Teddy Atlas III is the spitting image of his dad — or would be, if it weren't for the scar that runs north-south down the left side of the elder Teddy Atlas' face from his temple to below his chin, like a road map to his troubled past. You know, the one carved into his skin by an enemy's knife during a street fight, the one that took 400 stitches to repair.
That scar helps to define Theodore Alfred Atlas Jr., the bombastic boxing trainer and commentator. His son is seeking his own definitions. Theodore Alfred Atlas III is the Oakland Raiders' scouting coordinator.
"Everybody asked me, &‘Why didn't you get into boxing? Why didn't you get into boxing?'" Atlas III said. "One of the things was, I always felt my father's shoes would be too big to fill, and I didn't want to be in his shadow."
Teddy Atlas Jr. does cast a sizable shadow. He made his name as a trainer, working with the likes of two-time heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and light heavyweight champ Donny LaLonde. Atlas Jr. is perhaps best known for his six years at Cus D'Amato's legendary Catskill Boxing Club, where he trained the teenage Mike Tyson for four years.
Atlas Jr. still works some corners — most recently handling undefeated Russian heavyweight Alexander Provetkin until the two had a falling-out over where the fighter would train — but now spends much more time behind a microphone. He joined ESPN2 as a ringside analyst for "Friday Night Fights" in 1998, and has graduated to ESPN boxing specials and frequent guest spots on "Sports Center" and ESPNEWS. He covered Olympic boxing for NBC in August.
But if Atlas Jr.'s boxing acumen allowed him to rise in the sport, it's his outsize personality that has made him famous. The scar, the Staten Island accent, the police record — he did time on Rikers Island for armed robbery — and the way he talks with his lip curled into a snarl make him a symbol of toughness in a profession where grit is everything. And yes, Atlas Jr. has the gift of gab. In a recent phone interview, The Press Democrat asked him three questions; the conversation lasted approximately 42 minutes.
Most of all, Atlas Jr. knows how to make a scene. There was the time he ranted against a Michigan fight official after Courtney Burton was awarded a split decision over Emanuel Augustus, saying on-air, "There should be an investigation. This is what's wrong with boxing." And of course the time Atlas Jr. put a gun to Tyson's head after the young boxer reputedly made a sexual advance on the trainer's 11-year-old relative.
At the London Games, Olympic officials ordered Atlas Jr. and his co-commentator, Bob Papa, away from center ringside because they were "disturbing" boxing officials. Atlas Jr. had been vocally critical of the Olympic judging. Offered seats farther from the action, he and Papa chose to leave the venue entirely.
Teddy Atlas III, 27, is fully aware of his father's reputation, and seems to accept it with a mixture of pride and amusement. He shares the accent, but not necessarily the demeanor.
"I have the same principles as him, and the same traits in that aspect," Atlas III said. "But I'd say my sister (Nicole) has got a little more of the bulldog in her. She's a lawyer, and she doesn't take no crap from anybody. ... I'd say I'm a little more laid-back than him."
Atlas III idolized his father from a young age.
Atlas Jr. remembers taking his son to Gleason's Gym in Manhattan when the boy was about 3 years old. When they arrived, Ira Becker, the proprietor of Gleason's, kiddingly asked Teddy III for his boxing license.
"And without a hesitation — I'll never forget this, I don't care how old I get — he puts his hand in his pocket, and he whips out one of my licenses, and he shows it to Ira," Atlas Jr. said. "And Ira looks at it, and he say, &‘OK, come on in.' "
Unbeknownst to anyone else in the family, Atlas III had been hoarding his father's expired state licenses and stashing them in a drawer — ready to use on just such an occasion.
Atlas III would like the rest of the world to see his father's softer side, beginning with his charitable work. In 1997, Atlas Jr. started the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, named to honor his father, a Staten Island family doctor who never said no to a midnight house call. The foundation mostly provides assistance to families who can't afford medical treatment or medication. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it turned into an impromptu disaster-relief organization, handing out food, water, clothing and, after the initial devastation, cleaning supplies and gift cards to Home Depot.