Teddy Atlas on Bradley-Marquez
“I think the two questions you have to ask yourself are: (1) is Bradley too damaged and (2) is Marquez too old, and is he too satisfied?”
LAS VEGAS—Thursday night at Caesars Palace I had dinner at Spago. I don’t often have dinner at Spago. At a matter of fact, I often don’t have dinner at all. But being in Las Vegas, for a prizefight no less, was reason enough to be invited to a media dinner hosted by Top Rank’s Bob Arum.
I can already hear the grumbling. “If that guy Ecksel is being wined and dined by Bob Arum, he must be on the take.” All I can say is, yeah, right. I wish. However, as things now stand, nothing could be further from the truth. All I’ve taken and intend to take, should the opportunity arise again, is a fine meal when it’s offered—and this meal was as fine they come.
Minute slices of designer pizza were served as an appetizer. The first course was Wild Mushroom Risotto (Oregon wild mushrooms, caramelized onion, and pecorino). For the entree I selected Pan Roasted Halibut (corn ragout, wild mushrooms, pearl onions, oven dried tomatoes, basil), instead of Chicken Parmesan or Prime Beef Tenderloin. And the lovely repast concluded with a scrumptious Apple Cobbler (walnut-cinnamon crisp, vanilla ice cream) for dessert.
In addition to the delectable food, I was seated next to delectable company. Larry Merchant was to my left and he regaled me with stories of the good old days. He told me the first fight he covered as a professional journalist was the first fight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio. That in itself was impressive. Even more impressive was the fact that Ernest Hemingway was seated just thirty feet away. There were, however, several things about which we didn’t see eye-to-eye—Larry Merchant, however knowledgeable, isn’t a boxing purist—but neither of us raised a fork and threatened to stab the other. It wasn’t that kind of conversation. And Spago is not that kind of restaurant.
The conversation ebbed and flowed, as conversations do, before addressing the matter of Bradley vs. Marquez. Merchant said that in all his years of covering boxing he had never seen a fighter shift gears the way Bradley did between the fight with Pacquiao and the fight with Provodnikov. We both agreed that Bradley felt he had something to prove after Pacquiao, where many who questioned the decision, reasonable under the circumstances, took it a step further by questioning Bradley, as if he were ringside scoring the fight and not in the ring actually fighting it.
The following day in the media room at Wynn Las Vegas I ran into Teddy Atlas. He is always busy, but always generous with his time, and we sat down to talk about the fight. I paraphrased Larry Merchant, without mentioning his name, and said that Bradley, after the heart he showed against Provodnikov, no longer has anything to prove.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Atlas said, “completely wrong, at least from my eyes. I think exactly opposite you. Marquez has nothing to prove anymore. He’s had his legacy fight, much like Roberto Duran the first time he fought Sugar Ray Leonard. As much as he had proven as a lightweight champion, in his mind he still had to beat the golden boy. He still had to have that marquee fight, that signature fight, and he got it against Leonard. And then he flattened out. And then you had ‘No mas’ that quelled something in him. It did. And Marquez, the great warrior, he’d done so much. He won all those titles in different weight classes and everything, but he never had that signature fight, that career fight, that LEGACY WIN until he knocked out his nemesis, Pacquiao. Now he has it. He’s finally gotten it.
“He’s like Captain Ahab that finally got Moby Dick, or Moby Dick wound up getting him. But in Marquez’s case, in his story, it would have ended the other way. He won. He got his prize. That’s what happened to Marquez. He got his prize. He’s the one who’s satisfied. He’s the one who’s in danger of being quieted and calmed, and he’s a fighter who should never be quieted and calmed. He’s the one in danger of that, and not Bradley. Because Bradley, even though he’s undefeated, even though he pulled off the win against Pacquiao, it’s a tainted victory, it’s a victory everyone said he didn’t deserve; a victory that everyone says was highway robbery, that it was unjust. And he comes off the Provodnikov fight where some people thought he lost that. But more importantly, he was damaged. More importantly he was dropped. He was one knee-not-taken away from losing the fight. By taking that knee he was able to escape. A lot of people look at it that way. He didn’t win, he escaped. Big difference. So he’s the one who’s fighting for validity. He’s the one who wants to show people that he’s still there, that there’s a legacy to leave behind, that there’s something to prove. He’s the one that there are doubts about. Not Marquez. He’s the one that has a noise in him to quiet, to answer.”
I asked Atlas if he thought that noise will be quieted and those questions answered when the fighters get it on Saturday night.
“He’s going to try,” said Atlas. “He’s got all the heart in the world. He knows how to behave like a fighter. I think the two questions you have to ask yourself are: (1) is Bradley too damaged and (2) is Marquez too old, and is he too satisfied? These are the questions you have to ask going into this fight. You have to be concerned about Bradley, the way every time he got hit he got shaken to his core. How badly was he hurt and affected in that fight? He said that ‘for two months I had concussive symptoms.’ How concerned are you?”
Many of us are very concerned. Both the Pacquiao and Provodnikov fights landed Bradley in the hospital. Although the injuries were different, both required immediate and prolonged medical attention.
“During one of these radio interviews I was doing all day for HBO, somebody asked me, ‘Teddy, is he coming back too soon? What do you think? Would you be coming back? What would you do as a trainer?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s too quick. It might be the wrong guy though.’ I don’t know that I would have him come back with this significant, this substantial of an opponent. I think that I would want to take him off on the side somewhere and see how he behaved, see how he was, and if he wasn’t right, have the kind of opponent we could get through and survive it and give it more time and not have disaster if we’re wrong and he was in too soon. If the doctor said he’s okay and he’s behaving okay, they’re the ones who know how he’s been in camp. But they took on a real stout, tough opponent, a guy who’s a good finisher, a guy who’s a good puncher, and a guy who because of that is dangerous coming off of what he’s coming off of.”
Marquez is dangerous, but dangerous for reasons many fail to understand.
“The big misnomer in this fight that I think serves Bradley is that because Marquez knocked out Pacquiao, the most recognizable fighter, beside Mayweather, in the business, and the knockout was sensational, a lot of people start thinking he’s a seek and destroy guy, he’s a go get you guy, he’s a track you down guy. He’s not. He’s got 62 fights. He’s got 40 knockouts. He’s got a great chin. But he’s a counterpuncher. He’s not a guy who initiates. He fights in spots, but mostly in the driveway, in neutral. You don’t see him on the Autobahn. He’s a guy where you come to him. He lays traps. He laid a trap for Pacquiao. Do people forget that so quickly? He laid a trap. That’s what he did. He didn’t GO GET HIM. But because of the significance, because of the outcome, and because of who he knocked out, people start thinking, Oh yeah, he’s a go get you guy. And he’s not. But he might have to be in this fight. Because if Bradley does what I think he has to do, un-debatable, HAS to do to win this fight—use his legs, use the ring—if he boxes and stays away, he can counterpunch the counterpuncher, which I think is always an effective tool against a counterpuncher, he can force Marquez out of his comfort zone, make him come forward and initiate and do things he’s not really designed to do. And if he can do that he can stay away from danger, he can get a lot of opportunities and keep Marquez out of his strongholds. He can’t be in the trenches.”
Bradley was in the trenches with Provodnikov. It was exciting, but he was flirting with catastrophe.
“Look,” said Teddy, “at the end of the day you have to choose on one side or the other. Bradley showed all the heart in the world in that last fight, but Marquez always showed heart all through his career too. If you think that heart’s going to get the better of Bradley, that that warrior’s going to come out and he’s going to engage a 40-year-old—hey, I heard him say ‘a 40-year-old ain’t beating me’—that could be dangerous. Does that mean he goes and spits in the wind? If he does that, I pick Marquez to knock him out. You’ve got to figure that somewhere along the way Marquez is going to touch him. If he’s still vulnerable in that way, you have to like Marquez again. But Bradley’s a guy that, don’t forget, doesn’t know how to lose yet. That’s a powerful thing—you don’t want to lose. He showed that power in the Provodnikov fight. If you think that fight’s not completely indicative of where he’s at, if Bradley respects what he learned in that fight, if he can use that and couple that with the discipline—not just the heart, not just the bravado, not just the will, but the discipline to fight a strict, definitive fight—he can win. But there’s no margin for error. It’s the kind of fight where Bradley can’t make a mistake. Marquez, even at 40, can make mistakes and still win the fight.”
“I’m not going to go the safe way. The safe way would be to go with Marquez. But I’m going to say that noise is still inside Bradley. It hasn’t been quieted, and that noise will yell to him and talk to him and speak to him in a way that says to not just fight, but to fight smart and maybe fight perfect and win a 12-round decision.”