By Mike Indri
Retired Boxers Foundation
Prior to last week’s ESPN Tuesday Night Fights, at the Foxwoods Resort & Casino in Conn., highly respected and revered trainer-turned-commentator Teddy Atlas captivated the pre fight crowd, on hand to get a signed copy of “Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring-A Son’s Struggle to become a Man”, an autobiography, along with Peter Alson, which proved to be as riveting and interesting as the man himself.
“I was asked to do this book ten years ago and turned down the offer. I’m glad that Harp-erCollins recently asked again; at this point in my life it’s a better time,” stated Atlas, adding “and I thought, maybe, I could find some answers through the journey of this book.”
Growing up in Staten Island, the son of a beloved physician, Dr. Theodore Atlas, who devoted himself to the community - at the expense of his own family, Atlas struggled through troubled and tumultuous times. Rebellious and resentful, Teddy’s thug-like lifestyle led to his involvement in an armed robbery, numerous arrests and a stint in Rikers Island.
Engrossingly detailed throughout this “extremely hard to put down” book are the days, actually more like the six years, spent up in the Catskills under the tutelage of legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato. This includes the end of his own career as a fighter… and the beginning of his illustrious work, leading up to his eventually becoming one of the top trainers in all of boxing.
Also felt are the true emotions of joy, love and exhilaration during the innocently, pure teachings to his young amateur fighters. The center of young fighter’s winning and losing, as well as the fatherly knowledge of his great impact and contribution to their structure and development, not only as fighters, but also as men.
Along with the innocence and purity, was the guilty privilege of cultivating and refining the raw talent of a prodigious twelve year old juvenile hoodlum, Mike Tyson. A physical phenomenon and an imposing monster of a boy, Tyson, en route to becoming the youngest heavyweight world champion in boxing history, bullied and had his way with everyone in his path; except Teddy Atlas.
Stringently loyal, almost to a fault, in a corrupt business which regularly rewards deceit, Atlas managed to handle the wrongdoings of many boxing promoters and managers as part of the job; it was the disloyalty and dishonor of many of his personally trained fighters that truly hurt.
Along with Tyson; both Danny Lalonde and two-time heavyweight world champion Michael Moore, greatly prospered under Teddy’s watchful eye, yet provided major disappointment; both financially and emotionally.
“This book also gives a peak into the locker room and training camp of the heavyweight champion of the world - and for people to realize the insecurities in life that even athletes at the highest level face.”
Experiences with Hollywood actor Willem DeFoe, dancer Twyla Tharp and notorious mob turncoat Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, all whom Atlas did train at one time, also provided interesting behind-the-scene stories.
One realizes early in the book that Atlas indeed found his path to greatness through his teaching. While a trainer of fighters, and indeed earning his tag by D’Amato as a “young master,” many outside of the squared circle could learn from Atlas’s strong convictions and integrity, his love of family and friends and his quest to honor the life and name of his father; through the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation, established in 1997.
The organization, which helps individuals in need - without the usual bureaucratic red tape - provides medical expenses, money, grants, scholarships, etc..., and is a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to helping others, and that man’s son.
Atlas, a devoted husband to his wife Elaine and father of two, currently is the color commentator for ESPN Tuesday Night and Friday Night Fights, and is immensely proud of his boxing commentary work at both the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics.
In true Atlas fashion, he considers his greatest achievements outside of boxing, as being his daughter Nicole and his son Teddy III.