An Autumn in Russia for Teddy Atlas
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Aug 24, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Howard Schatz)
After the season finale of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” (which curiously will take place on Saturday night) in Montreal, Teddy Atlas won’t have much time to unwind and enjoy the upcoming football season- or anything else for that matter. In a matter of days, he will be on a plane heading to Russia to work with his heavyweight Alexander Povetkin.

The same Povetkin who was originally scheduled to face WBO/IBF titlist Wladimir Klitschko on September 11th before he was essentially yanked from that assignment by Atlas.

"Right now, it looks like I’ll be getting Alexander ready for a fight possibly on October 2nd on the undercard of the Froch-Abraham fight, I believe," Atlas told Maxboxing this past Friday afternoon. "My goal for him, and I told his management and his promoter, Sauerland, that I want him to fight every two months, maybe even more frequently. But at least every two months to get the experience he needs, the seasoning he needs to keep on track with the Adamek’s and all these other guys. These guys, you look at them, they got 40 fights; they got 50 fights. My kids got 19.

"I want him to get busier; I want him to get everything that being active brings you- which is confidence and doing things automatically without thinking about them. The seasoning allows that to happen."

Povetkin had earned the top ranking in the IBF by defeating Eddie Chambers in January of 2008 in just his 15th pro fight. Since that point, he has defeated the quartet of Taurus Sykes, Jason Estrada, Leo Nolan and Javier Mora- not exactly the Fearsome Foursome. Back a few months ago, a purse bid was held for a fight between Povetkin and Klitschko which was won by K2 Promotions with a bid of approximately $8 million.

But the veteran trainer, who hooked up with the Russian just last year, didn’t believe his boxer was anywhere near ready for such a task and he preferred to have at least a few more outings with him in the corner. Privately, he told associates that he would do whatever he could to pull the plug on this fight, which was accomplished as Povetkin came up with a sinus infection and when he did not show up to a pre-fight press conference in Germany (which was mandated under the contract), he was scratched from the event and quickly replaced by Samuel Peter.

"When I took him out of the Klitschko fight, I made it very clear; the next thing now to do is to get a plan to have this kind of activity," explained Atlas. "So now, when I get done on August 28th in Montreal, I’ll probably have to miss the September 11th show; ESPN is going to do the broadcast of Klitschko and Peter. We’re going to get it off the satellite and put our voices to it. I’m probably going to have to miss that; I’m probably going to have to miss my golf outing for my charity foundation on September 22nd. But this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to keep him busy."

Atlas decided to have Povetkin hit the ground running as soon as he could. "I had a choice of either October 2nd or October 30th, where Sauerland has two dates and I’m going to take the first one because, again, I want to get him going. So I’m going to take that first; if everything goes right, I might even look to squeeze in the end of October. But if not, I’ll look to fight in November and everything goes right, if the dates available, I will look to fight him in December too. And then take a look, evaluate how the activity is improving him and what it’s doing for him and then, from there, pick a spot."

While it’s pretty much assured they won’t be facing King Kong or Godzilla in these upcoming match-ups, this is a calculated gamble. The purse bid guaranteed Povetkin $2 million (before all the deductions and slices of the pie he has to give out, of course). But Atlas isn’t doing this because he feels that, down the line, they are a cinch to beat either of the Klitschkos; he wants to give his guy the best chance he might ever have.

And in many respects, this decision is actually an act of faith in Povetkin.

Atlas says, "I never strayed from my reason; my reason was he wasn’t ready. So I can’t speak for anyone else, to be honest with you. My only question was- was my fighter ready? It’s my responsibility to make a decision based on whether or not he’s ready. I thought with more fights, he had a better chance to win- it’s that simple. You look at a guy and you say, ’It’s a big fight; it’s a money fight. Can he get better? Will he get better with more experience?’ If the answer is no- and we’re in the real world here; we’re in a tough business- sometimes the practical, responsible thing to do is, ’Alright, let him make the money; let him take a payday right now. He’s not going to get any better.’ He may never get this opportunity to get this kind of fight.

He added, "I thought he would get better and I thought that the responsible thing to do, the thing from my standpoint was to give him a chance to get better, to get him a chance to get more fights. He’s been mandatory for two years and he’s fought like two, three times."

Well, it’s actually been four but the point stands; a guy with just 19 professional outings in six years as a pro isn’t ready to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

"Let him have the proper opportunity to win the fight," continued the trainer. "Let him have a better chance when he steps in that ring; let him know he’s truly ready. Not hoping that he can get lucky. Hoping to be fortunate, hoping that something could go his way. No, let him go in there with the experience he should go in with, knowing that he can have a good chance of controlling his destiny that night and winning that fight, which will be the biggest of his life."

This plan sounds good in theory but it wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the compliance of Povetkin. In general, fighters don’t always see the forest for the trees.

"He trusts me," said Atlas, who says that Povetkin is probably the easiest client he has ever had. "He believes I am looking out for what’s best for him. He believes that I’m evaluating what is the best path to give him the best career and the best opportunity to have a positive career and have an opportunity in this case to win a world title. He has trust in that; I think that trust is something that I take very seriously. Look, it doesn’t mean at the end of the day that it’s a guarantee that we’re going to get everything that we want. The only thing it means is that I believe this was the right move and the right direction for him right now. That it will give him the best opportunity to be successful."

Just recently, Atlas staged what amounted to a live scrimmage in a private setting against former heavyweight titlist Bruce Seldon in New Jersey. "I wanted to give him a glorified sparring session with all the bells and whistles of a real fight and it’s a training session," explained Atlas, of this fight which had the feel of a sanctioned fight. "At the end of the five-week training camp, we rented an arena, used small gloves, no headgear; we had a doctor there, a weigh-in; we had a judge. We had everything."

So how did it go?

"It validated, at least for me- and, at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to make the decision. I gotta live with it and be accountable for it- that I think maybe I made the right decision foregoing Klitschko right now," stated Atlas. "Because, at the beginning, he [Povetkin] was a little tight, a little tentative; he was thinking more than he was doing; he was waiting for things to happen more than he was making things happen. Which I think experience will allow him to do that. [In] the early rounds, he wasn’t as good as he was later on. He got better as the rounds went on. The fourth round, he would up dropping Seldon a couple of times and the training session was stopped."

Soon Atlas will be rejoining his boxer in Russia.

"We’re going to have to leave real quick," he says, "I’ve thought about bringing him over here to start the training. Only because I’m choosing the quickest route, the quickest fight. They called me yesterday, ’Teddy, do you want October 2nd or October 30th?’ It would’ve been easier [to do the later date]; I could’ve hung out a little bit."

While in the States, Povetkin trains in New Jersey, going back and forth between gyms in Red Bank and Middleton. When the calendar year turns to 2011 and Atlas resumes his ESPN2 duties, he will return. Meanwhile, Atlas who is big football fan (and whose son now works in the scouting department for the Cleveland Browns) will miss the bulk of the NFL regular season. Who knows; maybe they have DirecTV over there and he can get the NFL season package.

"We’re going to find out. We’re going to see if I can find a satellite, maybe on top of the Kremlin."

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