Of the nearly two million fans watching Mayweather vs. Cotto Saturday night, I bet 90 percent of them were pacing to see the real show of the night: Larry Merchant facing off against Floyd Mayweather part II.
In fact, a chunk of the pay-per-view fee should be attributed to this bonus round alone. Their famous first bout was after Mayweather's September 2011 fight against Victor Ortiz ending with a tense interview in which Mayweather blasted, “Larry you don’t know sh**” about boxing” and that “HBO should fire your azz”.
At home, all the viewers said in unison, "Oh, no. Floyd did not just say that." Well, before he could think about it, Larry’s fiery white mane unloaded a wrathful "I wish I was 50 years younger so I could kick your azz!"
It was somewhat like the Bob Barker Beat Down from Happy Gilmore, leaving fans dying to witness a repeat Larry lunge, when a brazen, crazed fan tried to interrupt Larry’s interview, and it did not end well.
However, the rematch was civilized, with Floyd on a souped-up PR-happy drink (giving two manically happy interviews) and Larry painfully careful, even renaming Floyd's pending jail time as “being out of circulation.”
Still, it did not take Floyd long to respond to his trials and tribulations such as jail as “coming with the territory,” to which vintage Larry was back in the saddle with his famous bewildered face, responding “WHAT territory?”
I was immediately drawn to consider the importance and contrasts of Larry Merchant and the UFC's Joe Rogan in terms of what they bring their sport and how this entertainment would be undeniably harder to watch without these dynamic personalities and witty sages.
They are unlikely success stories, given they are not former coaches or former pure athletes in their sports (yes, Joe Rogan has a background, but is not an MMA legend). They both hail from the east coast and have been gifted with the indigenous sarcastic chins and knockout spit known for the area.
This is where the comparison ends, more due to the sport than the man. There could be another article on “Which Sport is Most Difficult to Color Commentate,” and many would agree MMA has to be at the top of the list.
Aside from boxing, MMA has many other disciplines—including judo, muah thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, karate, sanda and tae kwon do—to cover, calculate and commentate. If you add in all the permutations, combinations and individual artistry, the color commentary in MMA is a thousand of shades of difficulty.
And aside from fewer combinations, Larry does have gifted helpers (Emmanuel Steward often brings real-life experiences as a famous trainer to supplement, and Jim Lampley rounds them out well). In MMA, it’s really all Joe, and he delivers with an effortless “Look Ma, no hands” style.
He can cover thousands of combinations, which comes from his background in jiu-jitsu, judo and tae kwondo. It’s hard to find him an able competitor in any division and in most sports. Even those in the UFC—including Kenny Florian, a talented fighter and recent UFC color commentator—would probably steer away from comparisons.
However, we should give props to Mike Goldberg, who is definitely cool grape jelly to Joe’s nutty peanut butter. Still, Larry Merchant is definitely an “institution,” as one boxing fan said to me Saturday night.
Sports commentators often make annual salaries that exceed $1 million (askmen.com), with John Madden earning 20 times that at one point. And it’s hard to be a great color commentator or to be respected as most Google searches highlight the “worst” “most annoying” or who should be “fired” of color commentators.
Great color commentators provide deeper analysis, adding to the entertainment, and the very few who see around corners are rare. Guys like Larry and Joe raise the bar for this important art of sports commentary.
Larry Merchant by the Numbers
81 years of age
Born Brooklyn, NYC
World Boxing Hall of Famer
Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather
One crazy fan
Undefeated. Despite trying, no fighter has succeeded in having him fired.
Joe Rogan by the Numbers
44 years of age
Born Newark, New Jersey
Wesley Snipes, Medical Marijuana Opponents
True representation of the fan, candid, insider
Octagon in is his garage, Thai Buddha Tattoo, Has an action figure toy
MMA Reporter, Host and Personality
@MMAMeg on Twitter
Larry Merchant Photo courtesy of HBO
Joe Rogan Photo courtesy of NBC