Merchant will keep doing his thing

LOS ANGELES -- It was only 17 months ago when it looked like Larry Merchant's tenure as HBO's boxing analyst might come to an end, which would have been a crime.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Merchant is the greatest television boxing analyst of all time. And I am not just saying that because the man has become a dear friend during my nine years on the boxing beat.

Merchant's contract had expired in June 2007 and HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg wasn't planning on bringing him back. Instead, he planned to replace him with Max Kellerman, who was also doing excellent work on the lower-profile "Boxing After Dark" series.

But when word of Merchant's impending departure came out, HBO and Greenburg were hit with a storm of negative publicity. The heavy criticism certainly stung Greenburg, who as an HBO producer in 1978 hired Merchant at the network, making him something of a trailblazer for all of the former sports writers who would go on to become sports broadcasters.

To Greenburg's credit, he listened to the outcry about Merchant, and they agreed to a new two-year deal.

That deal, which expires May 31, also had a two-year option in it. HBO, required to notify Merchant of its intentions by next month, had informed Merchant that it would be picked up, but you never know until the deal is done.

Now, the deal is done.

Still going strong at age 78, Merchant will be back to wax poetic about the fight scene for the next two years, since HBO made it official and exercised the option Friday.

Merchant, who will continue to alternate "World Championship Boxing" telecasts and HBO PPV cards with Kellerman, was clearly happy about the situation when he told me about it at ringside before Saturday night's Shane Mosley-Antonio Margarito fight at the Staples Center.

Greenburg, who made the trip to L.A. for the fight and also to talk to Merchant in person, also seemed quite happy with the way things worked out, the ugly moments of 2007 now water under the bridge.

"We picked up the option. That has been our plan," Greenburg said, smiling wide. "Larry Merchant will be back. Larry Merchant is here to stay."

As it should be.