Age Before Annoying

Rumor has it that HBO may be looking to shuffle veteran broadcaster Larry Merchant into the background in favor of ESPN’s Max Kellerman, reducing Merchant’s role to Boxing After Dark broadcasts.

While HBO boss Ross Greenburg denied this in an interview with USA Today, that may have just been a cover to avoid questioning before Mayweather-De la Hoya.

If this rumor has any teeth, the first question that comes to mind is how do you replace boxing scribe royalty with a informed but obnoxious talking-head?

Merchant had a long and decorated career as a sports columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News before signing on with HBO as an analyst in 1978. His face has been seen on most World Championship Boxing and Boxing After Dark broadcast’s since.

For years Merchant has served as the level-head and keen observer between Jim Lampley’s occasional theatrics and various color analysts lack of broadcast skills. He is the voice in the back of everyone’s head, calling a subjective sport down the middle with an articulate style and poignant tone that Kellerman could never imitate, much less duplicate.

Merchant serves as everything the others in the booth do not. He is a historian, journalist, smart-ass and thoughtful commentator. He may only offer 200 words during the length of a fight, but they are always more impactful and thought-provoking than anything you can read in the paper the next day or hear on Around the Horn.

Who could forget some of Merchants classic quips:

  • On Chris Byrd: “Chris Byrd has two punches – pitty and pat.”
  • To Vernon Forrest after clearly losing to Ike Quartey: “Would you also like to thank the judges?”
  • About Oscar de la Hoya’s shape in his fight with Bernard Hopkins: “Maybe he won’t look like a guy who’s been eating too many of those airplane cinnamon buns…
  • On Joe Calzaghe’s performance against Jeff Lacy: “Calzaghe not only schooled Lacy, but he flunked and expelled him.”

Heck, Merchant’s post-fight interviews alone are enough to make him the best boxing broadcaster of the post-Cosell generation.

Try and imagine Max Kellerman looking a top fighter in the eye and asking him why he stunk it up after a loss, asking Tyson the tough questions, telling Floyd Mayweather what he thinks of him.

I myself cannot imagine that and believe the sport of boxing would be given a tremendous disservice if HBO gives Merchant the boot.

I can’t imagine the sport without him, and I don’t want to.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.