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Mike Tyson: Former trainer reminisces about training freakishly-good teen

Lee Cleveland Updated
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Recently, RINGTV.com caught up with famed boxing trainer Teddy Atlas to discuss the fighters he's trained since the late 1970s.

Now 63, the Staten island-based mentor has trained a lot of top boxers through the years including Michael Moorer, Wilfred Benitez, Tim Bradley, Alexander Povetkin, Shannon Briggs, Simon Brown, Michael Grant, Barry McGuigan and, of course, played a role in the cultivation of a very young Mike Tyson.

A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Atlas currently trains undefeated WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

“I was fortunate to work with a few special fighters over the years,” Atlas told RINGTV.com. “Not that I deserved it, I was 21 years old and I was with a great man, the great Cus D’Amato. He was my mentor and because I was with him, he got sent a fighter named Wilfred Benitez. You could call him a protege."

So, who does Atlas rate as the best overall?

"...I would say Benitez overall was the package. He was a special fighter," Atlas told RINGTV.com .

“The youngest fighter to ever win a world title. that record will never be eclipsed. When you think about the enormity of it, it’s mind-boggling. He won a world title when he was 17 years old. What do kids do at 17? They’re not winning world titles against great fighters like Antonio Cervantes.”

"... Boxing is about hitting and not getting hit, Benitez was doing it at the highest level since he was 17 and when beat Cervantes. Benitez was the guy.

What about Mike Tyson? Where does he rank?

Well, Atlas insists Mike is the best punching and most physically durable fighter he's trained.

NB: We don't know if Teddy was ever Mike's head trainer but, as one of Cus D'Amato's pupils, he played a significant role in the development of an amateur Tyson and was present when the then-12-year-old first walked in the gym.

While Atlas rates Benitez as his best fighter overall, he suggests Mike had the best raw talent of any fighter he's mentored this far and insists Tyson could have been even better if not for the young man's presumed lack of willpower.

"As far as most pure, God-given talent, raw, from the earliest stage that you saw, it would have to be a 12-year-old Tyson, who was 190 pounds but no fat."

"He had to impress me and Cus; he had to box his first day with a 27-year-old man who was a professional fighter and he was able to do that," Teddy told RINGTV.com.

"Anyone who could be knocking out men when he’s 12, 13 years old is a pretty damn good puncher. He learned the technique to make you miss and catch you clean but power’s power and punchers are born not made."

"Tyson’s maybe one of the best punchers in history. When you’re developing a guy who’s 12 years old and you can’t put him in with kids to spar because there are none and so you’re hiring sparring partners and they’re men and he’s hurting them and knocking them out."

atlas announce

One of the biggest personalities in boxing, Atlas is also known as a skillful, nuts-and-bolts commentator.

"Mike Tyson [also] had a tremendous chin and he had a helluva neck for shock absorbers. His neck was close to 20 inches. If you trace his career, he didn’t disappear straight away. He took those shots."

"What wasn’t strong was his will; that’s what cracked. His will cracked before his chin. He absorbed those punches and he took big punches before he got knocked out. He showed a chin to handle those punches at a very high level. His will wasn’t nearly as strong as his chin," Teddy opined to RINGTV.com.

Mike Tyson was, at best, the third best heavyweight during his era (Second to Lewis and Holyfield), yet his mystique is that of a dominant legend. And yes, Mike was clearly the best heavyweight in the world from 1986 to 1990 and was dominant at the time.

Until the loss to Buster Douglas in February 1990, no one in the heavyweight division had come close to defeating during his 3 1/2 year reign as champion.

And despite his presumed flaws inside and outside the ring, Mike was everything the mainstream public wants to see in a fighter. There was a special electricity generated when he walked in the ring.

He was exciting, fearless, extremely skilled, very quick and had incredible punching power in both hands. Moreover, he had a killer instinct second to none.

I would have loved to get Atlas's perspective on the challenges and advantages of training shorter heavyweights. At 5'10 1/2", Mike Tyson deserves tremendous credit for dominating much taller, rangier top contenders.

Being a short heavyweight isn't easy; Anyone who has boxed would attest to that. All other things being equal, a skilled fighter with a much longer reach will have a sizeable advantage. It's like basketball in some ways.... A player under 6'2" has to be extra special to succeed in the NBA.

Had a young Tyson stayed focused and disciplined who knows how great he could have been?


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