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Atlas Autobiography Provides A Compulsive Read Packed With Boxing Lore

Stacy W.L.Correspondent IMay 28, 2009

As color commentator for ESPN Friday Night Fights, Teddy Atlas projects a confidence which suggests his comfort in the boxing world.  When he describes the ideal fight plan for each boxer in an upcoming bout, his eye for the subtler elements of the sweet science is obvious. 

Though some may find the constant repetition of his insights into the fight as it goes along a bit patronizing, his monotone irritating, or his gruff style offputting, most find this commentator, whose face is divided by a long scar down his left cheek, at the very least intriguing.

Atlas assents to the boxing fans' curiousity about the darker corners of his own past in his 2006 autobiography, written with Peter Alson, Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring: A Son's Struggle to Become a Man. 

Well worth the read, Atlas displays the author's insight into the unconscious forces which drove his own obsession with the violence laid bare in the ring like nowhere else.  By detailing his experiences as a middle class teenage Jewish hoodlum, through his own injury-derailed boxing career, to his life as a trainer under Cus D'Amato and beyond, and finally to the heartbreaks that led him out of training and into the less personally enmeshed role of commentator, Atlas provides a rare glimpse some of the most interesting corners of the sport.

The true boxing fan, whether an admirer or critic of Teddy Atlas, will have difficulty putting down this book, as it provides priceless tidbits about some of the sport's favorite enigmas.  Teddy reveals his own experience of the contradictions which made up Cus D'Amato.  Cus took a young Teddy into his stable in Catskill, New York like a son, encouraging the growth of his character as he redirected him from the streets to the ring and later by recognizing his latent talent as a trainer.  As Teddy describes it, however, his role model and father figure pushed him out when Teddy objected to D'Amato's whitewashing of Mike Tyson's offences in his quest to make him a champion.

Atlas strips bare the macho veneer of the boxers he trains, noting that the key to coping with the unknown in the ring is being able to admit one's fears.  As he points out in a touching conversation with a kid at the gym who is getting picked on at school, "I'm afraid of a lot of things.  You should be afraid.  If you didn't get afraid, you wouldn't be aware when danger's close by.  You just have to learn how to deal with your fear." It was two time heavyweight champion Michael Moore's difficulty mastering his fear that Teddy attributes to Moore's eventual downfall and the end of their boxer/trainer relationship, and the ability to look fear straight in the eye that enabled a 44 year old George Foreman to steal the championship from him on his first defense of the heavyweight title.

In a manner both endearing and revealing, Atlas lets the reader in to his own path to boxing, which mirrors that of many fighters in that his focus on boxing allowed him to channel demons which otherwise would have led him to prison or to death.  As the son of a successful Jewish doctor, Atlas smashes the stereotypical assumptions about these kinds of demons.  He explains his own compulsive drive toward the destruction of both himself and others to the ingrown rage he felt toward his father, who gained the respect of the community but failed to connect to or nurture his own family. 

Compellingly, in this autobiography Atlas acknowledges many of his own mistakes as well as a certain stubbornness which has led him to draw lines in the sand with many people with whom he forged bonds throughout his life.  In the shady world of boxing, it is refreshing to discover that the attributes Atlas has held on to from his various teachers were those of honesty and loyalty, as well as the desire to speak the truth to the best of his ability.  Atlas completes his tale by returning to the seeds of commitment to social causes sown in him by none other than the father who haunted his development.



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