Larry Merchant needs no introduction. He is considered the greatest television boxing analyst of all time. Larry is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Let’s welcome Larry into the doghouse.
David Tyler Larry, let’s discuss the Cotto/ Pacquiao mega fight November 14th on HBO PPV. Your thoughts?
Larry Merchant Well the first thing that comes to mind is that Pacquiao is about a two to one favorite and I think it’s virtually an even fight going in. I think that Pacquiao for the first time since he moved up in weight is fighting a naturally stronger fighter who is a quality fighter in his prime and that will be a really serious test for him.
DT I agree. How do you see Miguel Cotto presenting problems for Manny Pacquiao?
LM I think that Cotto unlike Pacquiao is a versatile fighter. He has proven that he can box as well as throw and punch. Maybe the main issue will come down to what happens when Pacquiao hits Cotto with that explosive straight left hand? Also, what speed differential there is between them. Since he has moved up from 130 pounds, Pacquiao has fought three opponents. He had to hit David Diaz enumerable times before stopping him. Everyone remembers his more high profile fights with Oscar who he was just too fast for and Hatton who he just nailed while Hatton was trying to get inside. Hatton couldn’t see the punches coming and lost by a sensational knockout. So going by all that the question is if it turns out to start as a tactical fight who has the edge. Is it the quickness of Pacquiao? If Cotto can handle his punch that may give Cotto the serious edge he needs by being able to put Pacquiao on the defensive.
DT Cotto has fought some fighters with speed such as Shane Mosley and Zab Judah, they don’t have the speed of Pacquiao. How can Cotto manage the speed issue?
LM When a fighter moves up in weight and seems to carry his punch with him giving him an edge in speed and punching, that’s difficult to beat and that’s what makes Pacquiao so unusual. What made Ray Robinson so unique was he started as a dominate Welterweight and he was knocking guys out at Middleweight with one punch and that’s not normal. That’s what makes some fighters exceptional and we all know that Pacquiao has that. I don’t think of Pacquiao as a one punch knock out artist. He is boxer, puncher who uses both skills, both controlled in a committed way by that I mean when he boxes he is under full control and when he punches he commits to his punches. So if he can do that to a guy like Cotto then that makes him more of an exception than we already think he is, but I think that Cotto because he can box and has dealt with speed as he did against Mosley and Judah, is what makes him such a serious talent and the question how good does he impose himself on his opponent without endangering himself too much? And near the end of the day in fights like this it often comes down to will and who yields. And that’s something that we don’t know going into this fight.
DT Larry, the Mayweather/ Marquez fight drew almost a million viewers. Do you expect this bout to draw more than a million buyers?
LM It would seem to have a chance to do very, very, well because it has the fighters on the card who have such strong connections to their fans. I can’t imagine there is a Filipino in America who wouldn’t want to watch this fight or a Puerto Rican. So that’s two serious ethnic groups that are involved and then you have the Mexican American fans who identify pretty closely with Pacquiao and you have Chavez Jr. on the undercard. So you have those three groups heavily involved plus the rest of us degenerates and even Mayweather fans who will watch hoping Pacquiao wins so Mayweather will have the chance to fight Pacquiao. It seems to me that you have the potential to get into the million range and maybe beyond.
DT I feel somewhat sorry for Cotto in the fact that Freddie Roach and team Pacquiao have been very media friendly and I can’t find anyone supporting Cotto. It seems everyone has given up on Cotto.
LM I have seen a couple of interviews on television and I was at the Pound for Pound gym on Tuesday and there was a good media turnout. Pacquiao has become a boxing superstar and a phenomenon that has transcended the sport to some degree so it’s natural that with his sensational victory over Hatton and his unexpected victory over Oscar it’s just normal that there would be more star power radiating from him attracting the media. Plus the fact of his having to deal with the typhoon and other issues in the Philippines. When you get a guy like this it’s like every time he fights the preparation becomes bigger than the fight. Now it’s becoming an event. Just think of two guys from places who are not from the United States mainland coming to fight in Vegas and generating enough interest, we are talking about one of the biggest PPV events ever for a non-heavyweight. That in itself is a phenomenon.
DT Larry, I just can’t find anyone that gives Cotto a chance………..
LM I give him a chance. I think that it’s an even fight and that certainly means I give him a serious chance.
DT If I put a gun to your head and said pick one, who would you pick?
LM I don’t do that with fights that I cover. But I will tell you if I feel like the odds are justified, then I would tell you that there is every reason in the world for Pacquiao to be a two to one favorite. I think part of the odds reflect his star power. This is the 10th big fight he has fought in the United States, three against Morales, two against Marquez, two against Barrera, and the fights against Oscar and Hatton. So he is the better known fighter. The Featherweight stars who carried the sport for a while. That reflects in the odds. That’s great but I think it’s a toss up fight.
DT If Cotto wins, what’s next for him?
LM It could go in several directions, if it’s a crowd pleasing fight they could say let’s do it again. If it’s a crowd pleasing fight that draws over a million paying customers then why wouldn’t you want to do it again? Secondly if Cotto would have a clear victory then he would have a choice of fighting Mayweather obviously, but there is some discussion that if Margarito’s suspension is over then he could make a lot of money with a rematch. Margarito would have to take a lesser amount of the purse, like a million dollars because of the position that he put himself; Cotto could take everything else on the table which could be a considerable amount. Then there is the possibility of a rematch with Mosley who is considered the Welterweight Champion, so he has some big options there for making money.
DT If Pacquiao wins then it is obvious that the world would want to see him fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. next. Who wins?
LM I really don’t know but I would say that I suspect that Mayweather would be a favorite, say seven to five or eight to five but it is hard to project. It would depend on how this fight went. If he went out and dominated and stopped a young strong welterweight like Cotto, that would change the dynamics of how people saw that potential fight. If he would have a lot of trouble and it wasn’t an easy fight then presumably Mayweather would be seen as too good of a boxer and then he would be the favorite. So I think it depends on this fight and how Pacquiao looks.
DT I don’t look at Shane Mosley as the Welterweight champion, I think that the WBO champion is Paul Williams and he could easily beat Mayweather.
LM Hang on. Williams does not hold that title anymore as he gave that up to go after the Junior Middleweight championship. He can’t make that weight anymore. When there were discussions of him fighting Clottey recently, it was at a catch weight because he couldn’t make the 147 weight anymore. So I don’t see him in the picture, you come down to Mosley knocked out the guy who knocked out Cotto but Cotto beat Mosley. That’s what would make a Cotto/ Mosley a big fight. There is also a general sense inside the boxing world that Cotto is not the same fighter he was when he fought Mosley. That’s unknowable until you see this fight and when you see this fight you still might not know it, but there is a sense that he is not the same guy and maybe because of the beating he took, if he gets into a firefight with Pacquiao, it will show itself.
DT I personally believe that we will know the direction of this fight after the first two or three rounds. If Cotto can take the shots of Pacquiao, what’s going to happen?
LM Pacquiao is capable of boxing, I think it’s a different equation in either of his last fights, especially the Marquez fights when he faced somebody nearly as quick as him and also a good boxer, puncher. He won those fights by scoring knockdowns. Cotto may just be the larger version of a guy who is a good boxer as well as a puncher. If Pacquiao imposes himself on Cotto with the quickness of his left hand, then that’s the story of the fight and Pacquiao wins, but we do not know that’s going to happen.
DT Let’s switch gears a little, have you been following the Super Middleweight tournament?
LM Yes. I think they have done a good job of herding cats into a tournament and let’s see whether they keep the cats in the tournament. The history of these things is that they tend to fall apart but I think the premise of three fights each which means three pretty good paydays each with the exposure and interest in the media of the boxing world makes the incentives pretty high. I think it has the potential to be an important thing and maybe create some other tournaments in different divisions. I am looking forward to the Andre Ward / Mikell Kessler fight to see if there is an American as good as Kessler or Abraham.
DT Larry, lets talk about Arthur Abraham for a moment. Why doesn’t Oscar’s magazine have him listed in the top ten P4P?
LM I have no idea. I’ve had that discussion with Dan Rafael because I think that he belongs in the top six fighters. I don’t want to say that he was protected as a Middleweight but he didn’t have any fights against top ranked guys. He has proven in recent fights that he belongs in the company of boxing’s elite fighters.
DT Larry you are not part of Showtime’s broadcasting team so pick a winner of the Supper Six. I take Abraham who would you pick?
LM I would have to think Kessler is the favorite until proven otherwise. He hasn’t been as active as Abraham has but I would take the winner of the Kessler/ Ward fight to win the tournament. If Ward is good enough to beat Kessler then he is good enough to beat Abraham. That doesn’t mean he would do it, just that he is good enough to do it. Ward may just be the real deal, we don’t know until he fights Kessler.
DT How does an expert analyst prepare for such a mega event like the Pacquiao/ Cotto fight, November 14, on HBO PPV?
LM I look at tapes of recent fights, in this case how did Cotto do against another southpaw like Judah. I study the thick production book which is filled with recent articles about the fighters. I went to watch Cotto work out, Pacquiao is in town and I can go watch him workout without the media present. Although going to workouts doesn’t really tell you much, sometimes I just want to see the different things that a fighter looks like he is thinking about. When I get to Vegas we have half hour meetings with each fighter, five or six of us from HBO, which I glean various materials from what I have seen and what I have heard and what I want to question the fighters about and try to get a sense of their attitudes for the fight and just try to decide how I should frame the fight before hand and what I think the possibilities of the fight are whether I have discussed them before or not. I prefer the term commentator to analyst. I think Emanuel is an analyst. He knows the sport from the inside and knows more than I do. What I try to incorporate into my commentary is the personalities, the big picture, seeing what various motivations may be here, and in Cotto’s case for example how he has dealt with bad publicity from his bout with Margarito. How that plays in his battle with his uncle and trainer, what his frame of mind may be, what I would call the human interest side of the story and how it plays into the fight equation. To me it’s the human element that not only gives an emotional residence to the fight or it can reveal things about a fighter that may manifest themselves in the fight. So I’m interested in that end of the fight as much as the technical equation.
DT Larry, through the years you have seemed to tone down your approach to being a fight commentator.
LM I think that if my observations have taken on a more philosophical turns that may be the process of maturing. As fighters evolve and develop over time then maybe announcers do as well. To me it’s what is interesting in the fight at this moment. I am basically a writer and I think as a writer and what fascinates me is there are times that you have to be more direct and confrontational about certain things. For example, in interviews my job is not only to find the answers about what I am curious about but also what happened in the fight. If a fighter has certain views he wants to express then I don’t want to get in the way because I feel that nobody pays to see or hear me. If a fighter needs to be challenged then I will. If what he is saying speaks for itself then I don’t have to challenge him. It’s a show and tell medium and mostly a show medium. People should be talking about the fight and not the announcers when it’s over.
DT Larry, I got to ask this question because I received hundreds of e-mails about the botched interview of Mayweather after his fight with Marquez? The interview was not going well to the point that the interviewer forgot completely about Marquez who had to run and beg Jim Lampley to interview him just to tell his side of the fight. Just a poor job according to the readers. Care to comment?
LM - No. I wasn’t there in the moment. I’ve done these things long before I was in boxing. I’ve dealt with athletes in every venue in every sport, from the World Series to Super Bowls, all the major events. So I’ve had a lot of experience as a journalist in post game interviews and seen an awful lot. But you know, shit happens!
DT Do you get as excited as the fans before a big event such as the Cotto/ Pacquiao fight?
LM I think I do but I don’t think I am capable as getting as excited and passionate as an excitable and passionate fan. I have an observer mentality, I have been a journalist for more than half a century and I try and keep my antennae up so I can absorb what’s going on out there and enjoy the atmosphere of the fight, the emotions of the fight, and people’s feelings about a fight. When I covered the Ali/ Frazier first fight, was I excited about the event, yes! It was the biggest event or fight that I had ever been part of, but I took a half of a step back and I am observing who’s there and what they are doing. When I see Pacquiao coming down the aisle with a big smile on his face, I’m not like the thousands and thousands of fans letting go excited about this thing that they have been thinking about for weeks and weeks or months. I’m happy to let the noise and the fans speak for itself, and the look on his face speak for itself. If I have an observation about that then I may say something.
DT Larry, where do you see the state of boxing now and in the future?
LM I don’t know, somebody just wrote a book about it but it is what it is. No longer a mainstream sport, it has an avid and mixed following it’s primarily a cable and internet sport now and on that level it is doing well. There is an average of three fights on cable television on a weekly basis and now we are seeing that you can get a fight in Ireland or Germany on your computer. For the avid fan that’s probably something that’s going to grow in time. The globalization of the sport has changed, the profile of the sport, and the question in my mind is that good for boxing? Sports like Hockey or Baseball who have many non American athletes, when they put on the uniform of the home team, the fans cheer them. Boxers generally have fan bases that are either local or ethnic or maybe national but it is hard for American fans to get excited about say Kessler no matter how good his is, it’s just a fact of life. Maybe the German fans have the same problem with American fighters or British fighters. In some ways it’s a good thing, we have seen an influx of Filipino fighters because of Pacquiao, Featherweight champions from Indonesia, there are good fighters from Australia, and Japan. Suddenly we are seeing more good fighters from South America. I don’t know where that leads to but I think there will always be a Kelly Pavlik or Floyd Weather who emerge because of the great history and tradition of boxing in America. I suspect where the sport is now is where it will be for some time. I do think it’s evolving but I can’t say for sure. I have read some demographic studies that show there will be more Mexicans and Mexican Americans in California in the next generation than anybody else. I don’t know that they are going to be watching the golf and tennis channels. Suddenly there are South Americans and Mexicans in Chicago and Atlanta and other big cities. They will probably carry over the powerful traditions of boxing in their native country. But I think that we will always have boxing around in the same way that as newspapers declined and radio declined because of television they found different niches, and they flourish on a different level so I expect once we have an American Heavyweight it will restore more interest in boxing along with a celebrity smaller fighter like a Ray Leonard or an Oscar will emerge and traditionally they do, which will create rations of interest. Use Golf as an example, how much interest is there in a tournament when Tiger Woods is in it and when he is not in the tournament? Will there be a Tiger Woods come along in boxing, I suspect that there will be and we are not aware of him yet.
DT Larry, thank you very much for this interview and good luck to you and HBO as you and the team are covering the mega fight, Cotto versus Pacquiao this November 14th.
LM Thank you David and I hope to see you there.
Readers: The book that Larry refers to is “The Arc of Boxing” by Mike Silver. Many thanks to HBO for making this interview possible. Ross Greenburg and his team have been very helpful in promoting the Pacquiao/ Cotto event. Special thanks to Ray Stallone and Kris Goddard of HBO.