By Johnny Walker
A frustrated Teddy Atlas, trainer (for now, at least) of Russian heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin (21-0, 15 KOs) , struggled today to explain how it is that his fighter has only had a 3-week training camp in preparation for the most important fight of his career, a clash with former WBA heavyweight title holder Ruslan Chagaev (27-1-1, 17 KOs) this Saturday in Efurt, Germany for the WBA title.
In a conference call held by EPIX, the cable company which is showing the fight in the United States (along with the co-main event, a heavyweight clash between rising star Robert Helenius and former WBO heavyweight king Sergei Liakhovich), Atlas expressed frustration with the goings on in the Povetkin camp, but noticeably made no mention of the previous target of his ire, Povetkin’s promoter Kalle Sauerland of Sauerland Event.
“Look, either I’m going to keep my damn mouth shut and say nothing, which I probably should do sometimes, or I’m going to tell the truth,” Atlas said.
“So since I did tell EPIX I would talk to you guys when they asked me if I would, I’m going to tell you the truth. I’m going to tell you that I’d feel more comfortable if I had more time. Do I feel we’ve done the best that we could do in these conditions, in these circumstances? Yes, I do. That I think we did a pretty good job and I think my fighter did a good job, the best we could. But would I feel – as I said, would I feel better if I had a full eight week camp, which is what I usually would like to have? Yes, I’d feel better.”
And why didn’t Atlas have more time to prepare his fighter? There is no clear answer. Atlas claims that he had an agreement that Povetkin would train with him in America until he was finished with his obligations as the analyst for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. That agreement was broken, for reasons that are murky at best, but then, after a rather pitiful call from Povetkin (“He speaks very few words in English, and he just said, ‘Teddy, I call to say hello.’”), Atlas “just said to hell with it, I’m not going to have this kid, even though the situation is what it is and it’s become what it is and it didn’t have to become what it became and it shouldn’t have became what it became and all of that crap.
“It is what it is. I’m either not or I am. And I just said, ‘I’m going to go over there. I’m not going to have this kid thinking that he was just left alone.’ You know if he didn’t get the full information and he may never get the full infor … I’m just not going to have him thinking that,” said Atlas.
The elephant in the room here, of course, is Kalle Sauerland. Back in January, Sauerland was quoted as saying he disapproved of Povetkin’s decision to hire Atlas as trainer. Atlas responded with an angry outburst at Sauerland on the boxing site bokser.org, calling the promoter a “punk” who has “always been protected by his father’s money.”
Atlas also said that the real reason he pulled Povetkin out of a fight with world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko was because Sauerland Event was too greedy. “It was a $2 million purse, and after it was over, [Povetkin] wasn’t going to have anything, hardly…that’s what the case was gonna be,” Atlas said at the time. “I thought it was criminal that they were prepared to do that.”
Kalle Sauerland hasn’t been the only one to question the bizarre path that Povetkin’s career has been on since Atlas took over the reins, however. Atlas has had Povetkin fighting opponents who might have been at home in one of those Andy Warhol paintings of tomato soup cans, and the fighter’s confidence has ebbed to the point where he recently mused out loud about returning to amateur status to again fight in the Olympics (he won a gold medal for Russia in 2004).
Atlas said today that he is “as nervous as I’ve ever been. You’re always nervous before a fight because it’s important. It’s important to you, it’s important to the person who is fighting. It’s going to carve out part of their life that’s going to stay with them forever. I’ve never felt this way in my life, getting on a plane for a fight where I had as many worries and doubts and reservations….”
Atlas has good reason to worry. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to imagine Kalle Sauerland rubbing his hands together with glee as the always tough Ruslan Chagaev, the man who handed Russian giant Nikolai Valuev his first loss, takes out an ill-prepared Povetkin, with Atlas being given the blame, and the boot, in the aftermath.
Povetkin can always fight another day. Under a new trainer.