Tessitore, Atlas welcome return to road
ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" returns to the schedule Jan. 20, and Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas return to the road and ringside.
For the last few months, as ESPN2 was immersed in the college football season, "Friday Night Fights" on "The Deuce" went into hibernation for the fall.
But beginning Jan. 20, the duo of Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore will travel to cities such as Ledyard, Conn. and Tucson, Arizona, to Detroit, Mich. and Memphis, Tenn. calling the action from ringside.
And their batteries are recharged and they're ready to hit the road.
"Ready or not, here I come," said Atlas, chuckling at the thought from his home in Staten Island, New York. In the past, "Friday Night Fights" would run straight through the year, but as more Boise St-BYU games ran into triple overtime, backing up starting times up to an hour -- to the great frustration of boxing fans -- the decision was made last year to take "FNF" off the air during the football season. For everyone working on the series, it provides a necessary respite from the constant travel.
"There's something nice and appealing -- I'm not going to lie -- in having time off and having a lot of time off," Atlas said. "I don't mind it one bit, to be quite honest with you. But it's time to get back to work. I'm fortunate to be able to go back to people who want me to do this and have a job like this. I think I'm a little anxious now to get going again."
Tessitore, a native of Connecticut, is also itching to get back to ringside.
"This was a different off-season for us because we did have that one week of 'The Contender', but still, I can not wait to get back in the loop," Tessitore said, "because we do more in one year that any other boxing duo does. We just do it, and then all of a sudden when you're not doing it? Man, it's withdrawals; it's like, 'Wow, cold turkey is tough.'"
ESPN2 is scheduled to do 30 Friday night telecasts, in addition to 18 more Wednesday night shows (moving from Tuesdays) and three shows featuring members of "The Contender" cast. While "FNF" doesn't get to feature the game's biggest fights, in many respects it represents the heartbeat of the sport. Besides fights, the features an in-studio format, with weekly guests.
It'll be good to have it back, because for whatever faults the show might have, no other telecast, perhaps ever, really covered the sport of boxing in it's full scope like "FNF" does. In watching other networks' broadcasts, you'd think that the boxing universe was only as big as the fights happening that night.
Brian Kenny, the in-studio host, does a brilliant job of playing the role of Steve Nash, the point guard, deftly going back and forth with his guests and moving the show along, narrating highlights and bringing the audience up to date on recent events. But for the most part, he does it from the comfort of the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.
Atlas and Tessitore, though, are like Mel Gibson, the "Road Warriors." And while they aren't exactly working in coal mines, traveling does become tedious. Keith Jackson, the legendary college football announcer for ABC, once said that the traveling is fun and glamorous for those who don't do it all the time.
"The grind did start," said Atlas of the constant travel. "But look, I'm very careful in saying that because again, I'm very fortunate to have a job that's a lot easier than a lot of people in this country have and I get paid very well for it. So I never forget how fortunate I am with that. But having said that, you still do what you do and everybody has something to do and when you get to the spring time and you start from April to September and you start doing it twice a week and getting on a plane four times a week, it starts to wear you a little bit, there's no doubt about it.
"But like I said, there's a lot more jobs that can wear you a lot more than that, but for what it is, the traveling, the getting on the plane, to being ready to do two shows within a few days of each other, yeah, it starts to wear you a little bit."
Tessitore concurs: "The travel is the hard part of our job but once you're there, the job is a dream because we're so passionate about it. This is what I'd be doing, watching it on TV or going to a club show. But the travel is very, very tough. I think people don't realize what it is, what our work week looks like.
"People in other work environments think about travel, and they always think of, 'I have a trip at the end of the month' or 'Next month I have to go away.' Well, that is just a constant cycle for us. We never get out of that mode."
When "FNF" goes to its twice-a-week schedule, the travel has a "Groundhog Day" type of feel to it.
"For me," said Atlas of his itinerary and the new Wednesday night telecasts, "it's going to get worse because during that time the last two years doing the summer series -- which actually starts in the spring, Tuesdays and Fridays -- I leave on Monday, and I'm doing preparation at home before I leave for the show. I fly to wherever the city is, do the show on Tuesday, get on the first plane out, that means getting in the hotel lobby about four in the morning on Wednesday and flying home Wednesday. And then leaving again Thursday to do the Friday show and then coming back Saturday."
Atlas is a devoted husband and family man who could be dubbed " Captain Redeye," as he is usually in a mad rush to the airport after his telecasts to catch the last flight back east.
"But now with the change to Wednesday, a lot of people are happy with it because they don't have to go home," Atlas said. "But really, to me it's going to be worse because now you gotta leave on Tuesday, go to your site for the Wednesday show, do the Wednesday show and then Thursday morning fly to the city you have to fly to for the next show, do the Friday show and don't get home till Saturday.
"So from Tuesday to Saturday, you're going to be gone. So I'm not thrilled about that, but that's what we'll be doing."
Hey, that's the job, and somebody has gotta do it. Besides, they got plenty of days off during the autumn months. But it wasn't like they were dormant as black bears in their hibernation.
"I did college football," said Tessitore, who fills other roles for ESPN. "I recorded 10,000 lines for EA Sports' 'Fight Night, Round 3,' which had me living in Chicago for three weeks. I played lots of video games with my son and I even did one weekend of the Pro Bowlers Association tour."
Atlas also enjoyed his down time.
"It's been nice; I just relax and do nothing, sometimes," he admitted.
"I spend time with my kids; I do have two children in college so I could only spend time with them when they're home from school. My daughter's in the first year of law school now. My son is up in Boston at Northeastern, he's a junior. But when they're home, it's nice to be able to spend time with them. It gave me a little more time to travel up to Boston to see my son more times than when I was working. So I was just doing these things; I was planning a vacation with me and my wife but it's funny how those plans sometimes never happen."
But it's not like Atlas just walks around all day in his boxer shorts at home. It's during this time that he puts in countless hours with 'The Atlas Foundation,' which does numerous acts of charity and goodwill throughout the year and has its big dinner in late November.
"Teddy works his behind off on his foundation in our offseason," Tessitore said. "And what he puts forth there I would contend is more than any of us actually put forth towards our careers. I don't think there was a day that I called Teddy when we were out of the loop in our offseason that he wasn't establishing a food pantry or wrapping gifts for 1,200 children or feeding the poor or raising money or helping out a burn victim. I mean, literally, everyday."
As they come back to work, they seem to have an attractive schedule to begin the year. On Jan. 20, the vacant IBF featherweight title is on the line between Valdemir Pereira and Phafrakorb Rakkietgym. In the following weeks "FNF" will feature the return of Kassim Ouma, in addition to fights like Paulie Malignaggi- Donald Camarena and Kendall Holt-Oscar Diaz.
Atlas and Tessitore always have been straight-shooters about what they call, and they both agree, "FNF" is off to what looks like a promising start.
"Yeah, it is," said Atlas. "You have some world championship fights and you have some fights that are competitive, which is very good. And you have some name value, you have Kassim Ouma, so you have the best of three dimensions that are important: competitiveness, which is the most important.
"You get some world championship fights and those are important, those are nice to have, especially if they're competitive, and then you have some name value. So I feel real good about the start of the season."
Said Tessitore: "I think it's bar-none the best opening schedule we ever had. First of all, your first 'Friday Night Fight' of the year is for an IBF title, I mean, not to give too much credit to the IBF, but still, you get a kid in Pereira who we've seen before, he's on the way up, he's undefeated, and you never know, he could be something special. Rakkietgym, that type of fighter from that neck of the woods always comes to fight.
"And look at the fact that the opening fight on our season is going to be Teddy Reid-JC Candelo, a blast from the past with two past-prime, durable names. If you were to put -- and I don't want to say Hall of Fame -- but if you were to list fighters and just put their frequency of 'Friday Night Fights' appearances, I would think Reid and Candelo would be somewhere in the mix of the top quarter of that group."
And as they begin plying their trade in various arenas across the country, it's a chance to connect with the fans.
"I consider myself very open, and I try to be gracious whenever I see fans because I'm fortunate that people want to say hello to me," said Atlas, who is often asked for autographs and photos before and after their shows. "And I never lose track of that and when I do travel around and we go to the venues, people will come up to talk to us; in the airports it's the same thing as we're traveling site-to-site. I'm happy to talk to the fans, the people that care about what you do and have an interest in what you do and will talk to you about it and tell you their families enjoy it and that they share it with their kids and stuff like that.
"It's a nice thing and I feel grateful. I feel appreciative and grateful to be in a position where people would take their time to come up to me and let me know what our series means to them. Boxing fans are usually the most genuine people there are."