On Friday, Antonio Tarver will become the latest pro boxer to take a turn behind the mic when he joins the commentating team for Showtime’s ShoBox card. Tarver, still a top light heavyweight despite back-to-back losses, isn’t retiring; it’s just a guest announcing gig. I suspect, actually, he’ll do a good job. He’s a great “talker,” and he comes across as a guy who’s knowledgeable about the sport. I say this despite the well-taken point friend-of-the-site Jack Kogod made to me: “I have a suspicion he’ll promote himself above all else.”
The problem is, I can’t really recall a time when a boxer or ex-boxer made much of an addition to the announcing booth. (Not technically a booth, of course, in most cases. “Announcing table” would be more apt.) Roy Jones, Jr. and George Foreman are the best of the bunch in recent years, and I can remember countless times where both of them were embarrassingly wrong in describing what was happening in the ring. The most recent that comes to mind is how Foreman just kept insisting, against all available evidence to the point that his fellow ringside commentators were basically scoffing at him, that ex-light heavyweight Iran Barkley had even the remotest chances of mounting a comeback against James Toney, who was drilling him. It just goes to show: Those who say “You can only understand X if you’ve done X” are ignoring the available evidence.
So who’s out there among current or retired boxers who could, maybe, do a good job?
- Tarver, as mentioned. Here’s what he said in the news release about his announcing gig: I’d like to think that I am more than a boxer; I’m an on air personality. My experience as both an amateur and professional boxer will bring insight to the telecast. Nick [Charles] and Steve [Farhood] are phenomenal at what they do and I’m just excited to be able to add the element of experience. I can let the audience at home know what these boxers are feeling at a very difficult time. So many things go through your mind and I understand the anxiety, the desperation, the excitement, and when you’re in a tricky spot, the fear.”
- Lennox Lewis, former heavyweight. His best attribute is that his uselessness is good for a lotta laughs. Actual quote from earlier this year: “That’s what we call a well-rounded boxer, when they can do everything.” And that’s when he’s not saying things that are patently false. (Sorry, Lennox. There are nightclubs in Las Vegas.) I don’t see how he can be redeemed, despite his recent assertion that he just needed to express his opinion more and was getting better.
- Bernard Hopkins, semi-retired light heavyweight. I had high hopes for B-Hop, another good “talker,” but he’s let me down so far. His biggest asset is his occasional introduction of a fun phrase, none of which immediately come to mind. And, again, he’s another guy who clearly understands the sport — but rarely has he conveyed a whole lot of useful information beyond the most basic of insights, albeit not on the comical level of Lewis. Some of his problems, he can fix with practice, like starting a sentence he clearly had no plan for finishing. Some might be harder, like the fact that he’s an executive with Golden Boy Promotions and went way overboard in praising how wonderful the GBP “Lightweight Lightning” card was. It was good, don’t get me wrong, just not THAT good.
- Nate Campbell, making his junior welterweight re-debut this week. Of the ones on this list, Nate’s the one I’ve liked best. He did a stint on ESPN2 last summer, and both Sean (friend of the site, former TQBRer) and I agreed that he did good work. “Not only are his observations spot on but I like how he describes what goes through the mind of each fighter… Obviously knows his stuff and is not afraid to speak his mind. Also he actually brings something to the table other then a famous name.” He’s got a unique voice, and he’s a real fan of the sport. However, some dissed his work, and I must say he offered diminishing returns as his stint went on.
- Sergio Mora, active middleweight. We only got the tiniest taste of Mora a couple weekends ago when he got involved in prophetically describing how lightweight Miguel Vazquez was going to give Breidis Prescott trouble in an ESPN2 bout. Mora, like all the people on the list, is well-spoken, and no one with his lack of punching power could make it as far as he has without knowing a lot about boxing. One wonders whether he’d do so well without such specific knowledge of a boxer he was analyzing — Mora, after all, had sparred with Vazquez.
- Chris Byrd, active cruiserweight. Just a feeling. I don’t have a lot to base it on. Just comes across as a smart guy, and like a lot of the people on this list, did well in the ring despite lacking some essential qualities with trickery and a great understanding of how to box. He might also be the least popular guy on the list so far, and the suits seem to like the idea of having a well-known boxer working in the analyst role.
- B.J. Flores, active cruiserweight. I’m not as down on him as some; he recently called the Wladimir Klitschko-Ruslan Chagaev heavyweight championship bout, and there wasn’t much material because of how simple the fight was. He offered what insights he could and did so eloquently. That said, he definitely needed to show even a modicum of spirit. There are ways of calling a boring bout where a boxer shows some kind of energy for what’s happening, be it positive or negative. And he’s now eclipsed Byrd as the least popular guy on this list.
- Nonito Donaire, moving up to junior bantamweight in August. Donaire has called some cards for some Philippines network or the other. He’s very observant and enthusiastic. However, I don’t know if any of you know the network I’m talking about, but they have about seven people in the booth and they all talk over each other like crazy. Donaire would have to dispense with that if he wanted to work U.S. cards, because HBO, Showtime and the rest tend not to embrace such chaos.
- Mike Tyson, retired heavyweight. Mike’s lust for studying boxing history is well-known. I’m not sure I’d say he’s eloquent, but he’s smarter than some people think, and, well, it’s interesting to hear what he’ll say next — anyone who says “skulduggery” as much as Mike did in the documentary about his life certainly brings a zesty usage of the English language to the table. I think he’d be a shoe-in for a commentating job if not for one thing: He has, overall, been on good behavior in recent years, but by his own admission, he’s got a touch of mental illness, and I’m guessing that the networks might not want to hire someone who’s got the potential to be erratic.
What say y’all? Anyone out there you think would be good but hasn’t had much of a chance at it? Shane Mosley? Paulie Malignaggi? There are probably a ton of retired guys I’m not thinking of — Sugar Ray Leonard, who I think did in fact have a stint on the mic?