HBO working out deal with longtime announcer Merchant

The two biggest questions in boxing heading into this weekend are who will win the Miguel Cotto-Zab Judah welterweight title fight Saturday night at New York's Madison Square Garden and will HBO analyst Larry Merchant be part of the HBO PPV broadcast team?

As for who will win the fight, Cotto and Judah will settle that in the ring.
As for Merchant, the venerable broadcaster will indeed be ringside to call the fight despite the fact that his contract with the network he has been with for 30 years expired on June 1.

It is a sign that the sides are close to an agreement to keep Merchant, the conscience of the HBO boxing franchise, at ringside.

"As we optimistically iron out a new agreement with Larry Merchant, Larry has agreed to work Saturday's HBO Pay-Per-View telecast from Madison Square Garden," HBO Sports executive producer Rick Bernstein said in a statement Tuesday.

Merchant and the network are in the process of ironing out a two-year extension with an option for two more years, sources have told ESPN.com.

Many believed Merchant, 76, had worked his last HBO broadcast May 19 when he called the Jermain Taylor-Cory Spinks middleweight championship fight in Memphis, Tenn.

HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg was ready to turn his role on "World Championship Boxing" and pay-per-view events over to Max Kellerman, who has been the analyst on Triple-A series "Boxing After Dark" for the past year. However, Greenburg apparently has had second thoughts after taking a beating on the issue in the media and throughout the boxing industry.

Merchant will be honored in New York on Friday night at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America banquet, where he will receive the award for long and meritorious service to boxing. Many of his HBO colleagues will be in attendance.

The typically glib Merchant downplayed the recent development, but did tell ESPN.com, "I'm getting an award for long and meritorious service to boxing Friday. I'm pleased that it will be longer, if not more meritorious, by at least one day and one fight."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.