From troubled kid to charitable champ

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE, 2006-06-09

Teddy Atlas stars in a new arena.

Teddy Atlas — the famous author — was busy yesterday evening taking care of some interviews in a room off the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn.

So intent was one of the last real knock-around guys on the planet that he didn’t notice when the big, square-shouldered man with the short-cropped hair slid into the seat next to him.

Former heavyweight champ Michael Moorer had to nudge his one-time trainer to get his attention.

Moorer had found his way from a development project in Florida in which he’s involved to be with the man who walked away from the then-champ, and an $800,000 payday, back in 1997.

The crux of that little dust-up was a dispute on principle.

At the time, Atlas didn’t think his fighter was taking the game seriously enough. So he refused to train him. It was no small decision to make for a husband, and the father of two young children.

Moorer was a comer back then, a talented guy who was going to make some real money in the fight game whether he trained properly or not. Atlas knew that, and he could have just stuck around for the ride.

But he didn’t.

He walked out of the gym and didn’t return because what was unfolding there wasn’t what he believed in.

That’s a little different approach, wouldn’t you say, from that other recent author, Ann Coulter? Coulter’s book tour kicked off this week with some seemingly gratuitous shots at a bunch of 9/11 widows.

It’s hard to imagine the purpose of the tirades as anything more than an effort to pump book sales.

MAN OF HIS WORD

You can bet sales are the last thing on Atlas’ mind.

“That’s why I love him,” Moorer was saying last night, at a signing for Atlas’ memoirs, “Atlas.” The subtitle is “From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man.” “Teddy says and does what he believes,” Moorer continued. “It’s the man he is.”

Atlas is 49 now.

He isn’t the same supercharged personality who broke into the fight game as a teen-ager, a kid on the run from trouble on Staten Island. And who wound up working upstate for the legendary trainer Cus D’Amato.

He’s calmer than he was in those days.

(Though given enough provocation, he still might stick a pistol in Mike Tyson’s face, the way he did all those years ago at the Catskills camp where Atlas was training the troubled, unruly kid from Brooklyn.)

Atlas makes his living as an ESPN boxing analyst.

The job can get hectic.

Yesterday afternoon he rushed to the book signing following a Wednesday night gig in Atlantic City.

And he’ll be back in AC again tonight for another show. He works two fights a week for almost half the year. It’s a pace that keeps Atlas on the road from coast to coast most of the time.

He spends many of his nights at home lying on the floor in his Todt Hill den watching fight films.

“I try and do it right,” he says of the television job. “I do my homework.”

HIS LABOR OF LOVE

When he is not involved in the TV chores, there’s his labor of love. That’s the work he does with the charity he founded on Staten Island, The Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation. It’s named for his physician father, a legend in his own right.

Over the last decade, the kid who was always on the verge of ruining his future by being involved in one scrape or another has grown into the man who has fashioned a local organization that raises — and spends — upwards of $100,000 each year on emergency charity work in the community.

In fact, last night’s event at the Hilton was a fund-raiser for the Atlas Foundation.

He says that’s part of the reason he wrote the book.

“I thought I might be able to generate some more money and interest for the foundation,” he says.

What makes the book interesting is that Atlas has lived a life, a real honest-to-goodness, up-and-down life.

There were the scrambling teen-age years on Staten Island, followed by the time he worked with D’Amato, and Tyson, in the Catskills.

After that, Atlas trained fighters in and around the city, taking breaks here and there to work with interested amateurs like actor Willem Dafoe and then Gambino family underboss Sammy Gravano.

The book chronicles his time with Moorer, when he beat Evander Holyfield for the title, and when Moorer lost the title to George Foreman via a 10th-round knockout.

LOOKING AT LIFE

But mostly the memoir addresses his relationships with his father, and his fighters, and the personal philosophy he has cobbled out of it all.

The positive feedback he has received has a lot to do with that portion of the writings.

“I think the story reflects people’s own lives,” Atlas said. “I deal with the type of things we all have to deal with, and there’s a connection there.”

It took almost two years for the book project to move from beginning to end. Atlas sat and talked for hours with co-author Peter Alson in the Brooklyn Heights apartment of Alson’s uncle, novelist and boxing enthusiast Norman Mailer.

They worked and reworked the chapters.

“No e-mails,” said Atlas. “I don’t use them. We faxed everything back and forth.”

Is he happy with the results, which have received favorable reviews and some talk of a movie deal?

“I’m happy enough,” said one of the last of the knock-around guys. “How happy are you supposed to be?”

Cormac Gordon is a columnist for the Advance. He may be reached at gordon@siadvance.com.

CAP: Richard Gabor of New Springville, left, has Teddy Atlas sign a book for his father-in-law who was a boxer in the Navy. At the table with Atlas is boxing champ Michael Moorer.

CAP: Boxing champ Michael Moorer, left, chats with his former trainer, Teddy Atlas, during Atlas’ book signing event at the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield, while Atlas’ daughter Nicole looks on.

CRED: STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE/JOSHUA CARP