Not one to ever hold his opinion and his punches back, Larry Merchant has been calling it how he sees it for the longest time as a commentator and a voice in the boxing community. So The Boxing Voice wasn’t at all surprised when he called out Floyd Mayweather, JR. on the controversial punches he landed on Victor Ortiz in their September clash last year which ended their fight. We certainly were not surprised when being attacked verbally by Mayweather during the same interview that he responded with the classic ‘If I were fifty years younger I’d kick your ass” line. So we reached out to Larry to discuss a number of topics inside and out of the ring.
With the big May 5th fight looming between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto on HBO Pay-Per-View, a lot of the boxing public is looking forward to round 2 in the Mayweather-Merchant saga during the post fight interview. “The schedule isn’t out yet so I don’t know if I’m working the fight but I don’t go in with any agendas towards any fighter. I try to give the fairest and most observable observation of what happens on that night”, said Merchant on his possible interaction with Mayweather after the fight.
Most people have Miguel Cotto as a huge underdog in this fight but Larry tells us not to overlook the proud Puerto Rican superstar. “It’s possible; He’s the naturally bigger guy. He’s showed us his resiliency and his willingness to take on all comers and give us good fights but he is a big underdog against a guy who is a boxing technician”, said Merchant. Regarding the timing of this fight and the choice of Mayweather and his opponents, Merchant candidly said “Mayweather is astute as to what point he’s willing to fight a fighter. He chose Mosley past his prime but perhaps Mayweather is past his prime now at the age of 35.”
A past his prime ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley is the co-feature against Mexican sensation Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on the same card. The main selling point for the promotion of the fight by Golden Boy Promotions is Mosley’s undefeated record against Mexicans. Larry doesn’t buy that angle. “It doesn’t count as a particular factor in this fight. Mosley was chosen because he still has a name (albeit fading) and that name would look nice on Canelo’s record. That win will likely lead Canelo to earning a shot at Floyd Mayweather”, said Merchant.
With young superstars like Canelo and Julio Cesar Chavez JR, the thought process of promoters is always to move them along slowly and maximize the revenue potential of their fighter much to the displeasure of the boxing fan. Merchant added, “That’s nothing unusual when you have a young star that moves tickets and gets ratings. We have to remember Canelo is only 21 and the thing with most Mexican stars like Canelo or Chavez Jr. is that they turn pro early with little or no amateur experience. So when they come up in those fights and they capture the interest of the fan for example Canelo and his not so usual Mexican look and Chavez JR with his dad’s last name, they are going to move slowly. But let’s not forget when Canelo turns 22, he might be fighting Floyd Mayweather and Chavez might have a (Sergio) Martinez fight on the horizon.”
A fight that is on the horizon is the June 9th encounter between global superstar Manny Pacquiao and 140 lb king Timothy Bradley. Bradley a huge underdog in this fight is moving up in weight and maybe in class to challenge Pacquiao but Merchant isn’t selling Bradley short. “Bradley’s a tough nut to crack. He’s beaten everyone they put in front of him. He’s awkward, smart, and uses his head a lot; maybe a little too much”, Merchant joked. Bradley does bring in something new for Pacquiao; a young and hungry fighter. “Pacquiao has been fighting bigger guys lately, albeit slower and older guys. So this is something new. Pacquiao is an aggressive fighter and that type of fighter get older faster than the boxer type of fighter. That being said, I think this is the better fight (than Mayweather vs. Cotto)”, said Merchant regarding this year’s two major pay-per-view telecasts.
While Merchant says the better fight is Pacquiao-Bradley, the bigger event is Mayweather-Cotto. “Cotto has a huge following, a fan friendly style, and is a star in his own right. So yes, this will be the bigger event that sells more but not the better fight”, added Merchant.
The bigger event and the more amount of buys Mayweather-Cotto produce in relation to Pacquiao-Bradley will figure in to the already overblown Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiations that have produced the richest fight in boxing history not to be made. Merchant agrees that this fight might occur a little too late, if ever. “Some fights we want to see never get made because of bad timing, promotional issues, and a lot of other reasons like Mayweather’s rationale. First it was the performance enhancing drug tests he demanded Pacquiao to take even though there was no evidence against Pacquiao. After that was agreed upon, he demanded more than 50% pot that he had already agreed to. If that gets figured out, maybe it will be something else like the weight. Maybe Mayweather will say the fight can only take place at 154 or 152”, said Merchant. With all the money Mayweather and Pacquiao are making not fighting each other, Merchant goes on to say “That’s the main problem. They are doing great numbers against guys that pose fewer threats to them then it’d be if they fought each other. I believe if they ever fought, Mayweather will be the favorite but both have the style to beat each other, But at this point, this can be one of those fights that happen too late like Tyson-Lewis and Jones-Hopkins 2“.
Too late happens often in boxing but with the recent addition of new HBO president Ken Hershman, certain shakeups are on tap for the network Merchant works for. ‘Ken’s doing a good job in a short while. We have a very good spring schedule and he’s serious about heavily promoting our fights and our fighters. He knows the players, the fighters, and the promoters. Above all else, he knows how to make a deal. He couldn’t have had a better start getting both major pay-per-views the 24/7’s, and getting the Mayweather-Cotto commercials during the NCAA tournament”, said Merchant.
Merchant is old school but he agrees that there something that needs to be done to get more of the young viewers interested in boxing. Social Media like twitter integration could be a tool used to tackle the issue. When asked about Ken Hershman and the use of social media, Merchant joked “It might come to a surprise to you but he doesn’t consult with me much.” He did get serious and said ‘We need to integrate whatever we can be it social media or anything to use our megaphone to let people know what’s going on in boxing.”
A lot of what’s going on in boxing is the fights that are not being made and promoters not being able to work together to bring us the best fights possible. Instead what promoters choose to do is promote a lot of in house fights with their own stable of fighters. A major example of this formula is done by the most successful company in boxing Top Rank Boxing. Whether or not the trend will continue, Merchant went on to say, “They (Top Rank) achieved a certain status as the most successful promotion company going. When making fights with other promoters make the most sense, that’s what they’ll try and do. They’ve made fights with Don King when it’s made sense for both; dollars and sense. Boxing is an everyman for himself world in and out the ring. Promoters plot like crazy to get fighters who are making money entrepreneurs and they have built a lot of guys over the years like a Manny Pacquiao who makes major events. With those major events, they build their stables picking off other fighters who want to be in a major event like a Tim Bradley who wants to be an entrepreneur.”
On the topic of Top Rank and Golden Boy working together; Merchant added “When you have those big stars, you’ll get the most you can out of them and they’ll risk it all when it makes financial sense. When putting your guy against another company’s guy like a Top Rank vs. a Golden Boy guy, those fights will happen when it makes sense for all parties involve. It’s a perilous business where a lot of financial risk comes with a loss, and if that happens they want to make the most money possible with that risk. If a young guy performs consistently, Promoters do everything they can to protect their investment and that’s not going to change no matter what we say unless a major event comes along”.
One of those high risk, high reward type fights that is now dead was the proposed matchup between lightweight bully Brandon Rios and featherweight kingpin Yuriorkis Gamboa. It was a hardcore fan’s dream type of fight engaging two undefeated fighters with a crowd pleasing style. For whatever reason be it promotional issues, Gamboa decided not to partake in the promotional tour causing Top Rank to scrap the fight. Merchant weighed in his thoughts of Gamboa’s decision. “I wish the fight could be resuscitated for us degenerates (boxing heads).Gamboa has no real fan base, was going to receive his biggest pay day, and if he losses to a younger bigger stronger guy; well then he losses to a younger bigger stronger guy. It doesn’t mean the end of the world to lose a fight. We have to get rid of that notion. Taking a risk for a big payday is what prizefighting is all about as a sport and a business. I don’t see the downside for Gamboa. Yeah, he might get beaten up-Welcome to the big city. If he puts on a good showing in defeat, it’s still a victory if he loses”, raved Merchant.
Much of people’s thinking to why Gamboa pulled out was his promotional issues and that he wants a fight with someone his own size and skill level like an Adrien Broner. They also believe that someone was in his ear telling him that Top Rank was cashing out on him to feed to the bigger Rios to make him a star. Merchant doesn’t buy that notion. “The fight (with Broner) would be there even if he loses to Rios. However, The Rios fight won’t be there if he loses to Broner. Gamboa probably can’t make featherweight anymore so he has to move up. He has no fan base and his money depends on the television revenue much like Sergio Martinez, so he should take what’s given to him if he loses to Rios, he can still fight Broner”, said Merchant.
The hardcore fan lost out on that fight and has to hear the notion that boxing is dead when it comes to occurrences like Rios-Gamboa. Of course the question that lingers is when Mayweather and Pacquiao retire, who will be the one to carry the torch? Merchant offered up a few choices. “The one guy that comes to mind is Canelo Alvarez. When he fights here, he does big numbers in the states but in Mexico he does super bowl type of ratings. He’s young, has a distinctive look and gets knockouts”, Merchant said. In terms of an American boxer becoming a star, Merchant adds “Probably Broner, young, flashy, and Mayweather-esque. But the main thing we need is more young fighters with fan bases and good fights. If we get that then our sport will be just fine”.