Peter's refusal to train away from home a dealbreaker

Teddy Atlas said no.

He said no to a very good chance to make millions and a very good chance to make history.

ESPN's boxing analyst said no to the opportunity to train the only heavyweight contender who is young enough to reign as world champ for many years, and powerful enough to give you the sense he could do it sooner rather than later.

Samuel Peter and his team of boxing prospectors tried as hard as they could to recruit Teddy to this heavyweight gold rush, but Teddy said no.

Sam Peter is the kind of athlete who is born. Teddy tends to look for the kind of fighter who can be made. The kind of fighter willing to be made. The kind who is committed to make himself.

On this week's Friday Night Fights (ESPN2, 8 ET) Sam Peter, the most feared, head-hunting slugger in the game, will take on 7-foot Julius Long.

Peter's punching power and sheer strength in the TV-lit ring is pure and raw. It's as real as Reggie Bush's breakaway speed in the Rose Bowl, or Joakim Noah's height in the Final Four. But I can't imagine Bill Parcells and Larry Brown saying they wouldn't want them on their teams.

Yet Teddy said no to Sam Peter.

"Nobody is born to win; they are born to survive. You have to learn to win. That has nothing to do with a good gene pool, that has to do with choices and the way you form yourself," Teddy stated with the conviction of a man who has made those choices.

Not many boxing experts, or even casual fans, liked the choices Sam Peter made last September. He had current heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko battered. Klitschko came in still considered a top big man, but with a recent reputation of being fragile.

Peter proved it true scoring three knockdowns. Still frustrated and outworked, he lost a unanimous decision. It was the first and only loss for the 25-year-old Nigerian native. He had no one to blame but himself.

All he had to do was punch instead of clinch. All he had to do was fight instead of fall in. Just work a little more, just risk a little more, just lay it out and go into that danger zone and he would be in line for the heavyweight crown. Instead, he took what appeared to be the easy and lazy way.

Now, he has more work ahead of him.

The experts said Peter needed to be polished up and taught more. They said he was a raw diamond waiting to be cut into brilliance. If only a top trainer could get their hands on him and show him a little technique. Then he would be the best of this generation.

His manager, Ivaylo Gotsev, and promoter, Dino Duva, agreed. That's why they came after Teddy so hard.

Teddy knew what the opportunity was all about. "More than anybody," he said. "Trust me, I realized what this was. A guy with physical advantages in a wide-open division and he isn't that far away from the title."

So in January, Teddy got on a plane to Vegas. They were to meet right away, but Peter had some family issue that forced a delay. It seemed like it would be the next day. Teddy didn't have a good feeling. Then a few calls were made among Peter's people. The hard-hitting heavyweight ended up spending time with Teddy that night.

"I told him he was strong, gifted with what you can't make, power," Atlas said. "I also understood that nature left him alone in other ways. ... The ability to be strong in other areas emotionally, mentally. And I told him he was weak in that area. And to his credit, he absorbed it."

Yes that's right. The truth machine told the wrecking ball he was weak.

Peter's promoter and manager knew Teddy would be painfully honest to their fighter. They also knew that's why they wanted him. But Teddy didn't know if he wanted Sam Peter.

"He never argued when I told him he was weak," Atlas said. "He still said, 'I would like to have this man help me.' But he didn't give me the one action that I needed. I was looking for him to say, 'I trust you and I will make that commitment to trust and go to outside of this comfort place for this one fight.'"

Teddy wanted Peter to train away from his Vegas home, family and friends. It was a test. A test to see how committed Peter was to the goal.

Teddy's autobiography "Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring" is coming out in two weeks. In the book, he recalls the lessons learned from the legendary Cus D'Amato. The belief in testing a man's character is chief among them.

The book is utterly compelling. Teddy also reveals other career-altering, big-money decisions he had to make as a world-class trainer. Much like the decision he was about to make with Sam Peter.

This is a man who walked away from an $800,000 payday with Michael Moorer based on principle. This is a man who had the chance to work with Lennox Lewis on his way to the title and tens of millions in purses. The Duvas wanted Teddy to run their stable of world champs. Multimillionaires tried to sign him to long-term deals.

Teddy even reveals a night in which Sammy "The Bull" Gravano tried to get him to be the centerpiece of a highly financed, powerful boxing group.

He said no to all of them. Be it loyalty, character, belief in others or instincts, something told Teddy to say no.

"The crux of this decision was the same as those," Teddy said.

Back then, he was saying no to a lot of money that could have helped his family. Money that could have given his wife and kids the life he knew they deserved. That something that made him say no was about to come into his head again.

Sam Peter failed the test. He didn't want to leave Vegas. He didn't want to leave his comfort zone.

Teddy almost caved in. Teddy said to himself that if Peter doesn't want to do it for this April fight, then he would have to have the guarantee for the next fight that Peter does it the Teddy way. Then Teddy realized he would just be lying to himself.

"I can't go into it unless I believe the fighter is going with me. I told him I know I can make you technically better. That's easy. But I want to do the whole thing. And there is only one way. I don't want people saying Teddy did his part but the guy didn't cooperate," Teddy said.

"There's no guarantee that he would be heavyweight champ but I needed the guarantee that he was going to allow me to take him to where I needed to take him. Then I can go let the cards fall where they may. But I can't go in there knowing I won't ever have the cards in the first place. Otherwise, it's just a well-painted house that still has weak walls."

The big expensive house that is Sam Peter now has a new painter. Veteran trainer Jesse Reid will be applying the brush strokes along with Peter's longtime gym adviser, Pops Anderson.

"Sam's been working the last two months with Jesse," Gotsev said. "Pops is still in the corner too, they share the responsibilities. I don't want to upset anybody, but Jesse's doing most of the work."

For the record, Teddy thinks Reid will do a good job. But that quote from Gotsev speaks volumes. He doesn't want to upset anybody. That was Teddy's whole point: To upset the norm, upset what has been with Sam Peter, change in this case was going to be needed.

"Here is guy who is physically strong but mentally weak. It's not just his lack of his experience and X's and O's, it's his development and choices he hasn't been forced to deal with. That landscape still exists," Teddy pointed out.

Come Friday night, Sam Peter starts his new path. We will wait to see if he has made any hard choices lately. As for now, all we know is that Teddy Atlas made a hard choice.

Teddy said no.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."