|Larry Merchant in the Doghouse: On Historic Photo, Mayweather, Canelo, Pacquiao, HBO, SHOWTIME and much more
By David Tyler, Doghouse Boxing (June 10, 2013)
A member of the International Boxing
Hall of Fame, the greatest television boxing analyst of all time, the
greatest boxing writer of all time. Larry Merchant will best be
remembered for one brief moment in time...that moment was captured in
a photo. Let's let Larry tell the story as we once again welcome
this boxing expert into the doghouse...
David Tyler - Larry how is
retirement treating you?
Larry Merchant - I am not
exactly retired. When I left HBO I said that I would be here, there,
and everywhere but very few people picked up on the fact that I was
leaving HBO and not retiring in the traditional sense. I have done
three events already this year and just returned from China and I
will be back there in July for an event. I also worked the Canelo
Alvarez / Austin Trout fight for Golden Boy's international side of
the event. I have also done some cameo appearances in movies...so
I'm still out here doing stuff and we will see what other stuff comes
DT: We miss your ringside work
for HBO Boxing...It seems that since your departure the quality of
the HBO telecast has gone down while the Showtime Boxing events have
improved in quality...you agree?
LM: I don't know that any of
that would have happen with or without me. Showtime has apparently
raised its budget for fights and as a result you are seeing some good
fights on Showtime.
DT: Could that be because
Showtime is owned by CBS and their big bucks?
LM: Certainly, CBS has Showtime
competing with HBO in all areas...movies, concerts, and sporting
events with a certain emphasis on boxing.
DT: Is this good for boxing?
LM: Yes, especially for the
short term. We are getting better fights and we have three big PPV
events in the fall. Mayweather Jr. vs. Canelo Alvarez, Juan Manual
Marquez vs. Timothy Bradley, and Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios. At
the end of the day or night, the most important thing is the fans are
getting good fights. A big part of these great fights would be
directly related to the competition between rival networks.
DT: Have you watched a Showtime
Boxing event and your thoughts about the changes to the Showtime
LM: Sure I've watched boxing on
Showtime. I do love the fact that they have added Brian Kenny who I
think is a terrific boxing broadcaster. Paulie Malignaggi also does
a very nice job. A few years ago when HBO had an open spot for a
commentator I suggested Malignaggi but they went in another
direction. To me it seems that the Showtime Boxing telecasts have
about five or six people talking while two guys are fighting, but if
it's a good fight, who cares?
DT: Larry, how big was it for
Showtime to land Floyd Mayweather Jr. and did HBO participate in the
LM: I'm certain that HBO tried
to get him. Sometimes the number two guy wants to make a statement
regardless if the economics work out or not. For their viewers it's
great...they got the number one fighter. The network is paying
heavily in terms of dollars and airtime but sometimes you have to
take the risk of losing money to make money.
DT: From a layman's viewpoint,
it would appear that when Ken Hershman was the man at Showtime
Boxing, HBO was producing the better fights. Now Ken Hershman is the
man at HBO and Showtime has taken over producing better fights. Is
this merely a coincidence?
LM: I will let you comment on
DT: I don't think it's a good
thing for boxing to have barriers between promoters and networks.
Agree or disagree?
LM: I agree in general but I
believe so far it hasn't mattered that much. Also, it's the nature
of the business. I understand that if one promoter has a fighter
that he wants to push up the ladder then he could set him up against
another of his fighters knowing that the odds are good that the
fighter he believes is more promotable, has a good chance to win.
You can also say that in some strange way it works out for the
betterment of boxing. Golden Boy has a stable of fighters at 140
pounds and could easily promote a tournament at this weight. We all
remember when Showtime promoted a Super Middleweight tournament...it
was in their best interest to have the best fight the best and the
most exciting guy would walk out with the championship. So in an odd
sort of way these are examples where the current situation in boxing
could help a network bring the fans the best fights. In general, it
could hurt the sport and a good example is that you will not likely
see Tim Bradley fight Mayweather if he beats Marquez in the fall and
Mayweather beats Alvarez. A Bradley / Mayweather bout would have a
lot of appeal for the fans. This is not likely because Bradley and
Mayweather are not with the same promoter.
DT: On that note, September
14th of this year is a very big day for boxing. Canelo Alvarez has a
date in Vegas with Floyd Mayweather Jr. What's your thoughts about
LM: I haven't given any serious
thought yet. I think the fact that Mayweather has been established
as a two and a half to one favorite reflects the feeling that Canelo
will be one of the most serious challenges that he has had in a long
DT: You have seen many great
fighters from a ringside perspective, where would you rank Floyd
LM: I have never been good at
rating fighters against competitors from different eras. I know that
the readers and viewers have fun with ranking all time fighters and
it seems that everyone has a top ten list but I believe that fighters
have to be compared against fighters of their time. Using that
guideline, it's fair to say that Mayweather is one of the best
fighters of his time. For me, that's high praise because there has
been some very good fighters during his time. I will make an
exception to my earlier statement and say that I agree with everyone
who saw Sugar Ray Robinson during his prime and believes he is the
best of all time.
DT: Let's discuss Manny
Pacquiao. Will Pacquiao be able to climb back up the ladder and
position himself for a fight with Floyd?
LM: The first obstacle is the
fact that the two networks and two promoters are not talking to each
other much less negotiating fights with each other. Now that's one
factor but experience tells us that the pie is big enough that they
can make it happen. Right now Pacquiao is coming off two losses and
he will have to restore himself and he does have an opponent in
Brandon Rios who will be his truth machine. We will see if Manny
Pacquiao wants it bad enough and willing to give it his full time and
energy, even though he has another full time job as a congressman,
the Rios fight will answer some of these questions. Rios looks like
a good opponent for Pacquiao because he keeps coming, however if
Pacquiao is not physically and mentally in top condition, then the
dream becomes a nightmare. Again, we will have to see the results of
the three PPV events and then see who fights who down the road.
DT: I agree that Pacman must
look very good in his next couple of fights to earn a shot against
the "pound for pound" king.
LM: Anytime you set a high
standard you will be judged not by winning or losing but by that
standard. We have a certain image of him that was created and we
will see how much of that image can be restored.
DT: Larry, after several
viewings of the Pacquiao/ Marquez fourth fight, I still get the
feeling it was one of the best ever. Do you agree?
LM: The fight should be on
every list of great fights. It was as good as it gets because it
wasn't as if nothing was happening and then there was a
knockout....everything was happening then there was a knockout. It's
one of those fights that will live on forever.
DT: Where is the next
generation of great fighters?
LM: Well it could be Canelo
Alvarez and Adrien Broner. Boxing is no longer a mainstream sport.
Things change, horse racing is no longer mainstream, tennis and golf
have lost popularity, but all of these events have grand slam type
attraction. These sports become mainstream when one of their big
events is taking place and that's the same with boxing. On September
14th, the sport will be mainstream. The sport of boxing has its
fans namely the Mexican Americans and all Latino communities, which
are growing. There are literally hundreds of live boxing telecasts
every year. Somebody is watching, somebody is making money off the
sport. In the fall with the three PPV events, probably have upwards
of 3 million viewers pay for these prize fights. Some young guy that
can't dunk a basketball or play quarterback will decided that boxing
is the kind of sport where he can attain success and that translates
DT: Let's change directions.
How do we fix the American Heavyweight situation?
LM: How about another Evander
Holyfield? Riddick Bowe, Holyfield, and Tyson was a rich time for
American Heavyweights. I have said for a long time that boxing needs
a heavyweight version of Oscar De La Hoya or a Tiger Woods. I have
also said for a long time that there are dozens of them out there but
they are all playing football at the linebacker position. It's just
a matter of time before an American Heavyweight will materialize.
Imagine if the Klitschkos were from New York? There would be a total
different perspective of these two heavyweight champions. I had a
lot of hope for Chris Areola but that hope has not blossomed into a
DT: Speaking of heavyweights,
my favorite HBO telecasts were the ones that featured you and George
Foreman as the expert analysts. You both brought different
perspectives to the viewers and it worked out great. Do you miss any
of that time period?
LM: I had a lot of fun with
George. Way back in the day I covered his bouts when he was a prize
fighter. His perspective was one of a prize fighter where I saw
fights through the prism of a journalist and commentator. Of course
we would sometimes have differences of opinion due to our background.
Sometimes it probably seemed combative to the viewers of the
telecast. I never saw anything wrong with that...we should be
allowed to disagree. It was all very good, lots of fun with no bad
intentions and I am glad to hear that so many fight fans enjoyed
those times. I worked with George on the last fight from China which
was on HBO2 and we are teaming up again in late July.
DT: What are some of your most
memorable fights that you have witnessed from ringside at HBO?
LM: It's very hard to pick out
a fight...Haggler/ Hearns, Tyson/ Douglass, Morales/ Barrera, Pryor/
Arguello...of course in 35 or 40 years I have seen a lot of good
fights and a lot of good fighters.
DT: Why have we not seen a five
or six part documentary about the history of boxing?
LM: We had a very successful
series on HBO called boxing's legendary nights. I understand that
there is a documentary on the Gatti/ Ward fights coming to HBO this
fall. Why there hasn't been a comprehensive documentary on the
history of the sport, I do not know. I would assume the marketing
people would know something if the public was interested in this type
of documentary. Certainly the history of boxing would be more than a
one hour show.
DT: I would love to see a Ken
Burns type documentary and use some boxing historians like Mike
Silver to tell the story of boxing. You would be perfect for the
documentary because your presence at so many big boxing bouts,
ensures that you will live on forever.
LM: That's the last thing you
think about. If I live on forever it will be because my mouth was
wide open and seen through Ali's legs standing over Sonny Liston with
his arm across his chest. If I discovered a cure for cancer and
other diseases but that one photo would out live anything I do.
DT: Larry we all miss your work
on HBO and wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you
for the interview.
LM: Your very welcome and thank
you for the kind comments.
Readers: Thanks for visiting
Doghouseboxing.com and reading the interview. Did you spot Larry in
boxing's most famous photograph?
***David Tyler replies to all his e-mails and loves to hear from the readers. Comments, Questions, Suggestions, E-mail David now at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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