Teddy Atlas Talks Upcoming Title Bout
Having the promotional muscle of ESPN behind that heavyweight title fight, featuring WBC heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko defending his belt against Juan Carlos Gomez, will undoubtedly be good for the sport. But when I talked to ESPN boxing commentator Teddy Atlas this week, he cautioned that boxing has problems that the Klitschko vs. Gomez fight can't come close to solving. My interview with Atlas is below.
Michael David Smith: How much promotion do you think ESPN will give the Klitschko fight?
Teddy Atlas: That's up to them. They have the ability to give it as much promotion as they want to give it, and I would hope that they give it a good amount, because they made the decision to pursue the fight. This isn't normally something we'd be doing. We usually do our Friday shows, and this is veering off that. It's taking an opportunity to give our audience something extra, a heavyweight title fight, which I think the audience will appreciate, and I appreciate that ESPN decided to do it. They didn't have to do it. This was something that became and opportunity and they made the decision that it was something they were prepared to pursue, and I would hope they would give it the special promotion to go with that.
How important is it to boxing that a heavyweight title fight will be on ESPN?
I think it's important because when you look at the situation in this country, boxing has almost gotten to the point where it's a cult sport, and that's not how I've always seen it, my whole life. It's gotten put on the sidelines, and it's become an event-driven sport. When it's a big fight, when it's De La Hoya -- and hopefully he's finished -- but if it's De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao or Mayweather, it gets its proper attention. But other than that, you go through the year and there aren't many fights that get the attention of the public the way the sport used to on a regular basis.
Now we don't have what we had in the 80s, with the best fighters fighting the best fighters. Now there's no managers anymore, there's basically just promoters, and the concentration of the promoters is to bulld up a fighter's record so he can fight on HBO or Showtime and make as much money as possible. And it's more about developing the record than it is about developing the fighter or even developing legitimacy with the fan base. Now the only place where the fans can get their fix of boxing is on ESPN. You've got HBO doing their fights, but they only pick their spots for the bigger fights here and there. Same with Showtime. ESPN, for the last 11 years, has really been the lifeblood of the boxing fan. They're the only real network that a boxing fan, week to week, can say, "I'm going to get my fix of boxing, and I'm going to follow the guys who are coming up, and see the next stars."
If the same thing happened in any other sport, you'd have a problem. If you could only see baseball or basketball or football once a month, you'd lose that connection with your fan base. ESPN is the only place, week in and week out, where fans can stay connected to their sport. We've stayed connected through the Friday show, and now we've got this Saturday show coming up with a heavyweight title fight that isn't on pay-per-view, that doesn't cost $50 or $60.
How good a fight is Vitali Klitschko against Juan Carlos Gomez?
Look, I don't think it's gonna be the Thrilla in Manila. I don't think you have too many Thrillas in Manilas anymore. You don't have those kinds of athletes, those kinds of fighters, those kinds of people anymore. I don't think you have that anymore. You have spoiled athletes in most of the sports and boxing is no different. Boxers get paid a lot of money and to a certain extent they treat it like it's a business and they get away with things that the fighters of the past wouldn't have gotten away with.
Klitschko's been away for a long time and he's back now. He's tall, he's long, he has the kind of style where he controls range, he controls distance. He's not a "go get you guy," he's not a "seek and destroy guy." He tries to control his opponent with his long arms, and he's fighting a southpaw, so that brings an interesting dimension into it. He's fighting a guy in Gomez who's also up there in age, not a spring chicken. Klitschko is 37 and Gomez is 35. I think there's going to be a tactical element to it, but I think the physical dimensions of Klitschko -- size, height reach -- at the end of the day I think that's what will lead the way for them.
I'll be interested to see how well ESPN promotes this heavyweight title fight because In my opinion, ESPN doesn't do a good enough job of promoting its boxing properties. It seems like when ESPN has a good football, baseball or basketball game, they beat you over the head with it. But sometimes I'll see a good boxing match on Friday Night Fights and it doesn't even get mentioned on SportsCenter.
I appreciate you saying that. I appreciate the truth and I appreciate you saying the truth. We can promote our sport more. I understand ESPN has a lot of properties. They have responsibilities, financially, to different leagues that bring in bigger fan bases than boxing does. I understand and appreciate that. But we are one of the entities. We've had a good fan base for a long time. The more you promote it, the more you're going to grow it. If you have a plant and you water it a little more, you feed it a little more, it's going to grow a little more.
Maybe boxing is never going to be football or baseball, but we have a fan base out there. A great fan base. And if we promote it, the fans will come to it. I'm not complaining, I'm just making, I think, a fair statement. Boxing fans have been around for centuries. If you tell them about it, they'll come out.
Do you think boxing will ever be as popular again as it was in the 80s?
To do that, there would have to be somebody in charge, leading the sport in a definitive direction. We need a change in philosophy -- there would have to be somebody at home. What I mean by that is we're the only sport without a national commission. That's what I mean by nobody home. There's nobody promoting the sport. Nobody who says, "My responsibility is to make the sport better."
What we have is power brokers and promoters who only care about their little piece of land. They don't care about the overall growth of the sport. They just care about what they're getting. That's not the case in football. They care about the sport from A to Z, and they care about the small-market teams, too. They look at the sport as a whole. Boxing doesn't have that. And until it has that, I don't know if there's ever going to be a solution to these issues.
We need the best fighters fighting the best fighters. We need to do something about these corrupt alphabet organizations, that put guys in title fights because of their relationships with promoters, rather than the merit of the fighters. The best promotion for the business would be the best guys fighting each other. That's what we need, because the fighters are noble. It's the administrators who aren't noble. The fighters are noble, and the fans, for centuries, have recognizedthat. And if you give it to them they're going to come out.
Do you think the rise of mixed martial arts has anything to do with the decline of boxing?
Not at all. A lot of people say that. I think people who say that are ignorant. They just say that because it seems like the thing to say. One of the healthiest things in our society is competition. That's always been good for our American way of life and business as a whole. So competition should be good for boxing. Mixed martial arts is a different entity than boxing. And if there's competition it should be healthy, because it should push one of the businesses -- really both businesses, but just talking about boxing -- it should push boxing to get its own house in order.
Mixed martial arts does a better job of marketing their sport. You hear more about mixed martial arts because they market it better. Boxing doesn't market its sport. The perception is, 'Wow, this stuff has kicked the s**t out of boxing." That's not true. It's just that they talk about the sport.
You brought up a good point about us -- we don't even talk about it enough. The sport does not market itself. There's no one there to do that. So you get the perception that mixed martial arts is really climbing. The reality is, when you see a big fight, whether it's De La Hoya-Pacquiao or De La Hoya-Mayweather, or whatever, you realize -- and I'm not knocking mixed martial arts, I think that sport's good and the participants are tough guys -- but Ultimate Fighting's not a pimple on the ass of boxing.
When you see boxing, with those pay-per-view buys, and one fighter making $40 million and the other fighter making $20 million, you say, "Are you kidding me? You think (the UFC is) making inroads into boxing? No, no, no. They don't come close. Not when it comes to the big fights. But the problem is, that's what boxing has come to, where you only get that one big fight a year or one every two years.That's the problem. You don't have the public talking about all the other fights in between.
Do you think having the Klitschko-Gomez fight on ESPN has the potential to give boxing a shot in the arm, as one of those fights in between that people will talk about?
I don't think those fighters deserve to be in that position. I'm a purist, and I'm not going to give you the bulls**t that someone else is going to give you. I don't think these particular fighters really deserve that status. I don't think any heavyweights today really do, to be quite frank with you. But they are what they are, and they are what we have. So to have a heavyweight title fight on ESPN is a good thing. And it's good that, like the 80s, when great fights were on network TV, you're getting a free fight -- as long as you have the basic cable package -- and that's a good thing. That's bringing you back to when people were connected to boxing more, and they could watch a heavyweight title fight without having to worry about whether they could afford it.
I think it's a good step for us and it's a good step for boxing. But ultimately it's going to come down to how good a fight it is. If it's a good fight, that's a big step. If it's not a good fight, it's still good for the sport to get the exposure, but it's not as big a step. I'm a lifer. I've been in boxing my whole life. Anything that's good for the sport, I get hopeful about. Hopefully, thisis a step toward the sport going where it needs to go.