Hall of Fame broadcaster Larry Merchant, a ringside staple of HBO broadcasts since the 1970s, retired at the end of 2012. Former heavyweight champ George Foreman was one of his longtime broadcast partners on HBO before leaving the network several years ago.
When they worked together, their chemistry and often heated on-air disagreements -- seemingly refereed by blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley -- made "World Championship Boxing" a must-see show regardless of who was fighting in the ring.
Well, Merchant, perhaps like many of the fighters he has covered, is coming out of retirement for at least one fight card and will team with Foreman to call Top Rank's excellent slate of fights that will take place on April 6 in Macau.
Top Rank is producing the show and responsible for hiring the on-air talent, but it made a deal with HBO to carry the card in the United States on its HBO2 service beginning at 2 p.m. ET/PT (on about a 4½-hour delay in the East and 7½-hour delay in the West), meaning Merchant and Foreman -- whose call will also serve as the English-language international broadcast -- will be reunited on HBO. Tim Ryan, who called fights for many years on CBS, will serve as the blow-by-blow man on the broadcast.
It will be something of a reunion between Merchant and Ryan, too. Merchant told me that the first fight card he ever called, on NBC in 1976 in Paris, was with Ryan as his partner. It featured a middleweight title fight between Rodrigo Valdez and Nessim Max Cohen and a heavyweight fight between Earnie Shavers and Henry Clark.
"Larry and George are like Abbot and Costello, they work so well together," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "You include Tim and there is nobody better to represent our boxing brand in the biggest, fastest growing market in the world."
The Macau card, which will take place at Cotai Arena at The Venetian Macao, is a good one. The HBO2 broadcast will include junior flyweight Zou Shiming, the three-time Chinese Olympic medalist (and two-time gold winner), making his professional debut in the four-round main event against Mexico's Eleazar Valenzuela (2-1-2, 1 KO). He is a major star in China and his pro debut is a big deal there, which is why he is in the main event position.
But the broadcast will also include the two world title fights on the card: junior lightweight titlist Roman "Rocky" Martinez (26-1-2, 16 KOs) of Puerto Rico defending against Diego Magdaleno (23-0, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas and unified flyweight titlist Brian Viloria (32-3, 19 KOs), a Filipino from Hawaii, defending against Mexico's Juan Francisco Estrada (22-2, 17 KOs).
"We are delighted that HBO recognizes, as we do, the historic nature of the Macau event and is making it available on a same-day basis to its subscribers on HBO2," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said.
Although HBO is paying a small license fee for the card -- "Their fee is not even covering my announcer expenses," duBoef said -- he wanted the HBO brand name behind the show more than money, as well as Merchant, Foreman and Ryan, who he called "iconic brand names."
"When introducing a new product to the biggest market in the world, we are thrilled that the biggest brands associated with boxing joins us," duBoef said. "HBO is the gold standard for the sport and we are honored to have their support and commitment to expanding the boxing brand.
"Big George coming to China to do the show is a big deal. Having Larry Merchant and Tim Ryan on is a big deal. They'll do interviews, the people there will see them and know this is a big event."
The two other featured bouts on the card include former junior featherweight titlist Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (22-2-1, 19 KOs) of Puerto Rico against Japan's Yasutako Ishimoto (20-6, 4 KOs) and junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan (32-0-1, 20 KOs) of Glendale, Calif. against Javier Francisco Maciel (24-2, 17 KOs) of Argentina.
Those bouts won't be on HBO2, but Vazquez-Ishimoto will air on same-day tape on UniMas' "Solo Boxeo Tecate" with Martirosyan-Maciel also part of the broadcast, time permitting.