Mike Silver Talks With Teddy Atlas About His New Boxing Instructional Videos
Teddy Atlas is a world renowned trainer and boxing commentator. Over the course of his 40 plus year career Teddy has mentored and taught scores of top amateur and professional boxers, including world champions Wilfredo Benitez, Mike Tyson, Simon Brown, Michael Moorer, Timothy Bradley, Joey Gamache, Barry McGuigan and Alexander Povetkin. He is also one of the sport’s most popular and respected broadcasters, having worked for ESPN as both an analyst and color commentator for over 20 years.
Although Teddy is no longer actively training boxers his expertise and wisdom is now available to everyone via a series of exceptional instructional videos. They are the next best thing to having Teddy right in front of you teaching you everything from the basics to more sophisticated “tricks of the trade” (not to mention the many life lessons that are always interwoven into Atlas’s memorable teaching style). Whether you are a boxer, armchair fan, trainer or just someone who is curious to know more about this ancient sport, you can have no better guide than Teddy Atlas.
So far three instructional video programs have been released and have proven to be extremely popular. They are: The Fundamentals of Boxing; The Peek-A-Boo Style of Boxing; 14 Signature Punches From All of The Greats. Nine more programs are planned, each covering a different aspect of the sweet science. Each video program is broken into separate segments that total about 3 hours.
Following are excerpts from an interview I recently conducted with Teddy to discuss the videos and his plans for future tutorials.
Mike: Whose idea was it to do these videos?
Teddy: The owners of Dynamic Striking.com contacted my daughter and asked if I would be interested in doing a boxing instructional video. They are the biggest makers of instructional fight videos in the world. A lot of the videos are about the MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] world, but they have some boxing and they wanted to get more involved with that.
After the initial success of the first one we found out there is a base out there that is interested and wants to learn.
Mike: Was the idea to do just one video?
Teddy: I thought so, but after seeing how successful the video was they suggested to keep doing them on specific areas of boxing. After the initial success of the first one we found out there is a base out there that is interested and wants to learn. So we started off with one, and now we’ve done four. The plan is to do eight more after that.
Mike:You’ve spent 45 years teaching the finer points of the sweet science. Will you still be involved in personally training boxers?
Teddy: I’m not inclined to train fighters so easily anymore. It takes a lot out of me. I’ve always been saying on ESPN for 25 years that when a fighter enters the ring they leave with less of themselves. What I never said was, it’s the same for a trainer. At least it’s been that way for me over the years. There is such a strong bond between trainer and fighter. You lose a piece of yourself physically, emotionally, even spiritually. You lose faith in people sometimes. You put so much into them they sometimes disappoint you in such a close proximity. So I’m not inclined to so readily say yes, anymore.
Mike: Who was the last boxer you trained?
Teddy: I was asked to come out of retirement about three years ago to train light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozkyk. We won a world title against a really good puncher, Adonis Stevenson. Following that fight I was asked to train some marquee fighters. I’ve been saying no to them for the most part because it’s hard to want to make that commitment because of all of the things that float around that commitment that I know will go into it—going away from home, being in camp, the physical, mental and emotional demands of being responsible for a person.
Mike: Doing the videos, at this stage of your career, seems like a good idea because in a very real sense you will still be teaching.
Teddy: Cus D’Amato said I was born to teach. I don’t know, but I’ve been doing it since I’m 19 years old. I was training Wilfredo Benitez when I was like 21. Not that I deserved it, but I was with Cus D’Amato, so I got that opportunity. If I told you some of the names of fighters I trained before I was 24 you’d shake your head. They’re all world champions, or guys who just fought for a world title and came up short. I became a commentator for 25 years with ESPN. I still work for them doing SportsCenter stuff, and I was fortunate enough to be put into the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. But with all of that I’m still a teacher. Like Cus said, when you’re a teacher you teach. It’s always in you, it never leaves you. Because what is teaching? Teaching is really an opportunity, a privilege, and its work. It is a responsibility that could be a burden, like I just pointed out, but it’s also a privilege because you get a chance to make somebody better. You get a chance to help somebody in this world. That’s pretty good.
Mike: Modern technology has made it possible for you to reach a much wider audience who will benefit from your knowledge even if you’re not doing one on one teaching anymore.
Teddy: Like I just explained to you, I was reticent to do it anymore. I was keeping myself out of it. So this opportunity with Dynamic Striking comes along and my daughter talked me into it. She reminded me that this was a chance to do what I do best without having to go to camp, without having to have that personal involvement with the fighter that has worn me out. She explained to me that instead of helping one person I could help thousands who could learn something the right way, hopefully. They can improve on their interest in the sport, on their partaking of the sport, whether it’s a professional or an amateur, or a parent that wants their kid to learn the fundamentals properly, or a white collar guy who wants to work out but wants to do it the right way, not the wrong way. So she reminded me that here is an opportunity that came knocking on my door to continue teaching where I was inclined not to teach anymore.
Unlike other sports where you have to have a background in that sport, in boxing anyone can be a trainer. I couldn’t wind up on the sideline coaching a football team in the NFL because I don’t have that background.
Mike: It is my belief, and I’ve written about it, that we do not have nearly enough competent trainers who know how to teach the finer points of boxing technique.
Teddy: It’s true. Unlike other sports where you have to have a background in that sport, in boxing anyone can be a trainer. I couldn’t wind up on the sideline coaching a football team in the NFL because I don’t have that background. I don’t belong there, even though I may know the basics of the sport. But you can do that in my sport. I’m not saying they have to spend 8 years apprenticeship up in Catskill away from everything with Cus D’Amato, who was my mentor, and who had a great boxing mind. But the opportunities to do that aren’t even there anymore, to be quite honest. There should be some apprenticeship served. I look around and I see too many of these so called trainers without a background that are teaching fighters, so therefore the teaching is inappropriate. It is not correct in a lot of ways. So here is an opportunity, while I can still do it, without having to pick up the responsibility of the personal relationship with a fighter that I talked about earlier. I can still be able to teach people in a way that is fundamentally correct, and in a way that’s been lost in the sport to a certain degree because we do not have the teachers we should have. We have some good ones, but we have some that are not.
Mike: Are the lessons in these tutorials the same that Cus taught you in the eight years you were with him?
Teddy: Yes and no. I learned the nuts and bolts from Cus, the ABCs, the laws, the rules. There are laws in life and there are laws in boxing. You break the law in boxing you don’t get a ticket, you don’t get jail time, you get punched in the face. So you learn the basics and you have that foundation, and then with experience you start to add certain things.
Mike: What are some examples of the “nuts and bolts” of boxing?
Teddy: Moving your head after your last punch and covering back fast with your hands; keeping your chin down; keeping a slight bend in your knees; sharing the weight on both legs. You don’t put it all on one leg, or even 60% on one leg, it has to be 50-50 on both legs. Why? So you’re available to react without a millisecond lost. The weight is on the balls of your feet so you are ready to move while having the benefit of balance. You have to learn all those things and more, and you eventually advance.
Mike: The second video in the series explains the peek-a-boo style of boxing that Cus made famous. It was used to great effect by former champions Floyd Patterson, Mike Tyson and Jose Torres.
Teddy: The peek-a-boo was pure Cus D’Amato. People are interested in it. It’s part of the history of the sport. So when we did the peek-a-boo video of course I drew it directly from the blueprints of what Cus taught me and gave me, and instilled in me. But from there we advanced to other techniques.
Mike: In the video program titled 14 Signature Punches from All the Greats you explain and demonstrate some of boxing’s most effective “signature” punches that are identified with certain boxers. One of my personal favorites is the one called “The Walk Off”.
Teddy: Jersey Joe Walcott [heavyweight champion 1951-1952] had this move where he would hitch up his trunks and start to walk off to the side a little bit. What the hell is that? Probably a habit he picked up, maybe a wasted habit? No it’s not wasted. It was thought out. It was developed. It was designed for a reason. The natural instinct of the person in front of him was to relax just for a moment…just for a moment. Like you have in nature when an animal, say a snake, a python, will make you relax just for a second and then–bang! Strike and it’s over. Well it’s the same thing. Jersey Joe would adjust his trunks and take a little walk off to the side, and you relax a little bit, you start to follow him and you don’t even realize you’re following him. And you start to follow him and– bang! He’s got you. Like the python. He’s got you. Sometimes it doesn’t even register with the spectators who see it. They think, “Oh, it just happened”. But it didn’t just happen. It happened because Walcott made it happen. You don’t knock great guys out by accident. Like Sugar Ray Robinson said, “I’ve got to dress them up before I take them out”. And that’s what Walcott did. He adjusted his trunks a little bit, he started moving his shoulders, walked like he was just taking a casual walk in the park, and then all of a sudden he synchronized the slip of his shoulders with that left uppercut and he caught Ezzard Charles—a great fighter—and knocked him out.
Mike: I’ve seen film footage of that fight but never quite understood what Walcott was doing until you explained it.
Teddy: Walcott had all those little subtleties, nuances, instinctive things that he knew he could do from experience. He knew how to walk the tightrope. He knew to take something that looked risky, and take the risk out of it. All that was left was the ingenuity and the genius of it that gave him that little edge. Life’s about overcoming, about finding a way. That’s what boxing’s about. I try to bring those things to this video series as it relates to boxing.
Mike: What is another example of a boxer’s “signature punch”
Teddy: Hector Camacho’s “trip hammer” jab. Camacho was a helluva fighter. He had great, great speed, and great boxing ability. His jab was very effective, but he did it different than anyone else’s. Nobody even noticed it. I liken it to a trip hammer. He didn’t turn it over, he just dropped it. He just dropped it! And what did that do? Well It saved him probably 2 tenths of a second. It sounds like nothing, but it’s everything. It got him there just a little quicker, without some of that excess motion, but he still threw it straight. He didn’t give any warning. So the basics were still there, but his genius, his instincts took it to a different place. I let my experiences do the same thing for me as a teacher.
Mike: What other instructional videos are planned?
Teddy: The next one is called Keys to the Door. It should be up in about two weeks. It’s all about the jab.
There are cave paintings found in Ethiopia that go back thousands of years depicting boxers and you always see the lead hand extended.
Mike: Why is it called Keys to the Door?
Teddy: The title is appropriate because the jab is the key that opens the door. It’s the lantern that lights the way. There are cave paintings found in Ethiopia that go back thousands of years depicting boxers and you always see the lead hand extended. There’s a reason for that. Even way back then they knew there had to be a science to it. There had to be something that was more than just the brawn. The jab shows the way. If it was just the brawn all the creatures would have been the ones that were in charge. But they weren’t in charge; they were the ones that were on the grill being cooked. Man used his brain to give him the edge and figure out the advantages. There were tribes that weren’t necessarily the most physical but they were the ones that lived a little better. They were the ones that won the battles they had to win. They were a little smarter and had a little more ingenuity. It’s the same with boxing. The guys who were big and strong and came in there throwing haymakers did not have the edge against those who were a little smarter and had a little more ingenuity.
Mike: So what you’re saying is the jab is probably as old as boxing itself?
Teddy: Apparently. Even back then they knew there had to be a jab to lead the way. There had to be science connected to the physical that would give them an edge. I explain some of the history in these tutorials and why the jab has been around since the beginning of boxing. Without the jab it wouldn’t be called boxing. It would be called slugging. It would be called throwing or chucking, but it wouldn’t be boxing. It is boxing for a reason, and a big part of that reason is the jab. The jab is what makes it possible for you to do everything else. It is part of the militia that clears the way, which gets there first so you can come in with the artillery. Something has to clear the way. Something has to set up the way for the tanks to come in—that’s the jab.
Mike: I’ve never heard the jab described that way, but it makes perfect sense.
Teddy: How many guys out there know there’s 14 different ways to throw a jab? Not too many.
Mike: What’s an example of using the jab in a different way?
Teddy: Say you are about to throw a jab but you realize your opponent is set. What does that mean? That means he’s looking to counter you. Don’t throw it. So what do you do? You throw a little feint and you freeze him, then you quickly step just six inches off to the left, and you throw it from there—different place, different position, different result. Instead of getting hit, you land, and he doesn’t land. It’s just one example of a different kind of way to throw the jab.
A lot of people forget that when Tyson was Tyson–when he was good–he out jabbed taller guys.
Mike: I’ve seen fighters you’ve trained do that move, including Mike Tyson.
Teddy: A lot of people forget that when Tyson was Tyson–when he was good–he out jabbed taller guys. How? He was shorter than most of his opponents. How did he out jab a taller guy? He did it by learning how to slip a punch, taking away the guy’s reach, so now he could jab inside it.
Mike: A boxer who knows how and when to use a jab certainly has an edge over one who does not.
Teddy: I make the following point when I introduce the video before I get into the ring and show it. Can you imagine Muhammad Ali without a jab? I can answer that—no. Could you imagine Floyd Mayweather Jr. without a jab? Go back to the great golden era; can you imagine Willie Pep without a jab? No, you couldn’t. Can you imagine George Foreman without a jab? Everyone saw the big shots that took Joe Frazier off the ground to win the heavyweight title. The jab set up that big uppercut. The jab kept him off balance, the jab never let him recover, the jab discombobulated him.
Mike: Your videos have proven to be a valuable resource for anyone interested in boxing. Thank you Teddy for continuing to teach, inform and entertain.
Teddy: I’m blessed and grateful that people are going out there and purchasing it. They’re interested in the topics and I’m hoping they’ll understand the truth of it.
Ed. Note: The Teddy Atlas instructional videos can be purchased and downloaded from Dynamic Striking.com. The cost is $97 dollars per program.
Mike Silver’s newest book is The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments from the World of Boxing. Available from Amazon.com or publisher’s website: Rowman.com