"He's at the point where he has to fish or cut bait, and he's doing it. He's had a nice comeback and I applaud him for that. I happen to have a little bit of a soft spot for Zab anyway because I have known him since he was a little kid. I'm glad...I think it's a great step for him because he's at the point of his career where they gotta be meaningful fights and they gotta be big fights and fights that move you somewhere and take you somewhere. So this makes sense for Zab, there is no doubt about that. I think this is the kind of fight that, his experience and his physical skillsets that are still there, even at a later age in his career, they are still there and of course he is a southpaw on top of it, so it can put him in a position where it gets interesting. Obviously he has to deal with a guy with a good wingspan and really good reach, and a guy who is obviously younger and just won the title. And at least in theory, you would think that the roof still has room to be raised as far as upside and him finding himself and room to develop, whereas Zab, what you see is what you get. He's at that point in his career. You would think that you recognize some of the problems. He has to deal with a long-arm guy and a guy who throws a straight right hand. Guys that can throw nice straight right hands usually give southpaws trouble and there is no doubt that Khan has the kind of arsenal that can give Zab some kind of trouble," stated ESPN commentator and world-class trainer Teddy Atlas as he talked about this weekend's jr. welterweight title unification between champions Amir Khan and Zab Judah. In this in-depth exclusive, Atlas discusses the importance of the mental and emotional makeup of a fighter and how that has changed in today's fighters, ultimately impacting the sport. Plus, you don't want to miss what he had to say about David Haye, Saul Alvarez, Wladimir Klitschko and much more.
PC: You picked a little fun at the Haye/Klitschko fight, telling Wolak and Rodriguez if they could put on 70 pounds, they could have beaten either one of those guys. Obviously you were underwhelmed by that fight.
TA: I just thought the opportunity was there for Haye, but he didn't reach out and grab it, which a lot of guys don't when they get in with Klitschko. They get intimidated by a combination of size and the strength in the right hand. But just the lacking of discipline and confidence and overall package of commitment that it takes nowadays to get the job done, it's not just physical ability, but it's the commitment and desire to get things done and the urgency to get things done. You just have to have an overall need to know that there is an opportunity there and you need to reach that opportunity from a mental and emotional level as much as any kind of physical output. These guys are just not solid mentally anymore for the most part, a lot of these fighters. You go back to the 20's, 30's and 40's, those guys behaved like fighters. If there was an opportunity to get to a fighter, they had the fortitude to get to them. And not just physically and technically, but mentally and emotionally because they were invested in one thing, if there was an opportunity to do something, you do it. You don't draw a line. These guys draw a line and say, "I'll do enough to survive," or "I'll do enough to be competitive," or "I'll do enough to see what happens." But from a mental standpoint, back in the old days, in anything in our society and as far as a professional place of work, guys wanted to do what was there to do. They had the attitude and there was a hardness. There was a hunger to do whatever it is you were there to do.
If you had a carpenter in the old days and the carpenter came to your house and something wasn't just right with those cabinets, you couldn't throw the damn guy out of your house. He would stay there. He didn't care about the money or getting two more days pay because he was going to be there two more days. He cared about his reputation. He cared that he was supposed to get that done at a certain level and a certain standard. You couldn't throw him out of there without him saying, "I'm coming back tomorrow and I'm going to smooth that out; I'm going to add that and I didn't figure on that, so I'm going to come here and build that up a little bit more." And he would do it because that's what he did because he was a freaking carpenter and he took pride in what he did. There was a demand to be everything that he is supposed to be. The same thing with a doctor. A doctor didn't say, "Well, you don't have the coverage, I can't finish the job. I can't come and do a house call because I don't get paid extra for that." No, because they were committed to the job. They were committed to the profession; that they were supposed to behave at all times like a doctor and do what a doctor should do, and that's take care of that patient to whatever level it meant to go to. It was the same thing with the ball player; everything. It wasn't just about what they were getting paid. There was an urgency. It was a developed and committed urgency in everybody to be everything that you could be. That's all a guy like Haye would need to beat a Klitschko. The opportunity was there. He was standing straight up where you couldn't miss him if you stepped...all he had to do was 3 things; step to him behind your jab, move your head, and then throw the right hand. And then once you caught him with the right hand, just stay in position to throw other punches. Continue to step to him because once you caught him, he was going to pull straight back to try and defend himself. He wasn't going to weave or slip; he was going to pull straight back, and he was going to continue to be vulnerable.
But guys don't do that. They throw one punch and that's it because again, there is not any urgency or commitment to go in after what's there. They are already satisfied that they are getting paid a lot of money in the fight and there is no need to step over the line. There is not even a thought or connection to have to think that way. Again, back in the old days, the ball players or whatever they did or whatever profession they happened to be committed to, they had the attitude of, "I'm not only going to give you $50 worth because you paid $50." They were going to do everything that was part of being whatever it is that they were. You can see that that's just not the case. And like I said about Wolak and Rodriguez, if the heavyweights, with their ability and the size and their physical assets that they have, if they had that approach and that hunger...if you want to use a simple word and you just want to say hunger or urgency or commitment, they would all knock out Klitschko. I'm not joking. They would knock Klitschko out every freaking Saturday night that they fought him (laughing). Because the opportunity is there and it's so basic and obvious and so there. You just have to know what you are doing and have a certain amount of physical ability. But these guys do have enough physical ability. Haye had enough physical ability. It's the attachment with that physical ability is what I'm talking about. That's what they don't have. They don't have that, "I'm going to go after him. There is a chance to get him this way, so you know what? That's what I'm going to do until I get him." But that's unfortunately a lacking area in the heavyweight boxing game and a major disconnect in that. The old time fighters, they all had it. Some were better than others. Some of them had better physical abilities and different styles, but every one of them had the mental capacity to be able to go in there and behave like a fighter and do what was there to be done.
PC: One thing that you touch on when asked, and it's a part of your commentary that I enjoy because I'm always saying the same thing, but we are in an era where media and fans alike are quick to deem something as "the best prospect we've seen" or "the greatest knockout that we've seen" or whatever. You have kinda coined the phrase, "Let's slow down a bit." Whether it's talking about Saul Alvarez or James Kirkland, you always seem to bring boxing back to reality when questioned about guys like that.
TA: I appreciate that you see that. It does frustrate me. I mean, they are making this big thing about Alvarez. Are you kidding me? Who has he beaten? I'm taking nothing away from the kid and I will be the first one there to give him his accolades when the time comes, but slow down a little bit, like we just said. You're trying to anoint him with the royals already. Give him a chance to show you what he really is or what he isn't because we haven't seen that yet. Give him a chance to fight guys who will bring that out in him. He has fought handpicked guys and he has been put in very opportune situations. And he's done what he's needed to do...okay, but he hasn't fought anyone that is really pressing him and really going to show us some of the other dimensions or shadows that might be there with him. And some of the hollow spots that I have a feeling may very well be there, he hasn't been in those situations to find that out yet. So before you start comparing him to these great fighters from Mexico, or anywhere else, get a hold of yourself, really. I mean, sometimes these people just drive me crazy. And stop getting angry at me because I'm not sending him to the Hall of Fame after 4 fights or because I'm not putting him up there with some of the great fighters in the history of this sport. Get a little bit realistic and get a little honest with yourself. And I know being a fan means that you can do what you want to a certain respect and you can go out there and jump up and down and make these kind of statements, but have a little responsibility; just a little bit...maybe not as much as someone else has to have that has to report on the fight and has to make judgments on a fight to the extent that I do, but have a little responsibility and a little bit of honesty about it and a little bit of open-mindedness. Because really, they get carried away. I mean, Alvarez has a very careful temperament. He stands straight up, he punches pretty sharp and pretty precise; not bad on the offensive end for that extent, but again, there are the signs there to me, from the viewpoint that I'm looking at, that tell me buyer beware a little bit, and before you start saying this is the next Chavez and this is the next Salvador Sanchez and the next Reuben Olivera, take a deep breathe. Take a deep breathe.
PC: Zab Judah has more lives than a cat, but many people feel he is on his 9th life. Is this Amir Khan a good fight for Zab in your mind or is this the end of the party?
TA: He's at the point where he has to fish or cut bait, and he's doing it. He's had a nice comeback and I applaud him for that. I happen to have a little bit of a soft spot for Zab anyway because I have known him since he was a little kid. I'm glad...I think it's a great step for him because he's at the point of his career where they gotta be meaningful fights and they gotta be big fights and fights that move you somewhere and take you somewhere. So this makes sense for Zab, there is no doubt about that. I think this is the kind of fight that, his experience and his physical skillsets that are still there, even at a later age in his career, they are still there and of course he is a southpaw on top of it, so it can put him in a position where it gets interesting. Obviously he has to deal with a guy with a good wingspan and really good reach, and a guy who is obviously younger and just won the title. And at least in theory, you would think that the roof still has room to be raised as far as upside and him finding himself and room to develop, whereas Zab, what you see is what you get. He's at that point in his career. You would think that you recognize some of the problems. He has to deal with a long-arm guy and a guy who throws a straight right hand. Guys that can throw nice straight right hands usually give southpaws trouble and there is no doubt that Khan has the kind of arsenal that can give Zab some kind of trouble. But like I said, the experience of Zab...and one other thing that comes to mind that I find can make things very interesting, that can be the fly in the ointment for Khan so to speak, is that I've seen a little subtle change in Zab. You usually don't see that at Zab's age. I think it's in his attitude since he left his father. And I'm taking nothing away from his father. He' done a good job. He's won world titles with him, so let me say that first. I applaud him for the job that he's done with him, but it's always difficult, father and son; always. There is always strain and other dimensions there because it's a father and son. It's a kid who you were changing his diapers and blowing his nose. He's your blood and now you're sending him into an arena and it's the opposite of the instincts of a father, which is to take his son away from danger. Now you're pushing him into it, so that's always a difficult mission; always for anybody. And they've done a good job with it, but I have, since he's been with Pernell...maybe it's just the time where he's at in his life. Maybe that's what it is, the age he's at and the things that he's looking at differently now, but I do see a little maturity with Zab that wasn't always there. I see a little bit more mental stabilization, a little emotional stabilization, and I see it as a good thing. I don't know to what extent it's going to show itself in the ring. So far, I see it as a positive, as I said, to where in the past, if there was a weakness there...because he's always had a good skillset and he had a good amateur background and obviously good experience because he's been in with a lot of good fighters, but where he's come up short were always in the big fights; the tough fights where you separate yourself and the ones where you get judged on for your legacy. He always came up as much mentally short as he did any other area. Where he would just come up a little bit short in...whether you want to call it the mental toughness areas, maybe not even the mental toughness, but just in the decisions and choices to be consistent where he had to be consistent; just in those mental areas. That's definitely part of his shortcomings or downfalls, if you want to say it that way, was in those kind of fights. And it's still something that's going to be tested and tells how he does in this fight. It's still going to come to those areas. There is no doubt in my mind that it will come to those areas, but like I said, I have seen recently, in those combacks that he's made at this point in his life, I see a little maturity. I see Zab being a little more comfortable with himself. I think that's fair to say. He understands himself and his identity better and he's got grips on it a little bit better. I think...if I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing, and I believe my judgment that I am seeing that, that's going to have to show itself for him to pull off the upset in this fight.
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