Lunch with Larry: Part one
It’s been several years since Larry Merchant last performed his ringside duties for HBO Sports but the 87-year-old still is a keen observer of boxing. Make no doubt about it; he still keeps tabs on the sport and, beyond that, is an avid and discerning fan.
Last week while having lunch at Art’s Table, just a few blocks from his home in Santa Monica, he spoke about still reading the New York Times from front to back (the actual paper, not online) and various international shows he has his wife Patricia stream. But after finishing his fish tacos, the big subject was, of course, boxing.
When asked what of the short list of fights he’d like to see, he stated, ”Well, I think the list is short and popular. Obviously I’d like to see (IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony) Joshua-(WBC titlist Deontay) Wilder. You can have all the pound-for-pound fighters on the planet but the heavyweight championship is still the heavyweight championship. Obviously I want to see (IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady) Golovkin and (Saul) ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez) because I want to see the 13th round of what I thought was a helluva good fight, the first one.
“I want to see (WBA lightweight champion Vasiliy) Lomachenko-(WBC titlist Mikey) Garcia, two of the best fighters around but I don’t know if we can see that down the road – or the ocean – for that one to happen. And then in the deep background, but which could be in the foreground, (unbeaten two-division champion Terence) Crawford and (IBF welterweight beltholder Errol) Spence (Jr.). It’s encouraging. They’re two of the best American fighters; they’re in their young primes. When is that going to happen?”
And with the recent news of the presidential pardon of Jack Johnson, Merchant then joked, “I might want to see a rematch of Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson, now that Johnson has been pardoned in what was the only form of a P.E.D a hundred years ago.”
Merchant still watches boxing regularly, if not religiously. If there’s a broadcast on his former network or Showtime or pay-per-view, chances are he’ll be watching it. As for anything that might be on FS1 or beIN Sports, probably not.
“Sometimes I go out for dinner and I see the fight on replay, a half-hour or two hours later,” said Merchant, who went down his list of must-see boxers. “Obviously I want to see Joshua in anything he does and lately Wilder. I thought he was very impressive against (Luis) Ortiz and I want to see both Golovkin and Canelo fight. Lomachenko is tremendously skilled and entertaining. Garcia is a beautiful craftsman, one of the best fighters in quite awhile; I think. It’s a toss-up between him and Lomachenko. And Crawford and Spence, who are special fighters.”
So basically the fighters he likes are those he wants to see in big fights, which makes sense but, in terms of any young boxers he has his eye on, he says, “I don’t know if you call him a young kid but Jermall Charlo, the brother who moved up from junior middleweight to middleweight, the puncher. I think you can follow the money. He’s a natural opponent for Canelo or a Golovkin in a big fight. I’m curious to see how the plays out on that elite level.”
Merchant also likes the group of fighter at 126 that includes WBO titlist Oscar Valdez, WBC beltholder Gary Russell Jr. and WBA titleholder Leo Santa Cruz, who, while not necessarily young, aren’t old either. “There are some good featherweights around. These are the guys, when I see their fights coming up, I immediately put on my replay on television and I try to talk my wife out of going to a movie that night.”
Oh, and there is one other pugilist who intrigues him. Later on as he was answering another question, Merchant suddenly pivoted and said, “By the way, one of the things I’m looking forward to, because this could be decisive in the heavyweight picture, is how Tyson Fury looks.”
Huh…really? Merchant is still intrigued by the man whose career has been dormant since defeating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015?
“How can you not be?” countered Merchant, of the undefeated former heavyweight champion who finally returns to the ring on June 9, in the U.K., versus Sefer Seferi. “I mean, look, I find him a very interesting story because of his background as an Irish traveler and how he’s had difficulty maintaining himself when he got to the top of the game, how he had difficulty dealing with the culture he lived in. But he’s a tremendously gifted athlete and a personality and if he looks good and he’s taken the weight off, if he’s really dedicated himself, what he does in his comeback fight could affect whether or not we’re going to see the Joshua-Wilder fight anytime soon in the near future.”
Going back to the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, things have reached a stalemate between the two sides, putting the bout in jeopardy.
“A lot of it is (posturing),” said Merchant, who’s seen these kind of situations unfold countless times. “Let’s be clear: I really Iike watching Canelo fight but whatever happened to him with the drug test – it’s his responsibility – he screwed up. Golovkin is one of the best middleweights I’ve seen in the modern era along with (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler, (Roy) Jones and (Bernard) Hopkins. He’s in that class.
“I thought the first fight they fought was a terrific showdown fight, a big event and I want to see the 13th round. I’m assuming the hold-up now is that Golovkin wants to use and exploit the situation to get a bigger slice of the pie and maybe there’s going to be a bigger pie because of the controversy. I’m hoping that it happens in September.”
August 25 was supposed to be the return of Lomachenko but, in light of his shoulder injury, suffered in the second round of his May 12 victory over Jorge Linares, those plans have fallen by the wayside.
Top Rank/ESPN are still planning to go ahead with a card on this night.
The World Boxing Super Series has announced that WBA titlist George Groves and Callum Smith will indeed meet in its super middleweight finals. Speaking of which, I keep hearing that the date for its cruiserweight final between IBF/WBA titleholder Murat Gassiev and WBC/WBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk will be July 21…Mike D’Antoni is cursed…NBA playoff coverage just isn’t the same without “Inside the NBA”…The HBO “Real Sports” segment on crossword puzzles was actually pretty interesting…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.