Commentary

Ready or not, Povetkin meets Chagaev

Updated: August 26, 2011, 5:03 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Ruslan ChagaevDanny Gohlke/AFP/Getty ImagesRuslan Chagaev, a southpaw with a good chin, will be Alexander Povetkin's toughest opponent yet.

Whether Teddy Atlas is wearing his broadcaster hat as the ringside analyst for ESPN2/ESPN3's "Friday Night Fights" or his trainer's hat, his penchant for brutal honesty doesn't change.

What Atlas says may ruffle some feathers. He is used to that and doesn't seem to care.

When asked to assess the condition of heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin, whom he has trained for the past two years, upon his arrival at their training camp in Chekhov, Russia -- Povetkin's hometown -- a little over three weeks ago, Atlas pulled no punches.

"Whether the people like the way I answer it or not, I'll answer it," Atlas said on a teleconference this week. "I didn't find him in top shape. I didn't find him in the shape that his people were telling me he was going to be in."

Atlas traveled to Russia to prepare Povetkin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, for the biggest fight of his professional career against former titleholder Ruslan Chagaev in Erfurt, Germany, on Saturday (Epix and EpixHD.com, 5 p.m. ET with a 10 p.m. ET replay).

Atlas went on about the shape Povetkin was in: "He didn't have the boxing condition. He didn't have the sparring. I mean, that's the most important [thing]. He had been doing some running and some strength training -- and his body looked OK -- but when I got him in the ring to spar, you know his cardiovascular wasn't there because he hadn't had time with the boxing training. So we had a lot of catching up to do."

Povetkin, 31, and Chagaev, 32, are meeting for a vacant belt, which some would say was created to generate more money for the WBA, after Wladimir Klitschko -- the recognized heavyweight champion -- easily defeated David Haye in July to claim the title to unify with his other assortment of belts.

Few will view the winner as a legitimate heavyweight champion, but for Povetkin (21-0, 15 KOs) and Chagaev (27-1-1, 17 KOs), both top-10 heavyweights, the fight is an opportunity to grab a belt, make considerable money and put themselves in position for bigger fights -- even though Klitschko steamrolled through the Germany-based, Uzbekistan-born Chagaev in 2009 and Povetkin, at Atlas' insistence, pulled out of a mandatory shot against Klitschko in 2009 despite what would have been a career-high payday of more than $2 million.

"I just didn't think at that time he was ready for a guy that big, with over 50 fights," Atlas said. "My guy had 17, 18 fights at the time, and he hadn't been real active and hadn't been in too many deep waters yet. And to fight Klitschko at that time, that's the only time that I can remember being careful with him. I just didn't think from the physicality of the size of Klitschko, the experience of Klitschko, the lack of experience of my guy at that point, I didn't think it was the right time.

"I mean, it would have been a better payday for me. I could have just said yes to it. I was going to make about $200,000, but I wasn't going to base it on that. I was going to base it on what I thought was right for the fighter and what I thought was right was to let him get more experience."

[+] EnlargeAlexander Povetkin
Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty ImageAlexander Povetkin had only 23 days to prepare for Saturday's title opportunity, so he and Teddy Atlas had to make some hard choices during training.

Atlas figured another opportunity would come along, as it did with this fight.

Still, the training camp situation was what Atlas envisioned. Rather than the usual eight weeks of training, Atlas had only 23 days to get Povetkin ready -- for an experienced southpaw with a good chin, no less.

Atlas said that under his contract with Povetkin, the fighter is supposed to come to the United States to train if the fight conflicts with his "Friday Night Fights" assignments. However, for the fight against Chagaev, Povetkin (or his managers) elected to remain in Russia, forcing Atlas' hand.

Atlas decided to remain in the United States for the final few FNF cards of the season, the last of which taped Aug. 19. He even went on the air a few weeks earlier and explained his situation to the national television audience, saying that he would remain with the show rather than train Povetkin for Saturday's fight.

But Atlas soon realized that Povetkin had been in camp waiting for him to arrive and that no arrangements had been made by his team for a replacement.

Atlas was bothered by the fact that Povetkin had been asked repeatedly at the kickoff press conference who his trainer was for the fight. Povetkin, apparently in the dark that Atlas was not planning to come to Russia, would answer time and again that it was Atlas.

"I don't know what [Povetkin's management and promoters at Sauerland Event] really told him, but when he said, 'My trainer is Teddy,' I realized they weren't telling him everything, obviously," Atlas said. "You didn't have to be Columbo to figure that out. Here's this kid -- and I can stand on the righteous side all day and say, 'Hey, I got right on my side because we had an agreement. I couldn't break my commitment, you knew that. You broke the agreement, the hell with you,' and it was over with. And I could stand that way forever. But now there was another part to it. It was just the plan wasn't just right or wrong. I thought I was right, but it wasn't [about] that anymore.

"It was just a human element of it that, here is a fighter, the biggest fight of his life, and they didn't make arrangements to get another trainer, and they didn't say anything to him. And here he is telling the press in Germany when they all asked him -- they see there's no trainer there -- they're all asking him the only question that comes to mind: 'Where's your trainer? Who is your trainer?' And he said, 'Teddy Atlas. Teddy Atlas is my trainer.'"

Atlas got a call from Povetkin. As stubborn and unbending as Atlas can be, he realized that he needed to be with his fighter even though he was still upset that Povetkin had gone back on the promise to train in the U.S.

"When I heard that, it just affected me from just a human standpoint, and after that he had called me," Atlas said. "He called just to say hello, and without an interpreter, and he speaks very few words in English, and he just said, 'Teddy, I call to say hello.' I just said to hell with it. I'm not going to have this kid [work alone] even though the situation is what it is and it's become what it is and it didn't have to become what it became and it shouldn't have became what it became and all of that crap. It is what it is. I'm either not or I am, and I just said, 'I'm going to go over there. I'm not going to have this kid thinking that he was just left alone.' I'm just not going to have him thinking that."

So Atlas left for Russia and had 23 days to get Povetkin ready.

Povetkin has faced relatively soft competition since hooking up with Atlas, who has tried to teach Povetkin and refine his style. Now, here was Atlas with short time to get ready for a serious fight.

"I felt like a guy in a plane flying somewhere, and I knew that I didn't have a full tank," Atlas said, making one of the analogies he is famous for on FNF. "So I had to think about how fast I was going, what my route was going to be, where the mountains were and [that] when I didn't have to go up high, I wouldn't go high, and what I had to get rid of.

"And there were certain things we had to get rid of, certain things that would have been in training normally that we didn't have time [for]. We had to pick priorities."

Despite Atlas' worries that the camp was too short and that they couldn't cover everything, Povetkin hasn't made an issue of it.

"I am ready," Povetkin said. "I have waited for this moment for a long time. I have a lot of respect for Chagaev, but we have developed a very good game plan.

"It will be a tough fight between two opponents on the same level. I hope I will win. I have trained very hard. It will be an exciting fight that could go the distance but could also end early. We both have the power to knock each other out."

Helenius-Liakhovich co-feature

Povetkin-Chagaev is the main event, but it will be followed by the live heavyweight bout scheduled for 12 rounds between rising contender Robert Helenius (15-0, 10 KOs), a native of Finland living in Germany, and former titlist Sergei Liakhovich (25-3, 16 KOs), who is coming off a 17-month layoff.

The 27-year-old Helenius -- nicknamed the "Nordic Nightmare" -- has the scalps of two former titleholders already on his record. He sent the faded Lamon Brewster into retirement with an eighth-round knockout in January 2010 and drilled Samuel Peter, knocking him down twice and out in the ninth round, in April.

"Back home, everybody asks me when I will be fighting the Klitschkos, but first things first," Helenius said. "All my focus is on Liakhovich."

Liakhovich, who is from Belarus and lives in Arizona, is fighting for the first time since March 2010 and will be in his first bout since signing with promoter Main Events. His return was delayed from April because of a rib injury. He was supposed to face Helenius on July 16, but the fight was delayed again because Helenius was nursing a sore hand.

"Helenius is a good fighter. He does certain things in the ring very well, but my job is to take that away from him," said Liakhovich, who won his title by outpointing Brewster in a 2006 slugfest. "I will beat him at what he does badly and will take away what he does well. My experience is a huge advantage in this fight. I have been to war and back several times in my boxing career. There is no substitute for experience."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.