HBO's Merchant to work last fight

HOUSTON -- Larry Merchant, a staple of HBO's boxing telecasts for 35 years, will call his final fight for the network on Saturday night.

The 81-year-old Merchant, known for his no-nonsense approach and often whimsical view of the fight game, worked on last week's HBO PPV telecast of Juan Manuel Marquez's shocking sixth-round knockout of Manny Pacquiao in their fourth fight. He will be ringside at the Toyota Center on Saturday night (9:30 ET) to call junior featherweight titleholder Nonito Donaire's title defense against former titleholder Jorge Arce.

"This will be my last fight from ringside, but I am not retiring," Merchant told ESPN.com. "I still may be seen from time to time."

Merchant's exit is part of the contract negotiation he went through two years ago.

"I agreed two years ago to a two-year extension to my contract with the condition that years after that I would be the 'senior kibitzer,' " he said. "That I would parachute in from time to time when there's big stuff happening. That's my agreement, so this is not a retirement. I still am a work in progress.

"I've had this happen in the past when I left my column (for the Philadelphia Daily News and later the New York Post), when I left NBC. I am ever looking for another place to play in."

Merchant joined HBO as an analyst in 1978 and has been ringside to call hundreds of major fights through the years involving just about every star champion in the sport as well as to handle post-fight in-ring interviews after the fight.

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

Merchant, hired by then-producer Ross Greenburg, Hershman's predecessor as HBO Sports president, said he could not possibly pick out one favorite fight that he has called.

"It's too hard, but I haven't seen too many better than what we saw last weekend with Pacquiao and Marquez," he said. "There have been a lot of great events. (Muhammad) Ali-(Joe) Frazier I is my all-time great event that I covered, but that was before HBO, when I was still writing a column."

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Merchant, who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., was awarded the Sam Taub award for excellence in boxing broadcast journalism by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1985 (an award that can only be won once). He also served as writer for the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary series "Legendary Nights."

Merchant was awarded the James J. Walker Award for long and meritorious service by the BWAA in 2007. And in 2009, Merchant was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

"I feel extraordinarily lucky to have landed with HBO when it was a start-up and to be a part of it with so many other guys behind the scenes," he said. "No matter how long you do things, to be with one company on one show for so long, I feel amazingly fortunate. But this (leaving the regular broadcaster role) has been in the works for some time. I'm looking forward to other adventures in media."

HBO's telecast on Saturday will look back on Merchant's career, and Jim Lampley, his longtime broadcast partner, will discuss Merchant's career during the episode of his boxing magazine show, "The Fight Game with Jim Lampley," which will emanate from Toyota Center after the conclusion of the fight card.