Larry Merchant: The Ship Sails

By Robert Ecksel on December 13, 2012
Larry Merchant: The Ship Sails
HBO's Larry Merchant, love him or hate him, was true to himself and honest with the fans.

When is the inevitable breaking news? When it’s announced that Larry Merchant—the cat’s meow to some, the bane of existence to others—is calling his last fight for HBO this weekend.

Merchant’s retirement, or whatever one chooses to call it, has been a long time coming. The senior member of HBO’s on-air troika is no spring chicken. At 81, his duties have been scaled back with the years. Boxing’s graying demographic, who despite or because of their age look at boxing through the long lens of history, had a voice in Merchant that will be missed. He could be cranky and opinionated, as though there’s not plenty to be cranky and opinionated about, but he was always smart, always articulate, although the words now come slower than they once did.

With the recent passing of Emanuel Steward, and now with the exit of Larry Merchant, HBO’s broadcast team, anchored by Jim Lampley and seconded by Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., enters the no-man’s land of its existence. Lampley is superb at what he does. If ever a voice could raise high the roof beams, that voice belongs to Jim Lampley. One cannot deny Max’s enthusiasm, whether enthusiasm is called for or not. Perhaps his youthful exuberance will draw to boxing those who have left in droves for the cages of UFC. And Roy Jones Jr., whatever his past accomplishments in the ring, is no match for the graceful, self-effacing fount of knowledge that was Emanuel Steward.

Wearing a brave face, Merchant says, “I’m not the retiring kind. I look forward to my next act. I’ve had a few discussions with people. It could be in writing. It could be in television. It could be in the new media space. I’m going to see what develops and see what I feel I should do.”

Whatever Merchant decides to do, and we wish him well in all future endeavors, it will be a step down from the platform he had at HBO.

HBO is a corporation, and corporations need to answer to their shareholders. Its bottom line is its bottom line. But language—and Merchant was in the language business—isn’t so cut and dried. More words, faster words, louder and emptier words aren’t always the best words, and definitely aren’t the best words when it comes describing the dark poetry of our nocturnal art.

Whether he was fighting back tears at the memory of Archie Moore or taking Floyd Mayweather to task, Merchant, love him or hate him, was true to himself and honest with the fans. He wasn’t always right. But those who have all the answers are either asking the wrong questions or are crypto-fascists, neither of which applies to Larry Merchant.

And who could ask for more than that?

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  1. Michel 06:35am, 12/18/2012

    Mauro Ranello constantly yells and is a disservice to the network and offensive to the fans. I didn’t like him on MMA and even worst on boxing. Larry Merchant was a bit a legend in his own mind with a penchant for exaggerating the obvious. I enjoyed some of his comments but at times left me wondering regarding the relevancy of some his questions. The star of the show should always be the boxers not the announcers. Emanuel provided great insights and enjoyed his extensive knowledge - he was the announcer I respected the most. He had credibility, respectability and was always very humble and unassuming. I was sad to hear of his passing and will miss his invaluable insights. Max needs to temper his enthusiasm - sounds very much like a company man. Roy is a little complex at times for the layman to understand with some of his insights and explanations of strategies.

  2. the thresher 08:36pm, 12/17/2012

    B Red has the beat

  3. B Red 01:54pm, 12/16/2012

    Glad to seem him go. I wont miss him at all.

  4. Jim Crue 01:50pm, 12/16/2012

    I sure agree with you and Mr. Bodyshots about Larry questions. Too long winded. I like him because he was not a corporate wonk who called every house fighter great like Lampley and company.
    Anyway I will be sorry to see him go, but thats just me.

  5. the thresher 01:29pm, 12/16/2012

    FrankinDallas has the beat

  6. FrankinDallas 12:27pm, 12/16/2012

    We will all miss Larry over time…just like we miss Howard Cosell. At least Larry wasn’t a corporate clone….he called ‘em like he saw them. I do agree though that his longwinded and complex questions to boxers (who let’s be honest aren’t the brightest bulbs on a good day but who are exhausted and pumped up after a fight) in the immediate aftermath of a bout were unfair.

    Mauro Ranello must go. I’m writing to Showtime about him. It doesn’t do that network any good for guys like me to mute him out (and I do, every time). Unfortunately I mute out Bernstein as well but I cannot abide Ranellos’ constant SHOUTING.

  7. Bodyshots 10:02am, 12/16/2012

    CORRECTION: . . . Merchant’s arrogant ASSumption that his personal biases defined boxing’s agenda is what made him the loose cannon who would essentially hijack broadcasts and post-fight interviews with his unrelenting ego.

  8. Bodyshots 10:00am, 12/16/2012

    “Dear”(?) CRUE, Merchant’s arrogant ASSumption that fight-fans biases defined boxing’s agenda is what made him the loose cannon who would essentially hijack broadcasts and post-fight interviews with his unrelenting ego. even when Merchant did ask good questions, they weren’t the questions i wanted to hear answered. consequently, all i can say is Good Riddance to Merchant. don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.

  9. the thresher 08:25am, 12/16/2012

    Ranallo makes Gus Johnson look good.

  10. NYIrish 05:45am, 12/16/2012

    Was rush to judgement yesterday afternoon. Ranallo did a good job on Showtime last night IMO.

  11. NYIrish 03:06pm, 12/15/2012

    While everyone’s complaining about commentators remember the name Mauro Ranallo. Just saw him for the first time and have had enough.

  12. Darrell 09:34pm, 12/14/2012

    Do I miss Larry Merchant?  That’s a hard one…

    I really do wish RJJ would throw it in though. I just cannot understand much of what he is saying, it’s really that simple.

  13. the thresher 04:16pm, 12/14/2012

    In the words of Marlon Brando in “Missouri Breaks,” Adios amigo.

  14. Jim Crue 12:39pm, 12/14/2012

    Dear Bodyshots,
    to call Larry a loose cannon makes me wonder if you ever watched him. He is FAR less of a shill than Lampley and Max. Even Steward was doing a good job of shilling. I appreciated that he wanted a fighter to prove his worth before calling him great. The most over used word besides “hero” in the English language today.
    I’m not sure what old fight films you watched but the announcers back in the day, especially the 1950’s during the reign of the IBC, International Boxing Club for those who don’t know, were shills for Jim Norris and essentially the mob. No announcer ever questioned promoter Jim Norris on the obviously fixed Chuck Davey fights. Decisions were never questioned no matter how questionable they were.
    The announcer, that’s right there was only one, realized it is a visual medium. they did not chatter all the time like Lampley and company. Don Dunphy and Jack Drees were the best.
    Larry never spoke too much and when he did he had good observations and yes opinions. Good for him.
    While I dislike Lampley and think he is incompetent, and forget about Max, they are only doing what the suits at HBO want them to do, so maybe our criticism is misplaced. The suits already have shown they are incompetent. They hired Max.

  15. the thresher 09:16am, 12/14/2012

    How harsh!!

  16. Bodyshots 08:01am, 12/14/2012

    definitely nice and generous write-up for an opinionated and cantankerous elder of the boxing scene. Larry certainly has command of the english language (like RJJ doesn’t) but rarely exercised restraint of his most bellicose and quarrelsome impulses. i also don’t think he represents a bygone era of boxing commentators. whenever i see old clips of boxing commentators, they were courteous and respectful but also adept at clarifying the facts and making the fighters and sport accessible to fight-fans. they weren’t the celebrities, the Fighters were. by comparison, Larry was a loose cannon. always assuming that viewers shared his biases and quick to expose perceived character flaws in fighters as IF confirming his personal peeves were the sport’s priority. anyway, i won’t miss Larry; Lampley may have the voice but is also verbose and typically inaccurate; and i don’t see ANY youngsters following Kellerman to the sport. we’ve done a pretty good job of cultivating the next generation of fight-fans in our family/social circle and none of these high-school and college-aged youngsters admire or emulate Kellerman. we would all have to purchase ear-plugs if that became the case, i.e., shouting is the effort of a limited mind to express itself and the more Kellerman “SHOUTS” his opinions into a mic, the less any of wants to hear what he’s saying. IMO, the emerging Malignaggi is a much more respectable and authentic representative of the sport for a new generation. overall, give me the Showtime crew of Bernstein and Tarver any day. HBO’s crew may suck less with the departure of Merchant but they are still the most prominent group of shills in Boxing.

  17. the thresher 07:39am, 12/14/2012

    Check this out. LM goes bonkers:

  18. the thresher 07:30am, 12/14/2012

    But I will not miss his slanderous hate for Oscar’s Mariachi Band

  19. THE THRESHER 07:28am, 12/14/2012


  20. bikermike 06:12am, 12/14/2012

    All God’s children….larry merchant was always there….why , I don’t know…I always felt larry merchant…being an old newspaper man….had a picture of somebody upstairs in HBO…and caught the guy in bed with a goat or dead woman ,  or live boy !! 
    He was irritating….and never asked the ‘hard questions’ so much as he was trying to assume control of the moment (when it was the fighters’ moment)...and try and hold the kid’s feet to the fire…or if the fighter was a vet…he’d try and do the spanish inquisition…instead of remarking upon the contribution to Boxing that just happened.

  21. bikermike 06:00am, 12/14/2012

    I’ll miss larry merchant like I will my second piece of ass…..the sister of my babysitter.  I was 13 and she was fourteen…she gave me the clap ....WHEN I WAS 13 ffs.
    I was always ashamed of myself…when I went back for some more…cuz I knew what was gonna happen
    Kinda reminds me of paying for a fight..and having to listen to larry merchant…..came with the thrill of the match…but it wasn’t what you paid for ffs

  22. NYIrish 05:58am, 12/14/2012

    I’ll miss Larry Merchant. He’s an old newspaper guy with the gift of language and a touch of class. He calls it as he sees it. It’s like watching the fights with an old uncle. I’m sure he’s got a good book left in him. Enjoy yourself Larry. Thanks for the memories.
    “Max Kellerman should be calling a fight in a basement on Long Island.”
    LOL ! 
    Emmanuel Steward was the best boxing guy for the airwaves. We all feel that loss.
    Lampley is OK, but sometimes I don’t know what fight he’s watching.
    Roy Jones has improved as a commentator over the years and has inside the ropes experience and insight.
    Bottom line is if the fights are good it doesn’t matter who calls them. There is always the mute button. 

  23. bikermike 05:48am, 12/14/2012

    I was never a Larry Merchant fan…....I honestly believed he did most of his interviews while he was smashed ....IMHO
    I especially took exception to his ‘verbal gymnastics’ he would intentionally spray a man who was just out of a professional fight…and may not have mastered the skills to do an international ..‘LIVE’ interview.  Larry his credit ...was a miserable fuk to everyone….including broke mayweather…..One time I enjoyed having to put up with Merchant breaking up the quiet….was when he pissed all over mayweather….

  24. Pete The Sneak 05:45am, 12/14/2012

    Say it ain’t so Larry. He reminds me at times of a Grumpy, cantankerous Grandfather who will sit you down and always tell you how much better things were back in his day. He could be irritating and never think that he was wrong. But you loved that Granpa dearly, as he would take you fishing, never missed your little league games and would tell your parents off when they came down on you. Merchant is HBO Boxing. With his current limited appearances on HBO, I’ve come to appreciate him even more when he does call a fight. And lets face it, after a big fight, the anticipation of the Post Fight interview when Larry is on board is always much more exciting than when Kellerman is getting ready to do so. Yes, Larry will be missed. As for Lampley, well he’s a shill, but he’s our shill. Here’s a guy whose been calling fights for almost 30 Years and still gets excited. You have to admire that. When he yells out “Big Right Hand” (and actually gets it right, no pun intended), no announcer can capture that better. Lampley’s call when George Foreman Kayoed Michael Moorer of “It happened, It happened” as the camera captured George’s face as he knelt down was indeed priceless. Anyway, I’m just saying. Nice write up Mr. Ecksel. Peace.

  25. Jim Crue 07:50pm, 12/13/2012

    Merchant is a jewel. He knows how to use the English language, he does not talk too much and I always appreciated that he was not fooled by China Chin Roy Jones and his hand selected opponents. I disagree with the author of this article. Lampley is AWFUL. He talks too much with no reason, and the announcers talk over each other constantly. For years I used to email HBO before a fight and ask them to please tell Lampley to shut up. Compare him to Bob Papa. Papa is terrific and he knows boxing. He needs to replace Lampley full time. There are 2 fighters in the ring and at least 3 guys calling the fight. Now without Merchant I’ll be on mute the entire fight.
    And Oh Yes, Max should be on Long Island calling the fight in somebody’s basement.
    Showtime announcers are really no better.

  26. peter 06:37pm, 12/13/2012

    I will miss Merchant’s honesty and eloquence. He is the “Barry Farber” of boxing.

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