Larry Merchant leaving HBO analyst chair

Larry Merchant will leave the lead HBO boxing analyst seat after helping call the HBO's Saturday night show, after 35 years of offering incisive, sometimes pointed and occasionally controversial insights.

"Starting in January, I will become a Tom Brokaw-like senior kibitzer on major news and events in boxing," the Brooklyn-born Merchant said, adding, "I was extraordinarily lucky to land with HBO when it was just a startup. I'm proud to be associated with so many talented people who made us into a groundbreaking network. I'm looking forward now to my new role and to new adventures in television, writing and the expanding media universe."

The former newspaper columnist turns 82 in February. Just last year, he was involved in the most high-profile kerfuffle of his career when he told Floyd Mayweather, the best in the business, "I wish I was 50 years younger, and I'd kick your ass," after Floyd took shots at Merchant's skills following his win over Victor Ortiz, and said HBO should let him go.

Some have whined that the analyst has lost a mile off his fastball in the last few years. But to me, this was further proof that the man still possessed more-than-ample pugnacity, which indicated his level of engagement was still immense. Merchant would synopsize and dispense the salient points of the show in less than a minute at the end of show as well as any analyst in the business, usually with a literary flourish that helped a viewer see the majesty which can often be obscured by blood droplets.

Here is a useful description of the Hall of Fame descriptor from a 1985 Sports Illustrated piece: "Merchant is boxing's voice of reason, an intelligent soul (when he's not saying "great!") who can slow things down, state an opinion coherently and allow an interview to take him where the answers happen to go. There are too many empty smoothies in TV. Merchant is "untelevision."

The broadcaster won't disappear from HBO's boxing telecast. He sees himself chiming in with some sagacious morsels culled and honed from seven decades worth of watching fights.

Ken Hershman, President of HBO Sports, shared a quote on the move. "It is extraordinary to reflect on all that Larry Merchant accomplished at HBO Sports during the past 35 years. We've been honored to have him as a colleague and he'll always be a member of the HBO family."

Merchant worked side by side with Jim Lampley since 1988. Max Kellerman, who joined HBO Sports in 2005 and has alternated with Merchant the past few years, will now be the full-time HBO ringside boxing commentator and post-fight interviewer.

The Boxing Writers Association of America honored Merchant for excellence in broadcast journalism in 1985 and with the A.J. Liebling Writing Award in 2009.

I will miss Larry's contrasting calmness when the prevailing aura on-air was hyper-excitement, his minimal indulgence in soundbites served up for the CEO instead of the fan, his stellar ability with words, his ability to sift through pages of research and incorporate a telling anecdote from a boxer's upbringing or personal life which made us care that much more about the outcome of the match, and yes, damn right, those pregnant pauses while he gathered his thoughts following the latest thriller or indignity from the theater of the unexpected.

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