He’s one of the most recognizable non-fighters making regular key contributions that the sport has had over the last 50 years, but just like all of HBO’s boxing, Larry Merchant has been silenced, since the pay cable network dropped live production of the sport late last year.
However, earlier this week Merchant gave a rare interview, where he talked about his career with the cable network, the growth that the sport and HBO did together and the aftermath of the HBO decision to cease showing live fights after five decades.
Merchant talked to Mitch Abramson of Boxingscene.com and said first about the shock of HBO being out of live boxing,
“It was a visceral shot to my stomach when they dropped it,” he said, “but if you care about boxing, there’s plenty of places to find it right now…
But then Merchant conceded,
“I think the sport has done very well without HBO. It’s having a terrific run now of big fights (with) ESPN, Fox and DAZN, and there’s a lot of money being poured into the sport. They’re using it for marketing and paying — some will say overpaying fighters — and making big fights. Just look at the fights we’ve had in the last three or four months.”
The network that previously owned the ability to show one huge heavyweight title fight after another starting in the 1970s with Ali, then through the 80s with Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson and then the 90s with Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, decided there was simply too much boxing available on TV and streaming services. And, the network decided to put their efforts and resources elsewhere.
Merchant had last worked for the network in 2012 and HBO’s Hall of Fame boxing voice of over 30 years, Jim Lampley, signed off for the final time in November of last year.
Boxingscene got a statement from Peter Nelson, Executive Vice President of HBO Sports, about possibility that HBO might want to start showing live fights even on a limited basis in the future? He told the site,
“Our decision led to a broadening of our programming slate: documentaries like Diego Maradona by Academy Award-winner Asif Kapadia, our pioneering show 24/7 reimagined for top programs in college football, and top sports personalities of today expressing their voices on our platform like LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Lindsey Vonn.
Our mission is to tell the best stories in sports, and boxing is welcomed in that. While we have no plans to air a live boxing bout, we remain proud of our place in boxing’s heritage, with live productions having spanned 45 years of its past glory.”
As for Merchant, who first came to be part of HBO broadcasts in the mid-1970s as a New York boxing writer who was also quick and articulate about the sport on the air, he’s now enjoying his retirement at the age of 88. And, he said of the way he wants HBO’s boxing coverage to be remembered,
“I think HBO made breakthroughs on every level of what they were doing, whether it was dramas with ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire,’ and then ‘Game of Thrones,’ whether it was concerts that they used to show all the time, being able to be more real about what’s going on than the networks were willing to do at the time…. “I think that the good things we did that others have followed. That’s the best to me, the best way to remember HBO.”
Certainly, the network was a “Goliath” in boxing television, and Merchant was fun and big part of its coverage for nearly 40 years.