It was the end of an era that has lasted through just about all of boxing's existence on the premium cable channel. It was the end of Larry Merchant's HBO boxing broadcast career. Nonito Donaire's knockout of Jorge Arce was the last fight Merchant will call from ringside and his post-fight interviews with the two were his last. The night's undertone was that it was Merchant's last night as both Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr. made remarks early on the broadcast about their time next to Merchant, Michael Buffer made a dedication to the retiring broadcaster and analyst before the main-event introductions, and even George Foreman made a brief return to the commentary position at ringside he used to fill only because of how special a night it was.
It was a fitting night of tribute to the man who embodied HBO boxing more than any other man that was with him at the announce table ringside and any of the fighters that fought on the network. Because you see, fighters come and go, but Larry Merchant was always there. No matter the fighter, the situation, or the location of the fight, Merchant was always at ringside, giving his take on the action in the ring.
Merchant was the constant fixture of HBO's boxing broadcasts for his 35 years with HBO. While Jim Lampley has been the only blow-by-blow commentator for HBO during this writer's life of watching boxing, he wasn't the only one who's ever been with Merchant at ringside. And this goes much more so for the color commentary that today is produced from the mouths of Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. Foreman's arrival back at the table for one fight was a throwback to the years when he was a fixture at the announce table with Merchant. Other famous names to be at the table with Merchant include Sugar Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, and the late Emanuel Steward.
Since I first started watching boxing in the early 1990's, Merchant's commentary was an old-school look at things for a new-school mind, that mind being this writer's. Of course, as the years went along, this writer figured out that there was plenty of old-school in his mind. Maybe part of that was listening to Merchant by ringside all those years, though most of it was the simple matter of growing up and finding more and more out about yourself.
While one of this writer's best friends has never been a fan of Merchant's, this writer has always been a fan. It was his eloquence and desire to sound poetic at times that first caught this writer's attention, even though he was only a child at the time. Merchant wanted to inject some humanity into a sport that doesn't need it or want it at times, but he also wanted to illuminate what people call “the sweet science.” As Merchant grew older, that eloquence and poetic desire turned into the simple knowledgeable comments from the knowledgeable old man. He didn't need to even try at times because when he spoke, people listened. They listened because they knew they had to, because they knew whatever was going to come out of Merchant's mouth had something to it.
What will always endear Merchant to this writer is the fact that his love of the sport and capacity for outrage at the sport never decreased with age. He was not someone who would just let an atrocity in boxing go by just because he's seen it a thousand times. Here is a guy who knows all the dirty secrets and painful realities of a sport built on violence and blood, and he still loved it. And like anyone who loves something, Merchant did feel that indignation and anger toward anything that sullied boxing. This may have been his finest attribute in his final years with a headset on. The sport needs more people like Merchant, people who will straightforward tell people what is wrong with boxing and why, and not for personal gain or increased fame, but just because it is wrong and needs to be told.
He was a great man at the announce table and a great man for the sport of boxing. It is out of pure selfishness that this writer wishes this past Saturday wasn't Merchant's final night with HBO boxing. This writer doesn't want to have to watch HBO boxing without hearing Merchant's voice, this writer doesn't want there to be boxing on HBO without Merchan't insight, and this writer doesn't want to see someone like Merchant move on because it will be truly the closing of an era. And unfortunately for the sport, that era is reminiscent to a time when things were much, much brighter in the sport of boxing.
To Larry: thanks for everything, and while your job seems to be done, please know that there are many people out there who wish that you still had work to do.
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