Boxing has many, many detractors—and in some respects, deservedly so. But through the years, the sport has also carried a constant radiance, someone with a respected voice in the mainstream sports world that was heard and respected.
Now, Jim Lampley, HBO’s longtime blow-by-blow announcer, is giving boxing fans something more than his brilliant ringside analysis and illuminating observations. He’s bringing them a tangible, boxing-only news show that’s been missing for some time.
ESPN used to have it weekly, with the incomparable tandem of and Max Kellerman and Brian Kenny, but the studio portion of Friday Night Fights has taken a precipitous drop since their departure, offering fans inane soundbites and stale news nuggets without the depth that Kellerman and Kenny brought (I honestly haven’t watched since Max and Brian left).
Lampley has brought back intelligent discourse with his new HBO 30-minute boxing show, The Fight Game with Jim Lampley. The first show appeared a few weeks ago, and The Fight Game with Jim Lampley is scheduled for three more shows this year.
The grand plan is for the show to appear monthly—meaning more boxing, more Lampley and more great access to what’s really going on in the fight game without the frivolous politics that not only weighs down the sport, but weighs down much of the media with hidden agendas that cover boxing.
The idea of Fight Game was first broached to Lampley about doing a formatted studio show that was boxing-specific. It was music to Lampley’s ears, and he immediately jumped on the opportunity to host it, vowing to run the vehicle with the same journalistic integrity and aplomb that the future Hall of Famer and voice of boxing has broadcast fights throughout the decades.
"I was really pleased upper-management came up with the idea about a boxing-specific show; I thought it was a great idea, as soon as I heard the idea, I was like ‘Wow,’ that’s my niche anyway," Lampley said. "It’s talking about the one sport we at HBO do televise and do talk about on a regular basis. The tried and true sports, baseball, basketball and football, they’re selling abundance and regularity.
"Sports fans have conditioned expectations of knowing when the Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Finals are. It makes them ideal for commercial TV. In boxing, we sell scarcity and irregularity. Miss it, and you miss something special. That’s boxing. You either see it live or you missed it. To do a program that dovetails with that and continue to enhance our boxing telecast was a great idea to me. There’s really been nothing like it before."
Lampley was emphatic that Fight Game was not a promotional tool for HBO boxing matches. It’s a promotional tool for boxing.
"I certainly intend to discuss fights from other networks and try to talk about those things that carry the most important news value to the sport," Lampley said. "The greater goal is stimulating intelligent dialogue and keeping fight fans informed. Fans are smart enough and aware of what the right fights are. The first step is to know what matters to the fans.
"It’s why on our first show we introduced ‘The Gatti List.’ A big part of the culture of the show is to stimulate creative thought; what is it that entertains us and what bonds us to the sport. My central tenet is risk. We want to see fighters that take risk; risking undefeated records. Safety-first is not the way to entertain people in the ring. We want great fights and that’s what the Fight Game will be talking about."
Along with discussions of drug testing and mismatches there will be discussions of the ongoing problems that are prevalent in boxing. For example, the Lamont Peterson positive drug result prior to the Amir Khan rematch was a great lab test for the inaugural show. Lampley and the show’s producers had to blow up the original telecast in favor of the breaking Peterson news. It was an arduous task, but it worked seamlessly and fit perfectly with Lampley’s ultimate intentions for the show.
"We had to completely redo the format, and it’s what we want, something fresh that relates to the 24-hour news cycle," Lampley said. "No program of this nature is going to be taken seriously by fans if we don’t have editorial integrity and say something challenging to a promoter, manager and fighter.
"We want our reporting honest, because the more you tell the truth, the more people are interested. Every once in a while, in the past, I was criticized for being a shill for HBO. The goal of the show is honesty, and not being a handmaiden of my network."
Lampley plans on unveiling new segments to join the Gatti List, like “Lights Out,” which will feature spectacular knockouts, and “A Star Is Born,” which will feature an unbeaten, quality rising young fighter. It should be noted, Lampley said, that the first Gatti List was not in any specific order, meaning Floyd Mayweather did not officially top the list, even though he was named last.
"This is a forum I’ve wanted for a while, and I think it’s something that hopefully fans will gravitate toward," Lampley said. "I think we’ve gotten off to a good start and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that."
Joseph Santoliquito is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.