By Miguel Maravilla
Fightnews.com caught up with longtime sportswriter and former HBO Boxing commentator Larry Merchant last week at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. Merchant will be working his first fight since his retirement this weekend in Macao, China. He was last seen calling action at ringside for HBO last December 15 in Houston when super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire knocked out Mexican fan favorite Jorge Arce. He bowed out after that fight capping 35 years with HBO. He has been away from the boxing scene for a few months but not forgotten.
“I haven’t been away that long to have missed it and there hasn’t been that much happening,” Merchant told Fightnews.com. “I did a cameo role for a movie. I’m a freelancer now.”
In his run at HBO, Merchant experienced some of the sport’s most memorable moments from witnessing “Fan Man” fall into the ring at Caesars Palace during the Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe rematch, to the riot at Madison Square Garden that was fueled by Andrew Golota’s low blows and disqualification against Bowe, to almost all the big megafights over the decades.
Merchant also made news himself on occasion. In 1997, his comment on Oscar de la Hoya’s ring entrance music ‘in this setting mariachi music sucks’ set off a firestorm in the Latino community. In 2011, his contentious relationship with Floyd Mayweather Jr. came to a head in the post-fight interview following Floyd’s controversial knockout of Victor Ortiz. “If I was 50 years younger, I’d kick your ass,” he told Mayweather in front of a national TV audience.
2012 turned out to be Merchant’s final year at HBO as it turned out to be a memorable one for boxing and for Merchant.
“The Pacquiao-Marquez fight was an all-time classic fight, Ward-Dawson, Mayweather-Cotto, Martinez-Chavez, Rios-Alvarado, Nonito Donaire being fighter of the year, and both Garcia’s (Danny and Mikey) are excellent. I think it was a buildup year and we’ll see if those guys become marquee names for boxing.” Merchant said.
Merchant shared his thoughts about Timothy Bradley’s return against Ruslan Provodnikov as he defeated Manny Pacquiao in 2012. “Good for Bradley on his fight. I think he got himself in a bad situation for waiting for a bigger fight. He hasn’t fought enough and felt he had to make a statement to show how tough he was and he did to his credit.”
When asked about the Golden Boy and Top Rank situation, Merchant stated, “Everyone in boxing in and out of the ring acts on self-interest. Promoters’ self-interest is to make contracts with top moneymaking fighters they try to hold on to. You have these kinds of conflicts outside the ring instead of inside the ring. That’s not good for boxing sometimes, but it’s part of the deal. In the short run maybe it will be better for boxing.”
As for his take on boxing’s next generation of stars, Merchant opined, “It’s hard to say, rather it’s different between being a champion and a star. There are a lots of champions, not many stars. We’ll see who emerges. I’m not sure yet except for Alvarez (Saul “Canelo” Alvarez) that anybody has that star magic, so we have to find out where that goes in the fight against Trout (Austin Trout) and what happens after that.”
Another fighter Merchant is high on is WBA/IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (26-0-1, 23KOs) who this past weekend scored a third round KO win over Nobuhiro Ishida in Monte Carlo, Monaco. “I love Golovkin, a tough guy who fights in what I consider a true professional style. He’s a boxer and a puncher. He’s not reckless. He tries to break down his opponent.”
Merchant will once again return to calling action at ringside this Saturday in Macao, China on HBO 2 for Brian Viloria vs. Juan Estrada for Viloria’s WBO and WBA flyweight title. Also on that card Rocky Martinez will defend his WBO jr. lightweight title against Diego Magdaleno and two-time Chinese gold medalist Zou Shiming will make his professional debut. Merchant will be teamed up with Tim Ryan and reunited with former HBO color commentator and former heavyweight world champion Big George Foreman. For boxing fans they will once again get the enjoy Merchant’s commentary as he is back in his comfort zone at ringside calling the action.
“Well I am going to Macau and doing the event for Top Rank. As it happened, Top Rank sold the fight to HBO which I couldn’t be more surprised and when I left HBO I said ‘you would see me here, there, and anywhere’ and ‘anywhere’ turns out to be China.”
Follow me on Twitter @MigMaravilla