This week it was revealed that Teddy Atlas, long-time ESPN color commentator for its boxing programming, was fired for, if anything, keeping it real about his wack counterparts on the network and the boxing industry in general.
According to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, Atlas confirmed this fact via telephone last Wednesday.
“It wasn’t my decision,” Atlas said about his parting ways with ESPN.
His emphatic lambasting of the judges who scored the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn bout in Brisbane, Australia back in July set off a blitzkrieg of Atlas-isms that extended to ESPN's latest fight, where Vasyl Lomachenko stopped Guillermo Rigondeaux at the end of the sixth round.
Atlas has served as a commentator for ESPN for 21 years, back when ESPN 2 had the classic Friday Night Fights format. Now that promoter Top Rank has an exclusive deal with the network, Atlas - along with his last boxing training client, former world champion, Timothy "Desert Storm" Bradley - served as the ringside color commentary crew.
Where Bradley was the boxer with the inside athletic perspective, Atlas was the intensely colorful analyst that spoke from a veteran trainer's experience, with a surly, old-school delivery that has become his recognizable trademark.
This was something that ESPN counted on for decades and part of what makes Atlas a bonafide star. Boxing fans loved his commentary, and his sense of altruism for pugilism never went unnoticed as the guiding principle for his on-camera rants.
Enter Stephen A. Smith, a basketball and football newsdesk jockey that has a deep love for boxing, as many men do within communities of color. When it was finalized that boxing was returning to the network with the high-level stable of Bob Arum's Top Rank, Smith admittedly begged for the job. As a polarizing figure to play off Atlas, he was given the gig, despite his limited knowledge of the boxing game, its fighters or its insider culture.
Stephen A. Smith and Teddy Atlas go at it over Floyd Mayweather's performance in his TKO against Conor McGregor.
It is why Smith played himself royally when broadcasting the Manny Pacquaio vs. Jeff Horn fight when he referred the Horn's former opponents as "nobody's" and even Horn as an insignificant fighter himself. However, he didn't take it to the next level like Atlas did and actually tell Horn himself that he was gifted a decision victory by the judges that he didn't deserve. This re-ignited some bad blood with the network that he had been suspended from in the early 2000's for threatening a crew member and confronting a boxing director for showing favoritism to promoters.
Atlas is the same guy that notoriously shot a gun off by a 15-year old Mike Tyson's ear after he messed around with his 11-year old female relative. He was immediately fired by former Tyson trainer Cus D'Amato and banished from the Catskills Boxing Club. These types of war stories along with his success with former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer and Tim Bradley made Atlas the man we all love in boxing.
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His consistency in broadcasting always felt authentic, and to dismiss him in any way in the sport is a borderline anathema.
Still, after a heated on-air debate with Smith over Rigondeaux quitting against Lomachenko and other commentary ESPN felt berated the boxing authorities, promoters, fighters, and other ESPN commentators, he was let go by the network.
This is a huge fail by ESPN as Bradley's commentary, although informative, is flat and Atlas, although just as much as a bloviator as Smith, at least knows his boxing history and has a uniquely passionate perspective.
The other networks like HBO, Showtime and the coterie of channels serviced by Premier Boxing Champions would not suit Atlas well, as it is hard for him to be fake and they definitely show extreme favoritism to the promoters they purchase broadcast licenses from.
Although Atlas is a tough pill to swallow, ESPN should rethink this move, especially when you are keeping extreme boxing laymen like Smith, who serve more in an annoying, disruptive capacity than an informational one.