Trainer Talk: Roach and Atlas Differ on Approach While Eyeing the Same Outcome

Photos: Casey McPerry

By Gordon Marino

Boxing trainers often talk as though they were in the ring with their fighters. After a bout, the guys with the Q-tips in their ears might bluster, "We threw a lot of punches tonight." Wait. We threw a lot of punches?  It's comical unless you understand that there is no relationship in sports closer than the bond between a fighter and his trainer.

Manny Pacquiao has frequently acknowledged that Freddie Roach has been a father to him. Although Timothy Bradley Jr. has been working with Teddy Atlas for less than a year, he talks about Atlas as though he were his personal reservoir of self-confidence and grit.

For Saturday's rubber match between Pacquiao and Bradley, there has been almost as much ink spilt on the matchup between Roach and Atlas as between the combatants themselves. There is no love lost between these gurus of the American martial art.

Early on in the promotion, when asked what Bradley's biggest mistake was Roach tried to hold back, but then grinned and volunteered that the biggest mistake was firing Joel Diaz and hiring "the announcer" Teddy Atlas.

Atlas, who is prone to volcanic eruptions, sneered at Roach for taking selfies with Manny as they made their way to the ring for the historic encounter with Mayweather, and over the last month he has barely been able contain his dislike of the seven-time trainer of the year.

For all their differences, Roach and Atlas have a good deal in common, and it is not just their heavyweight egos. Both boxing field generals are aggressive and like to press the attack button on their fighters. Both are keen-eyed tacticians who spend countless hours breaking down videos, trying to find an exploitable glitch in their opponent's method of violence.

However, temperamentally, the two men are a study in contrasts. Atlas approaches the ring as a sacred arena in which character is revealed and hopefully developed. He stresses moral fiber as much as muscle fiber. When his fighters fail to war on the inside, Atlas will treat it as breakdown of the spirit, rather than a flaw in execution or conditioning.

Roach's attitude towards the world of the ring is less reverent. A veteran of 53 professional fights, the Massachusetts native regards boxing as entertainment and a way for some rare birds to make a living.

In the gym and under the klieg lights, Roach is calm and pastoral. He will often begin his instructions with a softly spoken, "son" you need to do this or that. Roach flows with his fighters as he directs them. He doesn't try to mold them into one style. When it comes to training, Manny decides when camp begins. In many ways, Roach resembles his mentor, Eddie Futch, who even in the white heat of the Thrilla in Manila quietly doled out his instructions to Joe Frazier without a whiff of drama.  

The understudy to Cus D'Amato, Atlas gives the impression of someone who would have much preferred being a fighter to being the one teaching the art of fighting.  A martinet with a Broadway flair, Atlas is is more Lombardi than Belichick.

In 1994, after a lazy round in which his boxer Michael Moorer was supposed to be trying to wrest the heavyweight title from Evander Holyfield, Atlas blocked Moorer's path to the stool and muttered something to the effect, "Do you want me to take over?" Many thought Atlas went way too far in inserting himself into to the fray, but mind you – Moorer usurped the heavyweight crown that night.

In the later frames of Bradley's November victory over Brandon Rios, Atlas warned his man that Rios would be going for broke. Inches from Bradley's face and with the veins popping in his neck, Atlas screamed, "What are we? We're fireman. And what do fireman do? They put out fires!" Roach chuckles at that kind of cheerleading. But mind you – Bradley then went on to do something Pacquiao failed to do. He stopped Rios in the ninth.

Atlas's temper, scenes, and need for control have soured some of his boxing relationships. And yet any trainer worth his jar of Vaseline will tell you, different fighters need different things.

After a couple of lackluster performances, Bradley needed someone to light a fuse under him, to teach him something new and to take control, to drive him as though he were a vehicle of violence. Atlas has done that. At a recent press conference, Bradley effused, "Teddy is always on me.  He's a guy that cares.  He's a guy that loves.  He's a guy that knows what he's doing. He's a guy that believes in what he's doing and he's a guy that believes in me. We are a dynamic duo..." We are one.

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As for x's and o's, on Saturday night Roach will press Manny to keep plying the same winning formula with Bradley. Move in and out. Throw combinations, slide to the side and detonate another series of shots.  If you hurt him stay on him.

Roach will sometimes break with established technique, if it greases big offensive payoffs. On the other hand, Atlas is more of a stickler for boxing basics. While complimenting former trainer Joel Diaz on making Bradley a five-time world champion, Atlas observed that Bradley was getting a little sloppy and beginning to absorb too many punches. While prodding his charge to maintain his high punch output and to work on the inside, Atlas will push Bradley to use his wheels more, to increase his lateral movement and deliver packages of punishment while avoiding the concussive return mail from his iconic rival.