By Barry Janoff
January 22, 2016: The event was supposed to be about the upcoming welterweight fight between Manny Pacquiao — who said this would be his last pro fight — and Timothy Bradley Jr.
It also was about why veteran trainer Teddy Atlas returned to ring after four years to train Timothy Bradley
In what he said would be his final fight after an illustrious 20-year career, Pacquiao will be going up against not just Bradley but Bradley's trainer.
Atlas, a long-time fixture in boxing gyms and in the ring since the 1970s, has been an analyst and commentator mainly with ESPN since 1998, a role he focused on in 2011 after his fighter, Alexander Povetkin, won the WBA heavyweight title against Rusian Chagaev.
Atlas returned to training in 2015 to work with Timothy Bradley Jr., who last November successfully defended his welterweight title against Brandon Rios.
Atlas is now in the spotlight again with Bradley, preparing for the third fight between "Desert Storm" and Manny Pacquiao, scheduled for April 9.
"When you look at a fighter, it goes beyond lefts and rights. A person has to have character, and I saw that in (Bradley)," said Atlas during a pre-fight media conference in The Theater in New York's Madison Square Garden on Thursday (Jan. 20). "He's a solid fighter with a great heart. I didn't want to come back to this business if I wasn't going to be around a person with those kinds of strengths."
Atlas has been a controversial figure, often a lightning rod, in the fight game dating back to his time in the 1980s training Mike Tyson, not only for his actions but for his shoot-from-the-hip comments. Speaking about his return to the ring after four years did little to smooth that image.
"I felt good being around (Bradley). I didn't feel good being around this business any more," said Atlas. "I was commentating for 20 years but to get involved to the point where I am responsible for a human being in the ring, I didn't want to take on that responsibility. I didn't like it any more. But this gave me a chance to like it again. To trust it again."
The fact that his fighter would be able to put a negative exclamation point on the legacy of Pacquiao did not go beyond Atlas' observations.
"You have to know what you are facing," said Atlas. "I knew (last year) going into (Bradley's) camp, that we were going to be facing a fire. What was Rios' greatest strength: That he was going to be relentless. He was going to bring heat. So our theme throughout camp was to handle the fire, handle the flames. They were gong to come. They were going to come. And when the moment came, I reminded him of that. Just doing my job.
"Both of these fighters have been in their share of Super Bowls," Atlas said, referencing the NFL's upcoming Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. Then, switching gears to the presidential election this November, as well as Pacquiao's position in his native Philippine as a congressman in the House of representatives and his upcoming run at a senate seat, Atlas said, "For Manny, this is the final debate. You can say goodbye to him as a fighter, but he will be fighting other fights as a politician."
Despite his retirement pronouncement, some have their doubts that Pacquiao would not return to the ring.
"Is this Manny Pacquiao's last fight?" asked iconic promoter Bob Arum during the media event. "I don't know. He says it is and we have to take him at his word."
"Sad to say," Pacquiao said moments later, "this is my last fight."
Atlas has been in that position, seemingly haven worked in the ring for the last time in 2011. But he returned, fueled by words of wisdom from his daughter Nicole.
"She reminded me that at the end of the day, we are who we are. If we are teachers, we are teachers. At the end of the day, if you are a teacher, what speaks to you? The chance to help somebody," said Atlas.
"I am looking forward to this fight between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley," said Arum. "We will see how much Manny has recovered from shoulder surgery and whether he has been able to retain all of his power. We saw in Tim's last fight a new, improved Tim Bradley thanks and largely due to his astute trainer Teddy Atlas.
"One thing is for sure, this fight will be vastly different from the first two these two warriors have had," said Arum.
Putting it into perspective, however, Atlas said, "Not that I'm doing anything great. Don't get carried away. I'm helping the homeless get off the streets and that type of work (via The Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, a community service organization created in honor of his father, which provides financial, legal and emotional support to individuals in need). Which is the most important kind of work.
"But if you can help somebody get better, that means something. Sometimes you have a responsibility to say, Yes, we can do that," said Atlas. "Sometimes we help ourselves. I understand that. But if we can help somebody, and if they think they can be helped by you, what's a greater privilege. What's a greater gift."
Tickets for the Pacquiao-Bradley welterweight championship fight went on sale today (Jan. 22), with the event being promoted by Top Rank in association with MP Promotions and produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View.
"I didn't want to take on that responsibility. I didn't like it any more. But this gave me a chance to like it again. To trust it again."
All to much less fanfare than Pacquiao's fight last May versus Flloyd Mayweather Jr., which also took place in the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
It also is the first time that Atlas would be in a corner opposite long-time trainer Freddie Roach, according to boxing analysts, who has been in Pacquiao's entourage for some 15 years. The two have, however, thrown verbal jabs at each other for years.
"You have to know what you are facing," Atlas said about his new life inside the training camp of Bradley. "I knew (last year) going into (Bradley's) camp, that we were going to be facing a fire. What was Rios' greatest strength: That he was going to be relentless. He was going to bring heat. So our theme throughout camp was to handle the fire, handle the flames. They were gong to come. They were going to come. And when the moment came, I reminded him of that."
Then, summing up a career that has seen him in the corner of several boxing champs, Atlas said, "Just doing my job."