LAS VEGAS -- Welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. surprised many by dismissing trainer Joel Diaz in the wake of his unanimous decision victory against Jessie Vargas to win a vacant belt on June 27.
After all, Diaz had been the only trainer Bradley had ever had in his 11-year professional career. Together they won five world titles in two weight divisions and Bradley was a regular on the pound-for-pound top 10 list for years.
But Bradley decided to make a change and when he goes into his fight with contender Brandon Rios, a former lightweight titleholder, on Nov. 7 (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, a face very familiar to boxing fans everywhere will be manning his corner.
"I'm very happy. It's a new energy. I want to learn and Teddy's the guy. Teddy is doing this not because of the type of fighter I am, not because of the money. He just wants to help me. He likes me as a person. And I like Teddy."Timothy Bradley Jr.
His new trainer is Teddy Atlas, an accomplished trainer but better known to this generation of fight fans as the ringside analyst for ESPN's boxing coverage.
Bradley is very comfortable with his decision.
"I think it's a good match. We're both crazy," Bradley said with a laugh at ringside during a boxing card last week at the Cosmopolitan, where he was working on a truTV broadcast.
Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs), 32, also spoke to Buddy McGirt, another of boxing's top trainers, but decided to go with Atlas, whom he had to convince to take the gig.
"I think it's a wise choice, man. I'm bringing Albert Einstein out of the grave," Bradley said of Atlas, who has not trained any fighters since 2011. "Teddy has a lot of knowledge in his game. He's old school. I love his temperament. I love the fact that he always challenges you. He challenges me as a fighter. He challenges me mentally and physically. He asks a lot. He don't play. That's what I need right now."
The 59-year-old Atlas was not sure if he wanted to get back into training. The last fighter he worked with was heavyweight Alexander Povetkin, who won a version of a world title under Atlas' guidance in 2011. They worked together for only one more fight after that with Atlas feeling as though Povetkin and his team went back on their word about where the fighter would train for future fights -- in the United States rather than Russia to accommodate Atlas' weekly travel for his job on "Friday Night Fights."
Atlas said it was not an easy decision to commit to Bradley but he said he is ready to go all in now that he has. Atlas will train Bradley in his hometown of Palm Springs, California, and will arrive there Saturday. They'll spend Sunday watching tape and open training camp Monday to get ready for Rios (33-2-1, 24 KOs), 29, of Oxnard, California.
"Timmy called me himself and asked me if I would train him. I had to think about it," Atlas said. "I wasn't sure I would get back into it. As far as stars lining up, (ESPN boxing) going to the once a month schedule makes it easier to do it. It wasn't a decision I hurried into. It's become very easy to say no. I was probably leaning that way."
Atlas was going to turn Bradley down but said before he did he decided to speak to his family. He said he received good advice from his daughter, Nicole, and son Teddy Jr.
"My daughter had told me years ago when I had turned down Povetkin initially, she said, 'Why don't you at least go out there, dad. This is what you do. Why don't you go to Russia and at least make a decision after you see him instead of just saying no,' because I had said no to Povetkin," Atlas said.
So Atlas went to Russia and met with Povetkin. He took him on and two years later they won a heavyweight belt together.
"Nicole said, 'I was right.' And I said, 'Yeah, and I got screwed,'" Atlas said. "She said, 'Dad, you can't control those things. But you're a teacher, you're a trainer and even though you're a good broadcaster that's what you do. That's your essence.' My son called me and said the same thing. He said, 'Dad, if you're gonna say no then don't entertain saying yes again.' I said, 'Why do you say that buddy?' He said, 'Because if people call you and they ask you to do it, if you're gonna keep saying no the clock's gonna run out. There is a window.'
"He said, 'Dad, all you should be thinking about is can you help (Bradley) and can he win the fight and does it still challenge you?' And so I thought about it and it's a challenge there and it is what I do. I teach."
Atlas came up as a protégé of the late Cus D'Amato, helping train an amateur Mike Tyson before finding huge professional success with Michael Moorer, who won the world heavyweight title under Atlas.
"Cus always said that you're a teacher. Cus thought I was born to teach," Atlas said. "That was his opinion. And so at the end of the day I would never come back with somebody now at this point in my life that I didn't feel had as much character as they had talent. And I feel that way about Timmy."
Atlas and Bradley did not know each other very well, but Atlas said he followed Bradley's career. He had seen the kind of fights he had been in, including his epic win in the 2013 fight of the year against Ruslan Provodnikov.
"I knew the fights he was in, I knew the way he conducted himself outside the ring. I knew he was a family man. I knew he was a decent person," Atlas said. "He wouldn't have won the fights like Provodnikov if he didn't have great character. Forget about the talent. Forget about the ability. He's got substance of character. That's how he got through those fights. At this point I'm not going to be with someone I don't like. I can't say it more plainly. I listened to Nicole. She said, 'Dad, do what you did with Povetkin. Go out there and see.'"
Atlas called the Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares fight on ESPN on Aug. 29 in Los Angeles and the next day made the short trip to Palm Springs to meet with Bradley. They spent the day watching tapes of his fights.
Atlas, however, had already broken down the tape and arrived with eight pages of notes about Bradley's performance in recent fights and specifics of what he thought they needed to work on, including a detailed technical breakdown of why Bradley had been so badly hurt and nearly dropped in the final seconds of the fight with Vargas.
Bradley said he was surprised by the detailed nature of Atlas' breakdown.
"He showed me things that I've never seen before, that I never knew before," Bradley said. "And he brought eight pages of notes with him. Teddy's the type of guy who does his homework. And he has a plan. I know why I got hit with that shot (by Vargas) and I know what I got to do."
Atlas' theme of the training camp will be to eliminate what he calls Bradley's "mortal sins" in the ring.
"In the Catholic religion they taught us years and years ago in school -- they used to talk about regular sins and mortal sins," Atlas said. "I said (to Bradley), 'You're committing mortal sins. Mortal sins get you in a lot of trouble. In the ring they get you knocked out, they get you hurt.'"
They spent the next two days training together.
"It went well. He said, 'Teddy, you got to come back. He said, 'You got too much knowledge to take to the grave,'" Atlas said.
Said Bradley, "Teddy and I came to an understanding. He said, 'Tim, if you don't know how to fight by now then I don't know what to tell you, but he said, 'Listen, this camp is going to be dedicated to limiting your mistakes. There's do's and don'ts. There's small sins and there's mortal sins. Let's work on the mortal sins for this camp and go from there.'"
Still, Atlas had not decided to take the job. He left Palm Springs and went home to think about it. But Atlas said he was reinvigorated by the time he spent with Bradley. He believes he can help Bradley in what is expected to be a difficult fight against Rios.
"It's not like we're getting an easy fight," Atlas said. "It's a guy who starts coming forward at the national anthem. It's a guy that has a granite chin. It's a guy that's strong and can punch. Very physical, game as hell, like Timmy is. And just comes forward and throws a lot of punches.
It's definitely a challenge. I like challenges. He was very coachable. He was excited when I showed him things.
"Joel did a great job with him. Tremendous. But recently he's been in a lot of tough fights and when you're taking those kind of clean punches they mean something. You have to put a stop to it. For this fight you can't get hit those kind of clean shots. In the gym he just responded to what I was teaching him. He was fooling around he was like 'Teddy are you gonna do this? Come on you gotta do this.' I said I had to think about it. It's a big responsibility. Is it right for me at this point in my life to get into this?"
A few days later Atlas called Bradley and said he would take the job.
"I'm very happy. It's a new energy," Bradley said. "I want to learn and Teddy's the guy. Teddy is doing this not because of the type of fighter I am, not because of the money. He just wants to help me. He likes me as a person. And I like Teddy.
"A lot of people say a lot of crazy things and things that are negative about Teddy. But, dude, this gentleman walked into my house and said hi to my dogs, went to my son, picked him up. My son smiled at him. He made him laugh. My kids embraced him. He's super comfortable and real. I like real and he's that guy. He keeps it completely honest."
Bradley said he liked how blunt Atlas was about assessing the Rios fight.
"He said, 'Wow, Tim, this is a dangerous fight. It's a tough fight, Tim,'" Bradley said. "This kid's gonna be in your face all night. He's hungry. He's like, 'We got to be ready for this guy.'
"There's one thing me and Teddy discussed. He said, 'Tim, you're a tough guy, Rios is a tough guy. But there's one thing that sets you apart from Rios -- you're smarter than him.' And I said, 'You're 100 percent right, I'm smarter than him.' And he said that's going to be the difference."
That, and perhaps the new voice in the gym and in Bradley's corner, a semi-retired trainer who is back and all in.