they can be a little temperamental. I don’t know if it is proper to say privileged, but they are heavyweights.”
The word “coddled” also came up several times and he said, “smaller guys haven’t had that coddling.”
The subject of Pacquiao’s recent anti-gay and lesbian statements was broached as a possible distraction and negative for the Filipino superstar.
Bradley, smartly, deflected that to Atlas, who ran with it nicely, joking that “I hope Timmy is that elusive in the ring.”
Atlas used Floyd Mayweather Jr., and his frequent run-ins with the law, as well as family feuds and general bickering, as an example of how this “distraction” angle can be overthought and overused.
“His (Mayweather’s) whole career,” Atlas said, “has been full of what you guys would always ask before almost every fight at some juncture — ‘do you think this or that would be a distraction?’– and then he got past the fight and the next thing would happen, the next situation. He is able to live in a world of distraction; he liked to live in a world of chaos for somebody else. Some people have that ability, that mental toughness.
“Manny will handle it. He will be a southpaw, across the ring from us, who is very fast with his hands and his feet and is very explosive. That will be it.”
Atlas was asked to compare his duties as a broadcaster with his duties as a trainer. Logic and thought-provoking common sense followed.
“It pales in weight and size of responsibility,” he said, “with the handling and taking care of a fighter and caring what is going to happen with that fighter when he gets into that ring, and you hope that, for eight weeks, you get that right.
“It’s a worry and concern business; when you have the trust of a fighter, (doing) something that can be so sudden and so dangerous.”
He pointed out how sports such as baseball and basketball differ from boxing.
“You can have three or four guys do something wrong,” he said, “and still win the game. And the next day, you can play again.
“We have one shot at this. One person, one man.”
This brings us to Roach, seven-time Boxing Writers Association of America trainer of the year.
He is about as subtle as a landing meteorite. What is on his mind is what he says. If promoters have asked him to be more diplomatic or careful, he hasn’t heard them or paid attention to them. His statements often have that impish twinkle-of-an eye tone to them. He knows what he said will be controversial, but also kind of fun, and so be it.
That has been the tone he has taken with Atlas, who got much credit for his preparation of Bradley for the impressive victory over Brandon Rios in Bradley’s most-recent fight. Roach has said he was unimpressed, that Atlas’ preparation of Bradley for that one was no big deal because Rios “stunk” and was “out of shape.” Roach has also oft referred to Atlas as “the announcer.” That, of course, is meant to drip with sarcasm.
Atlas waited awhile, then responded by saying he hadn’t fired the first shot across the bow, and that the fighters should be the focus, not the trainers. But he also said enough in his response to assure all that come fight week, it will be game on.
In boxing writers’ terms, this is manna from heaven. None of us is sure if God is a middleweight or a cruiserweight, but we can feel deity in our corner.