HBO scouting for new analyst

Although HBO settled its most pressing concern about its announcer lineup last month when it finally re-signed star analyst Larry Merchant to a new two-year contract and announced that he would share duties with Max Kellerman on "World Championship Boxing" and HBO PPV events, that wasn't the end of the shuffle.

When Kellerman was promoted from "Boxing After Dark" it meant HBO needed a new analyst for the series, since Kellerman will no longer appear on it.

Part of Merchant's new deal included him agreeing to work two "Boxing After Dark" telecasts per year. He worked the June 16 Paulie Malignaggi-Lovemore N'Dou card and will be ringside July 28 for the Vernon Forrest-Carlos Baldomir fight.

Which brings us to a very interesting question: With neither Merchant nor Kellerman doing anymore "BAD" cards this year, who will join blow-by-blow man Bob Papa and analyst Lennox Lewis at ringside?

No decision has been made yet, but the next "BAD" card in need of an analyst is on Aug. 11 in Sacramento. The show features two good fights, Daniel Ponce De Leon defending his junior featherweight belt against Rey Bautista and Jhonny Gonzalez defending his bantamweight title against Gerry Penalosa.

HBO has been auditioning analysts to fill the role. My moles tell me that Wallace Matthews, the excellent analyst on Versus' boxing shows and a Newsday columnist, has auditioned and is considered the favorite. He and Papa had good chemistry as a team on Versus before Papa joined HBO earlier this year.

Ron Borges, the former longtime Boston Globe boxing writer, who also writes boxing columns for HBO.com, has also auditioned, as has Bert Sugar, the famed boxing historian and regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN Classic's "Ringside" series. Sugar also has ties to HBO, which brings him in to help promote most pay-per-view fights by booking him on radio shows around the country during fight week.

Another name brought up -- although he hasn't auditioned -- is Jon Saraceno, the USA Today sports columnist, who covered boxing at the paper before being promoted to columnist (which, by the way, paved the way for me to cover the beat at USA Today from 2000-2005). Saraceno has plenty of experience as a ringside analyst, having called fights on the "Ballroom Boxing" series in Glen Burnie, Md., for several years.

HBO declined comment through a spokesman.

&#8226; The hunt is on for Zab Judah's Sept. 7 opponent. The former undisputed welterweight world champion will headline the season finale of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" in his first bout since an 11th-round TKO loss to titleholder Miguel Cotto in a June 9 fight of the year candidate. Brian Young, whose Prize Fight promotes Judah, wanted to match him with Edwin Vazquez. ESPN, however, rejected Vazquez, who is coming off a June 23 decision loss to Matthew Hatton (Ricky's brother) on the undercard of Ricky's knockout of Jose Luis Castillo. Now the focus is on Jesse Feliciano, a brawler who has made a number of exciting fights on ESPN2. Feliciano and his handlers at Star Boxing want the match and ESPN will approve it. They're waiting for Young and Judah to make a decision. Feliciano's past three bouts have been on ESPN2 -- an upset knockout win against Delvin Rodriguez, an all-action draw with Alfonso Gomez (who knocked out Arturo Gatti last Saturday) and an upset decision against former junior welterweight champion Vince Phillips.