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Teddy Atlas, Keeper of His Late Father’s Flame, Called to a Higher Mission

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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – What people see, and hear, is not always what they get or expect. That is especially true of Theodore A. Atlas Jr., whom the world at large, and particularly the boxing world, knows as a first-rate trainer of fighters and an astute, opinionated longtime analyst of the sport for ESPN and for four Olympics televised by NBC.

For most individuals who have fully devoted themselves, or nearly so, to the sweet science, there can be no greater point of pride than to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which Teddy Atlas was on June 11 of this year in the Observer category. But for a very select few individuals even that signal achievement must yield precedence to a higher mission and purpose which more clearly defines who and what they are as human beings.

So, for those whose sensory perceptions of this special man are limited to his commendable corner work and heavy Staten Island accent, be advised that, as much as he loves boxing, the greater measure of who he is was on display here Thursday night at the Hilton Garden Inn. At the 23rd annual Teddy Dinner, the founder, chairman and driving force behind the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation was again at his persuasive best, urging diners to again open their hearts and minds to those less fortunate. The dais again was filled with like-minded celebrities who gladly lend their time and prestige to such a worthy ongoing project.

Recently retired ESPN broadcaster Bob Ley, who received an award named after the late journalist Jack Newfield, was making his first appearance at the event and he was visibly moved by tales of pain eased, wrongs righted and hope restored.

“I had heard this much about this dinner, and it was totally undersold to me,” Ley said. “This is an experience. These incredible stories, anecdotes, human tales, (are about) making a difference. Teddy Atlas, the man, he makes a difference. Jack Newfield made a difference. He was driven by his principles. To be here tonight, in this company, and to accept an award in Jack Newfield’s name, is to me a great honor.”

To have a better understanding of the charitable principles which have arguably made Teddy Atlas Staten Island’s most prominent citizen and resident angel of mercy, it is required to know the history of his late father, Dr. Theodore A. Atlas, a physician who over decades unselfishly became a local legend. Dr. Atlas dispensed his time, more than a little of his own money and especially his genuine concern for his patients, especially the poor, and even more especially the children of the poor. His level of compassion must have seemed bottomless to those residents of this comparatively unglamorous borough of New York City who seldom are served much when life’s better things are handed out.

Dr. Atlas waded through snow drifts and climbed through windows to deliver babies during winter’s worst storms; he went into the projects to provide needed medical services while other doctors refused to go there, and on Wednesdays he used blankets and pillows to make makeshift beds in his office and performed tonsillectomies on patients who could not afford to pay for surgery. He founded two hospitals whose first function was not to ascertain how much and how soon their patients will be able to pay for the services they received. He served his community for 55 years until his death, at 88, in 1994, leaving a void so wide it must have seemed impossible to even consider the possibility it could ever be bridged.

But Teddy Atlas, his father’s son and namesake, was determined that the legacy of the dad he held in such towering esteem not fall into disrepair. He established the Dr. Atlas Foundation in 1997, whose modest early successes have, if anything, matched or even exceeded those of the original Theodore A. Atlas, in no small part because of the platform that boxing has afforded him.

Like his father, Teddy, well-known for his work in boxing, would prefer not to take credit for all the good deeds made possible by the Dr. Atlas Foundation. But that credit comes nonetheless from the recipients of those good deeds, who understand that Teddy, although assisted by so many devoted friends and supporters drawn to the cause, is no mere figurehead. As has been the case with the many accomplished fighters with whom he has worked, such champions as Michael Moorer (who was in attendance), Wilfred Benitez, Simon Brown, Joey Gamache, Donny Lalonde, Barry McGuigan, Tracy Harris Patterson, Timothy Bradley and recently dethroned WBC light heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (also in attendance), Teddy is a hands-on, all-in, heart on his sleeve kind of guy when it comes to his interaction with those who come to the Foundation seeking assistance.

So diners learned of the two severely impaired children who found reasons to smile after they received motorized wheelchairs furnished by the Foundation; the single mother of four, one autistic, who feared she would be forced to live in a city shelter because she had fallen behind in her rent, until the Foundation stepped in; and another mom, with a son inflicted with muscular dystrophy, whom Teddy said was his “hero.”

“Her husband, obviously not a hero, took off” after his son’s disability was diagnosed,” Teddy said. “She was no longer able to bathe him properly in her small apartment bathroom. She needed a handicap setup put in. She was also sick, and she was living on her Social Security disability check.” Yep, the Foundation provided her with what she needed to get by.

You think there’s pressure to win a fight which seems lost in the prize ring? To sink a couple of free throws when there’s only a second or two on the clock and you’re down a point? To make that 15-foot putt with the green jacket that goes to the Masters champion on the line, and a national TV audience watching? Well, yeah. But pressure comes in many forms for many people, and in many ways.

“We all feel it, and we all are impacted by it, and we all react differently to it,” Teddy said. Of the aforementioned cases mentioned in this story, and others, the pressures can be enormous. But they can be alleviated by the people like Teddy Atlas, his cadre of Foundation workers and the hundreds of diners who attend his dinner not only for a good meal but for the opportunity to also do what they can to bring a little light into the darkness of despair.

“These pressures can also be a privilege, our privilege, our gift, that we are lucky enough and blessed enough to be able to make a difference in people’s lives, to sometimes awaken them from their individual nightmares so they can have hope to feel loved and cared for,” he continued.

For all his excitability on-camera, Teddy’s multifaceted nature includes the gentle soul of a poet. While he was in Philadelphia for two months, preparing Gvozdyk for a sure-to-be-difficult Oct. 18 unification showdown with IBF champ Artur Beterbiev, a bout won by Beterbiev on a 10th-round stoppage, Teddy wrote a quite literary message to his guy, which he intended to be relevant regardless of the outcome. But the message conveyed really applies to everyone, as he told his audience.

“There is a darkness that one works into, knowing there is risk and uncertainty waiting for them,” it begins. “But there is also a certain light that can be found through the dark, an understanding that comes from having gone to the inner caves of one’s self and discovering what is there. That journey can create a path, that can lead to new and greater places that would not have been possible before.

“The courage it took to walk into this place allows you to now leave with a lantern of knowledge and awareness that will forever provide a beacon of light, wherever you go. You will be a champion. Again.”

For those interested in contributing to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, donations can be sent to 543 Cary Avenue, Staten Island, N.Y. 10310.

Photo credit: Jason Paderon

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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