One of the sport of boxing’s most mercurial characters left the HBO cameras on December 15, when boxing analyst Larry Merchant ended his 35 year run calling fights for the network. The Brooklyn, New York native is considered “the greatest television boxing analyst of all time” by ESPN Boxing analyst Dan Rafael and helped shape the rise of HBO as the leader in producing boxing around the world.
Never one to sugar coat his opinion, Merchant had run-ins with many of boxing’s top draws over the years, but became a fan favorite for his post fight interviews that never pulled any punches.
As 2013 starts, we caught up with Merchant to look back on his time and to see what’s coming next.
Looking back in your 35 years working with HBO, what is the biggest surprise you had in a fight result?
Easily Buster Douglas beating up Mike Tyson. Tyson was his generation’s hope for a Dempsey, a Louis, an Ali. Douglas, in part inspired by the recent death of his mother, fought the fight of his life
There has been much talk about boxing’s demise and MMA’s rise, yet big fights continue to do well. Are there two things you would do to help get boxing back to its proper place in sport in the US?
As I’ve said, you can’t save boxing and you can’t kill it. Globally it’s hugely popular in some countries. It will never be as mainstream in the U.S. as it was, but it seems to have settled in a solid lesser groove, with more boxing on cable TV and bigger grossing events on pay per view than ever.
NBC and CBS have started to bring boxing back to broadcast. It’s a win-win if they keep putting on good fights. Fans will come, and buy beer and cars.
What were your favorite venues to have called fights in over the years and why?
Madison Square Garden, because it’s in my home town, New York, because it echoes with history, and because after my first live fight there I knew I had to get closer to ringside.
What is the matchup you would have liked to have called but never did?
Do you have one or two favorite matchups that lived up to the billing more than others?
Ali-Frazier 1, which had been building for three years, exceeded the highest expectations. And they did it again in their third fight.Leonard-Hearns and Hagler-Hearns also were much anticipated and turned out to be memorable dramas. There have been others.
While most current fans know you for TV, you have had quite a run on the print side as well. Do you see yourself going back to do more writing?I like doing documentaries. I might be persuaded to do an occasional “If I Was 50 Years Younger” commentary. I’m often asked if I”ll write a book. I usually say I’m thinking about it. Sometimes I actually think about it.
Live sports commentary, to me, is the storytelling part of show and tell, by informing, entertaining and occasionally surprising. That may seem quaint to the overkill of stats, lists and jargon we often hear today, but I’m delusional enough to like to try it in, say, football, which I have a background in.