The three boxers, ranging in age from 10 to 17, who were training with Joey Hadley on a recent Friday morning at Atoka Fitness Center are probably too young to be impressed by some of the people their trainer has been associated with over the past four decades.

They probably haven't heard of Cus D'Amato, who trained Hadley in New York when he was an up-and-coming 19-year-old amateur boxer. A few years later, D'Amato trained Mike Tyson, perhaps the most well-known boxer ever not named Muhammad Ali.

In the early 2000s, University of Memphis assistant basketball coach Josh Pastner signed on to work out with Hadley. Pastner, who later became the head coach at Memphis and Georgia Tech, wasn't an aspiring boxer. He just wanted to get in shape, something that Hadley has done for countless people in the Memphis area.

Hadley also trained some University of Memphis basketball players, including Joe Jackson, an all-conference performer who has played basketball professionally. Like Pastner, he just wanted to get in shape. 

Although he never trained him, Hadley met Elvis Presley and has a photo of that encounter on the wall of Atoka Fitness Center. There are also photos of Hadley with Tyson, D'Amato and others.

Hadley knocked out future world champ Leon Spinks as an amateur in 1973.

Though Hadley's back story is fascinating, it's not something he talks about a lot to his pupils. He does, however, pass on the things he's learned over the years from his famous acquaintances. And most of that knowledge is more about life than boxing.

One of his favorite quotes from D'Amato: "The mind always makes things worse than they really are."

Hadley said one of his pupils in the gym Friday was bullied when he was younger and now battles anger management issues.

"Boxing can teach kids so much about life," Hadley said. "Life is hard. Boxing is 75 percent mental, 25 percent physical. When you're in the boxing ring and you're having a fight, there's nobody in there to help you. You're in there by yourself. You have to deal with pressure, mental pressure. You have to learn to control your emotions. Boxing will help you with all areas and aspects of your life."

Hadley, 65, grew up in Memphis and was a Shelby County Sheriff's deputy before retiring after 29 years on the job. From 1992 to 2012, he gained some fame by giving regular traffic updates on several Memphis radio stations, including Rock 103.

He had a very successful amateur boxing career. Hadley won the Memphis and Shelby County Golden Gloves title six times and was a three-time Southeastern AAU champion. He was a United States and North American champion and was 122-18 with 93 knockouts. He fought professionally before an eye condition ended his career.

Hadley moved to Tipton County 12 years ago. This is his first time setting up shop here, although he's trained more than 100 boxers over the past few years.

Some of his trainees never box in a real match, while plenty do. Still, his message and goal is the same.

"The process teaches you to do what needs to be done no matter how you feel," Hadley said. "That applies in everything in life. It's not just about how to box, but to have a better life."

Near the end of Friday's training session, Hadley asked 17-year-old Hayden Parsons if boxing had changed his life.

Parsons: "Yep."

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email jireland@covingtonleader.com.​

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