Turn up the mic

By Wrigley Brogan on June 30, 2018
Turn up the mic
“Knowledge about the sport should be the last piece of the puzzle.” (Wrigley Brogan)

“The old beat writers were classically trained journalists. A fan must first learn to put words on paper before venturing near the ring…”

Ring announcer, commentator, and boxing expert Steve Farhood could be a walking ad for Ageless Male. Except for sprouts of gray hair, he has not changed over the years: not his weight, his remarkable memory, or his accent. While other television commenters have adopted a universal and homogenized voice, Farhood’s Brooklyn accent rings like a timekeeper’s bell. Behind that voice is a remarkable knowledge of boxing. He remembers names, dates, fights, and probably any memorable punches thrown since the days of Pierce Egan including the angle and the speed. His expertise has been continually rewarded.

The crew from “ShoBox: The New Generation” finishes up their preparations for the evening’s boxing event at Little Creek Casino. The venue is small and most people would not consider this a big fight. Every fight is a big fight to Farhood. Careers are made or broken in small venues.

Light glistens across the tops of the ring ropes. A man adjusts the overhead microphone by pulling on the cord from the corner of the ring. A new photographer is given last minute instructions from a ShoBox official. She is not to get into the ring at any time, even between bouts. She knows the fighters will want pictures and will promise to pay, although they never will. He says that she is to give them pictures anyway; it’s part of the deal. She is one of the new generation who thinks she is a photographer because she owns a camera, like so many people believe they are writers because they own a word processor. She will hold the camera in a grip established photographers call the “geek grip” a dead giveaway revealing amateurism. Like the writers, her pictures will travel around the world in a mass of incompetence presently commonplace in an unrestricted world where everyone thinks he is a star because he has finished the race by starting at the finish line.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. makes a brief appearance bringing with him a galaxy of bodyguards as a constant reminder that he is the center of his own universe. He talks to no one and his guards hold back any fans who attempt to admire him too closely. His father, living up to his middle name of “Joy”, later spins through the crowd like a bright comet, all smiles and bright eyes, shaking hands with fans, posing for pictures, taking time for everyone and proving that not only does the apple sometimes fall well away from the tree, it often lands in a different field.

Eager eyes glow in the darkness and the lights from the concession stand flow across the room as hot dogs shrivel under heat lamps and the coffee boils to blackness. Security guards assume their places awaiting the crowd. Farhood, at one end of the ring, tall and dignified in his gray suit, leans over slightly as a woman powders his nose and forehead. Television lights hold him tightly and a camera zooms in as a microphone is adjusted for volume. Boxing expert Steve Farhood is about to go to work.

After graduating university with a degree in journalism Farhood carried no more than a passing interest in boxing and applied for newspaper work. Jobs were scarce and he eventually took a job with London Publishing who specialized in sports magazines. Through hard work and excellent language skills he landed the job as editor of the struggling “The Ring” magazine. Boxing was experiencing a slump and the magazine was sinking.

As editor of “The Ring” magazine, he helped bring it back to life in 1989, saving the magazine before being counted out. Much of the luster had disappeared from the magazine and the writing sagged. Farhood feels that writing, more than boxing knowledge, is what keeps the interest alive in publications and he feels that writing skills are often lacking in today’s young commentators although they tend to have better knowledge of the sport. Writing skill is even more important in today’s world. “The WEB allows anyone to write,” he says, “whether they can do it or not.” Good writing revived “The Ring.” It can go a long way to reviving boxing.

His love of boxing continued to grow and he was determined to learn all he could about the sport.

From “The Ring” he launched “KO” boxing magazine and again concentrated on writing. Finding good boxing writers has become an increasing challenge. “Too many young people think that because they’re knowledgeable hard-core boxing fans, they’re also journalists.” Being a competent writer is not easy. “The old beat writers were classically trained journalists. A fan must first learn to put words on paper before venturing near the ring. Knowledge about the sport should be the last piece of the puzzle.”

Boxing writers like Budd Schulberg, Dashiell Hammett, Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner, and Jack London, were writers first, fans second. A.J. Liebling, one of the greatest boxing writers, and author of “The Sweet Science,” considered the best sports book of all time, wrote for the New Yorker on subjects as varied as street life to French Cuisine. As a young man he studied French medieval literature in Paris and was an outstanding war correspondent. His boxing stories seldom mention an actual fight but center around people in boxing. Boxing writers have also produced some remarkable fight fiction like London’s short story, “A Piece of Steak” (it would have brought tears to someone as tough as Sonny Liston) and “The Abysmal Brute.” Schulberg’s “The Harder They Fall,” although a minor movie, is a literary classic.

Farhood maintains his love of print by writing a monthly features column for Britain’s “Boxing Monthly” and was the first Vice President of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Over the years he has received numerous awards including the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, the James J. Walker Award for Long and Meritorious Service, and the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism. He has followed a life of interesting hard punches.

His busy schedule keeps him moving. He has always been an athlete although staying in shape is increasingly difficult with age. Fortunately his wife, Marcia McCaffrey, is a retired athletic director and she keeps him in the gym. “She has always been in better shape than me and keeps me moving.” He is a real fan of paddle tennis.

Travel can be difficult on a marriage but, after so many years, “We are both into the rhythm of me being away. If I’m not gone I’m not earning a living.”

Writing and boxing have been good to Farhood, but he has not been content with the past and has kept up with the electronic age. Writing at a computer is not much different than writing with a typewriter. The re-writing is easier, as is the delivery, but little else has changed. Facing a blank sheet of paper, or a blank computer screen, is challenging. The skill Farhood exhibits has come from years of practice. His encyclopedic knowledge of boxing has helped. On any given topic he is able to draw upon far more facts then he needs. Having this bowl of information makes the writing comfortable and unique and gives the sentences a flow not possible for writers struggling with details and specifics.

He does less writing now since his television work has increased. These days, “About 85% of my work time is television work while only about 15% is writing.” That does not mean things are easier. Television has its own challenges.

Looking more like a sophisticated businessman or intellectual, Farhood’s life in boxing seems, on television, like a visual contradiction. People often imagine boxing writers to be pudgy, double-chinned, blue-bearded, cigar-chewing, semi-literates with vocabularies consisting of single-syllable words like punch, hook, dame, and whiskey. Television commentators come as a surprise. Fans can accept announcer Teddy Atlas regardless of how well he dresses because, with a jagged knife scar cut down his cheek and longshoreman features, he looks like a boxing guy. His justified outbursts about terrible judging fit in nicely with our conceptions of a tough boxing expert. Farhood comes as a shock although his venture into broadcasting has proven profitable and seldom does one see a fight without his appearance. Few commentators are so articulate.

He has appeared on ESPN, Top Rank Boxing, Heavyweight Explosion, Sports Channel, Tuesday Night Fights, Fox, CBS and is the commentator for Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation,” a job that allows him to witness new talent while traveling to parts of the globe, like Shelton, Washington, a place not even explored by Stanley, Shackleton, Burton, or Dr. Livingstone.

“I was lucky starting my television career with the great sportscaster Nick Charles.” Charles, with his good looks, also fooled boxing fans. He helped Farhood tremendously. “It took a while to get comfortable on air.” Everything in live television is instant. There is no way to rewrite. “What you say can’t be taken back.” Fortunately he was a quick learner and a careful thinker.

His boxing reputation has drawn interest from the regular television industry and they hired him as a consultant for an episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” Acting appearances on episodes of “Law and Order” and FX’s “Lights Out” followed. Although a nice way to collect spare change, his real love remains with boxing and he has devoted himself to the sport in any capacity.

Farhood was called to testify before Congress regarding corruption in boxing. Like most investigations involving the government, “It was more for show than anything else. The senators spent their time talking with one another rather than listening to anyone.” The hearings went nowhere.

He felt he did make a difference when he testified in Bob Lee’s IBF corruption investigation. “I think I did some good.”

Doing good, through boxing, is part of his life. He takes much pride for organizing “Counterpunch” at Gleason’s Gym. The benefit, for 9-11, raised over $50,000 for the Twin Towers Fund.

Boxing continues to have its difficulties, especially concerning poor judging decisions. Boxing judges often seem totally incompetent and fans become outraged. Farhood sees little hope for the future unless “some kind of merit system is instituted.” Presently, he feels the best judges come from Nevada since they have the most fights. The more fights a judge covers accurately the higher he moves in the rankings. “That way you get the best judges working the biggest and most important bouts.” Knowing if a judge has covered a fight accurately is difficult. Some judges score for a fighter who throws the most punches while other judges score for the one who does the most damage while some cannot even get the names of boxers correct and get confused between Britain’s Boxing Day and a boxing match. It is the latter ones who need to be eliminated.

Farhood is happy to be working with Showtime. Head of Showtime Sports Stephen Espinoza, a product of Golden Boy Promotions, is dedicated to boxing. Showtime has just finished an outstanding year. “He is a good man to work with and things are only going to get better.” Boxing appears to be making a comeback. With “Showtime,” “ShoBox,” “HBO,” “ESPN,” and numerous smaller venues, “There is more boxing on television than at any time before.”

Farhood moves to his spot for the Little Creek fight and nestles beside the ring and adjusts the television monitor. Earphones and microphone are strapped on. Farhood was once a columnist for “All In” poker magazine. For now, all his bets are on boxing.

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  1. Bruce Kielty 05:42pm, 07/08/2018

    Steve Farhood represents class whenever he is involved in a boxing endeavor, whether on television, or in a magazine or book.  Networks should be more careful when they make broadcast staffing decisions.  There are some color analysts on the air currently who haven’t even mastered basic English grammar.

  2. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:16am, 07/01/2018

    I sure hope the book,  “The Harder They Fall,” is better than the movie.  Doesn’t take much imagination to write a book like this or not being able to figure out that it was an obvious account of Primo Carnera’s career. No matter how well the book is written, it being labeled a “literary classic” is total bullsh*t.  Total joke that Carnera’s lawsuit wasn’t successful against the people who put out this film.

  3. Buster 09:40pm, 06/30/2018

    Farhood is a gem. A real pro who knows the sport. He is a valuable asset to the networks that employ him. Wish he did the HBO fights too. Those incessantly talking knuckleheads remind me of the old saying—an empty can makes the most noise.

  4. peter 05:12pm, 06/30/2018

    You don’t get any better than Steve Farhood. He’s a breath of fresh air. (As was his mentor, Nick Charles. RIP)

  5. Ted Sares 05:09pm, 06/30/2018

    Farhood is the best unofficial scorer on TV. His score cards are always better than the judges.

  6. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:38am, 06/30/2018

    Lucas McCain… I go through them a few times a year just to go back in time. I have at least twice as many old Sports Illustrated mags. Those SI mags from the 70’s look three times as thick as the SI mags of today. And SI was actually worth buying back then. I wouldn’t pay a dime for what they put out today.  No worries, about all those magazines though, they are all far from mint condition, but I still can’t bring myself to throw them away. I have a ton of baseball cards as well from the early 1970’s. Like the mags, the cards are far from mint condition and I only keep them for sentimental reasons and memories.

  7. Lucas McCain 08:24am, 06/30/2018

    Ollie,  I hope you keep on eye on those mags in the closet.  Flick through em once a year.  There are some insects that love to feast on the old pages, especially if stored in dusty closets!

  8. Ollie Downtown Brown 06:18am, 06/30/2018

    Haven’t bought a boxing magazine since the mid 90’s, but I have a large tote full of various mags like “The Ring,” “KO,” Boxing Illustrated, etc.,  from back in the day taking up space in a closet.  Farhood had some good work. One particular story that stands out was a piece he did about the inevitable changing of the guard in life and in boxing,  the old lion giving way to the young lion. It centered on Cooney’s demolition of Norton and Dwight Braxton aka Dwight Qawi bludgeoning Mike Rossman. Another good boxing story by Jack London is, “The Mexican.” London, who was a socialist of sorts at the time, ( not too many “socialists” adhere to social Darwinism, so London was an interesting character) so the story centers around boxing as well as the political views of London at the time. London would later abandon his socialist leanings as did George Orwell.  London’s “The Iron Heel” would influence Orwell writing “1984” later.

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