Teddy Atlas on Hopkins-Dawson II

By Robert Ecksel on April 26, 2012
Teddy Atlas on Hopkins-Dawson II
"Every time there’s an inherent risk, to your legacy, to your physicality, to your future."

“Dawson’s not reckless, not at all. Matter of fact,” said Atlas with a laugh, “a lot of the boxing public wishes he would be more reckless…”

Teddy Atlas holds a curious place in the boxing firmament. He’s one of the few trainers today who was schooled by an old-school trainer, in his case Cus D’Amato, but rarely trains fighters. He is brilliant, without a doubt, yet all his mind power is directed to a single, solitary subject. He is well known, a regular fixture on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, yet many would prefer a well coifed stooge or anyone besides Teddy.

Some of the hostility may be the result from professional jealousy. Some may resent his sneaky jab in even casual conversations. Or it may be that boxing brings out the beast in us all. But Atlas is who he is, was who he was, and will be who he will be. He is comfortable in his own skin. Those who don’t like it, or him, should simply change the channel.

With the rematch of the controversial first fight between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson almost upon us, I contacted Atlas to get his take on this weekend’s bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Having scoured Mike Silver’s superb “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science,” I’m aware of some of Teddy’s thoughts on Hopkins. But I wanted to get it from the horse’s mouth as it were, and Atlas was more than happy to oblige.

Intending to keep it simple, I asked Atlas who he favored in Saturday’s fight.

“I would have to say Dawson for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Part of it is his youth, and part of it is both his size and style. Hopkins is for most intents and purposes a good fundamental fighter. He’s a smart fighter. He’s a good defensive fighter both technically and mentally. He looks for advantages. He doesn’t look to take too many chances. He was that way even when he was younger. That’s his temperament. That’s his core. And being a defensive fighter who looks to counterpunch, to have that kind of mentality and that kind of set up, you need a certain landscape. You either need a guy who’s aggressive or a guy who lends himself to opportunities for you to counterpunch, for you to exploit certain mistakes from an offensive standpoint. Maybe he comes in too close. Maybe he jabs from the wrong dimension, very much like Kelly Pavlik.”

Hopkins dismantled Kelly Pavlik when they fought in 2008 in a fight he was supposed to lose. Pavlik is still trying to regain his bearings, and we wish him the best, whereas Hopkins, like Old Man River, just keeps rolling along.

Kelly Pavlik was made to order for Hopkins,” said Atlas. “I give him all the credit in the world for getting the job done at the age he did, but Kelly Pavlik threw the jab from too close, where Hopkins could counter with right hands over it. When you throw a jab you’re supposed to throw it from a certain distance, a safe distance, a proper distance. Kelly Pavlik for some reason didn’t seem to understand that. You’re also not supposed to leave your head in a stationary position. You’re supposed to move your head. Pavlik stands straight up. He didn’t move his head. So all night long, Hopkins was able to time him with counter right hands. But again, you need certain dimensions to do that and I think it’s going to be different for the stronger suits of Hopkins to be displayed against Dawson. He’s not going to have the distance that is most opportunistic for him to counterpunch. He’s not going to have that kind of landscape.”

Dawson is a very different fighter than Pavlik. Dawson is a more complete fighter, less prone to making mistakes, less prone to taking chances.

“Dawson is a pretty careful fighter. He’s got certain attributes from a physical standpoint that will make it difficult for Hopkins. He’s a naturally bigger guy. He’s longer. He’s taller. And he uses those attributes, those physical dimensions pretty well. He usually gets extension on his punches. He usually gets full extension on his jab. He usually fights from outside, from off of you a little bit. And again, those are not the best things for a counterpuncher, especially someone like Hopkins who at 47 wants a pace where he can fight at his beck and call, where he can pick his sports, stop the action if he wants to. Or he wants to have a guy who’s a little less educated so to speak in the art of fisticuffs, like Pascal. I’m not knocking Pascal. He has some good physical attributes. He’s got good hand speed. He’s a guy who’s in shape. But he’s a guy who throws round punches. He’s a guy who only fights in spots. He’s a guy who doesn’t use his jab with any consistency, with any effectiveness. So Hopkins with his experience and his mindset was really able to exploit the weaknesses of Pascal. I just don’t think it matches up as well for him in all those areas with Dawson.”

No one can take away from Hopkins what he did against Pascal in their second fight. That one is in the record books for many years to come, if not forever. But Hopkins, like the rest of us, isn’t getting any younger. Yet Hopkins, unlike the rest of us, is a middle-aged man competing in a young man’s sport. He fights in spurts, which isn’t crowd-pleasing, but Dawson hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

“Dawson’s not reckless, not at all. Matter of fact,” said Atlas with a laugh, “a lot of the boxing public wishes he would be more reckless, that he would maybe make more exciting fights, take more chances—put the pedal to the metal a little more. But you are what you are. The physical things you have are driven to the point their driven, and executed to the point they’re executed, and used to the point they’re used by the mentality you have. That’s the car that drives those abilities, and Dawson’s mentality is to use his height, to use his reach, to fight from those places. Dawson dots his I’s and crosses his T’s pretty well. I think it’s going to be difficult for Hopkins to get a free ride. I don’t think Dawson with his physical attributes will allow Hopkins to get into a comfort zone. The things he needs at this point to be available to him—I don’t see those things being available to him. I think Dawson will probably win a one-sided decision. But I would not rule out a late rare stoppage. Hopkins is still good enough technically. That’s his strong point: he’s a fundamentally A to Z fighter, he’s fundamentally well-rounded and well versed. And even at a late age, he still shows the benefit of that.”

I asked Atlas if there were other fighters of Hopkins’ generation, if not his same age, he could compare Bernard to, so as to reinforce the point he was making.

“I think Glencoffe Johnson is probably the closest. But when you’re a Roy Jones, at his peak, he’s got more physical ability than Hopkins. He’s faster. He can accelerate He can punch better. He can do some of those things better because he has the DNA to do that. He has those physical attributes that you have them or you don’t have them. And you can do things wrong. You can pull back from punches, depending on your timing, your sense of anticipation, your reflexes. You can excel, look flashy, and you can have great success. But when you’re a guy who’s fundamentally grounded and fundamentally developed the way Hopkins is, well that shows its benefits through your career too. But it shows its benefits even more so as the physical abilities start to dissipate. As the speed, as the reflexes, all those things that seemed like an advantage when you were young—and they were—start to go away, start to go south a little bit, who has the better fundamentals, who has the better habits, the things that are not eroded by time, that are not eroded by age? Who has those things? Whoever has those things—guess what?—they’re going to be able to perform at a pretty good level at a later age. And who is that person? Well that person is Hopkins. That’s part of the reason why he’s able to have that success.”

But will Hopkins be able to have that success against a younger, bigger, stronger opponent like Chad Dawson?

“When you get older you try to slant the playing field in your direction,” Atlas explained. “And you need a little help in some of those areas, and some of that help is the style of the other guy, the temperament of the other guy, how he makes himself available to what you do well—and Dawson doesn’t make himself available to the things Hopkins does well. If he fights the kind of disciplined fight that he usually fights—staying on the outside, using that jab to lead the way, getting full extension on his punches—I just can’t see Hopkins having a lot of success. If Dawson was to get a little ornery and just a little more prone to pushing the envelope; if he could see his advantages and be a little more up-tempo, even from a distance; if he can be a little more determined to make a statement against a fighter who has the reputation of being a special fighter, maybe late in the fight it becomes even more difficult for Hopkins. The ability to finish a fight might be hard for the first time in his career.”

As astute as Atlas’ analysis was, I assume that Hopkins is as aware of his physical gifts and limitations as anyone. Accepting what Teddy was saying as gospel, I asked if he thought Hopkins was, financial considerations aside, putting himself in harm’s way.

“Any time you get in the ring I would argue you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. That’s the business we’re in. When this is what you’re doing for a living, for a livelihood, what is more and what is less? It is and it isn’t. Every time there’s an inherent risk, to your legacy, to your physicality, to your future. There’s always that kind of risk when you get in the ring. Hopkins thinks it’s worth it. Money is never aside—with anybody—and no less with a fighter, where it’s so difficult to earn, and so risky to earn, and it takes something away from you, you lose something to gain something. You lose a part of what you are and what you can continue to hope to be. So money is always front and center—and Hopkins has a very high regard for money. Everybody cares about money, some more, some less. Hopkins cares about it a lot. The risk is worth the reward in his way of thinking, that as long as he can get in there and still maintain himself at a certain level, he’s going to try to accumulate as much of that stuff as he can while he can. Does ego play into it a little bit? Everyone has ego. The most successful people have large doses of it. It tells them what they can do. It helps them push the borders further and further—maybe further than ordinary people to what they can do or will try to do because of that ego. The border of his ego is expansive.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Matt McGrain 08:33am, 04/28/2012

    I like Teddy too.  I always like to hear what he says for some of the same reasons as Pete The Sneak.

  2. gordon marino 06:56am, 04/28/2012

    Excellent analysis by Teddy—especially the points about jabbing from the right distance—and of the need for an older fighter to get his foe to make mistakes. I’m picking Dawson by a decision. Thanks!

  3. julius 11:02pm, 04/27/2012

    boring fight punch & hug ,, punch & hug.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:11am, 04/27/2012

    Robert Ecksel- Great report….there’s analysis then there’s Teddy’s analysis…which reminds me….on a Friday night when Teddy was decrying the most recent outrageous judging decisions….the judges in Montreal as shown in the background on the TV screen were at that very moment conjuring up a Draw for a local favorite who had just lost every round to the “opponent”.

  5. Pete The Sneak 04:55am, 04/27/2012

    Say what you want about Teddy, but the guy is ‘Real.’ He wears his heart on his sleeve and tells you what he thinks whether you like it or not. Always a good listen/read. Also he’s one of the more generous people in sports. What he does with his foundation (The Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation, named after his late father) has helped countless boxers/ people in the New York City community. I’ve seen it up close and personal. Actually, that’s probably the only time you’ll get Teddy to speak in short and brief sentences, when you ask him about those type things, which he seems uncomfortable speaking about. Peace.

  6. the thresher 04:00am, 04/27/2012

    Great, great article, Robert!

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