Three years ago HBO’s respected commentator Larry Merchant was nearly ousted from his position. However the media, fans and boxers revolted against that decision and forced HBO to keep Merchant in the job we all love him doing. Let’s go back in time to spring of 2007…
HBO Boxing is apparently ready to cut loose one of the sport’s great broadcasters.
“I’m sorry to hear that about Larry. It’s a big loss,” said artist LeRoy Neiman, an avid boxing viewer for a half century. “He’s an…essayist. The most sensible. He was great to turn to in there next to Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward or Lennox. He’ll be missed.”
IBF Heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko said: “If you see, hear Larry Merchant, you think of Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Larry Holmes and so on. Of course you will miss him, as you miss those great fighters and fights.”
I asked Arturo Gatti, Will you miss Larry Merchant if he is finished at HBO? “Oh yeah. I wouldn’t want to speak to nobody but Larry Merchant after a fight. (Why?) Because he’s been following me since I started. And I like his input after fights. Some people don’t like him – I like him. That’s what I like about him – his criticism about fights, because he’s real. He’s got balls to say it, like Max Kellerman doesn’t. And nothing for nothing, if Max Kellerman goes to HBO, HBO is gonna go to shhh. It’s not the same.”
Larry is one of a kind, I offer. “Yes he is,” affirmed Arturo.
Micky Ward: “Larry is unique. Larry is one of a kind. He knows boxing. He’ll be missed. I like Larry and his own style. He has a way with words. He got to the point. He put it across good. Sometimes people didn’t like it but everybody has his own opinions. I thought he was good at what he did.”
When asked if he liked being interviewed by Merchant after his fights on HBO, Micky responded with a chuckle, “Yeah, as long as he said nice things to me.” Did he? “Yeah, he did. For the most part, yeah he did.”
Kassim Ouma made a rather unique statement about his opinion of Larry Merchant after his most recent fight on HBO against Sechew Powell. After winning the decision, Ouma donned a baseball cap with a simple message, “I Love Larry Merchant” it said. (By the way, if you would like to purchase the “I Love Larry Merchant trucker cap, go to zazzle.com.)
Joey Gamache: “There’s good and bad to him. He had a way of being cynical about things but he had a lot of character that he said what he wanted to say. Where most won’t say it – to be politically correct – he was the guy that said what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. I think he’s a guy who’s a real good journalist. But on the bad side of it, he liked sluggers, he liked the action where it was harder for him to sometimes appreciate the art of the game of boxing, at least that’s the way he came across to me for the most part. We’re all gonna miss him. I would like to see him back. He has a lot of character. He’s himself. His style, the way he works, is unique. Whether that’s his demise or that’s his asset, I’m not sure [smiles]. But I like him. He’s a realist on his own terms.”
I asked Emanuel Steward too if he would miss Larry not being a part of the famous HBO trio which includes himself and Jim Lampley? “Yes. Yes,” answered Steward. “I love Larry. I love Larry Merchant. Larry’s a little bit kind of outspoken and he says certain things that we say [smiles] don’t really relate to the show but that’s part of Larry’s persona. And he says things that a lot of times Jim and I won’t say, because the fight is boring and Larry says, This is about like watching grass grow [smiles]. But we won’t say it, being the gentleman, so. And I know, myself, he’s helped me a lot too. He’s helped me a lot.
And you don’t have to have had fights to be a good boxing broadcaster. That’s something I have strong objection against with a lot of the guys. But you watch fights as long as this man has watched fights, you learn a lot. I’ve talked to him, it really amazed me the boxing knowledge that he has. And he was the guy that was telling me, Emanuel, I know you’re always trying to push Lennox to be more aggressive like Tommy Hearns, he says, but if you look at history, when oversized big guys become over-aggressive they usually get hit a lot, easier. So maybe just let him stay technical and systematically fight and do things that way. And, you know, he was right about that.
There’s just so many other things just from watching fights all these years. You don’t go through watching Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and going back to Joe Frazier – he was part investor in Joe Frazier – so this man knows and loves boxing – he even saw Ray Robinson – without learning something.
And he studies for his broadcasts more than all of us. Larry – I was watching – he goes out to this beach at his house, like a hippie or a beach bum with a little cap, his beard all scraggly and his old tennis shoes [smiles] – and he sits there on a bench. And all he’s doing is creating things for the show – maybe we should show footage of Floyd Mayweather’s father actually fighting. De La Hoya’s father actually fighting. He’ll call – Let’s put that on the show. See, while we have other things we do – I’m training other fighters, Jim is doing production – Larry eats and sleeps his HBO job. A lot of the creative scenes and things that come up is because of him. He loves that stuff and he loves that job. He thinks of a lot of the things.
Sometimes he’ll be a little blunt with guys, like the fight he had with Mayweather, he said, If you wanna be a big superstar how are you gonna do that by just finishing up your job when you could have put on a better…so, you know, he was really right. And Floyd just went off because he was really frustrated at the booing (after the Baldomir decision).
With Lennox, do you remember how horrible it was after Lennox had this rough fight with Vitali. He said to Lennox, to me and the public, It looked like you were lucky tonight. It looked like you didn’t come in focused or prepared, just fortunate this guy got a cut. Because really it looked like you were you were on your way to losing your title. But that was what the public felt in a way too. So a lot of things he says, we don’t say.
But (Larry) lives for that job and a lot of the things that go on the show are his creativity. So I really would miss him a lot if he doesn’t (return). And even though the man is older, his mind is sharp. His mind is sharp.”
I offer agreement: He’s in his prime right now.
“He’s in his prime right now. He was a journalist and there’s a lot of things he knows how to get a point over sometimes – but I just labor over one thing – he has enough facts that substantiate it.
But I really like working with him myself. It doesn’t have to be about having to be a boxer. You don’t have to be a boxer to know that. And he talks to me a lot about things, but, I like him.”