Larry Merchant versus Max Kellerman

merchant26.06.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: HBO has recently shaken things up on their broadcasting team. Long-time commentator Larry Merchant is no longer working on main attractions. Instead, as far as I can tell, he’s essentially been ‘demoted’ to HBO’s “Boxing After Dark”—a program which generally focuses on lesser known up-and-comers and smaller venue events. Filling Merchant’s shoes in his more familiar role is none-other than former ESPN 2 commentator, Max Kellerman.

Out of curiosity, am I the only one who finds Max Kellerman extremely annoying? To be more blunt, am I the only one who thinks he sucks out loud?

For many years, HBO has set the standard when it comes to boxing excellence, and that’s always included a top-notch broadcasting team. In fact, in recent times, the ultimate team consisted of three consummate professionals: Larry Merchant, George Foreman, and Jim Lampley. For years, these three men helped analyze the action as it unfolded, and did so in most entertaining, and often humorous, fashion. They were the Tremendous Trio of boxing commentators.

With the departure of two of the three, I feel we are left with a mediocre team, at best.

It was a sad day for boxing when “Big” George Foreman left HBO. Foreman was a one-of-a-kind commentator who used humor, astute observation, and a career of ring experience to help shed a unique light on the action. He was a sensational asset to the HBO team and ever since his departure I can sense the void he left in each and every broadcast. Foreman was always one of my personal favorites, and with the current crew of HBO commentators, I find myself missing him even more now than ever.

Part of what helped make Foreman so great was his love-hate relationship with his sensational colleague, Larry Merchant. The deeply contrasting styles between the two made for raw entertainment value. Between George’s jolly style and Merchant’s more measured and reserved approach, the two complimented each other brilliantly. With one, you had a former pugilist who had done it all in the ring; with the other, the journalist who prided himself on telling it like it was in accurately assessing the action.

Indeed, Foreman and Merchant were the Dynamic Duo of boxing commentating. No two men in the history of the sport’s broadcasting better complimented each other than these two brilliant and insightful men. I can still hear them disagreeing in heated fashion, with “Big” George capping off a heated debate with the concluding words: “Larry, you don’t know boxing!” It just doesn’t get any better than that, folks!

Now, instead of having the Tremendous Trio of Merchant, Foreman, and Lampley, we are stuck with a sub-par team consisting of Lampley, Manny Steward, and Kellerman.

In my mind, Lampley hasn’t been the same without Merchant and Foreman. With them, he was a keen observer who acted as a nice counter-balance to their contrasting style; without them, he doesn’t seem quite as astute and his comments don’t have the same type of impact. For me, removing Foreman and Merchant from Lampley is like removing Mo & Larry from Curly. It’s just not right.

To be fair, Manny Steward is great at analyzing bouts, and is probably more proficient than Foreman in that regard. However, despite his superior insight, he lacks the charisma possessed by “Big” George. As such, his observations always seem to be lacking something. He’s very dry and rarely brings a laugh or even a smile to boxing observers. He’s a straight-shooter and that’s it. What you see is what you get.

Now, with the addition of Max Kellerman, I feel HBO’s broadcasting team has reached an all-time low. Kellerman is annoying in every imaginable facet. He’s not very insightful, he’s not very charismatic, and he sure as hell isn’t the least bit entertaining. In my humble opinion, he is easily the worst commentator HBO has ever had. In fact, he might well be one of the worst commentators of all-time, period. His presence alone makes the entire broadcast suffer miserably. To me, he sounds more like a cheerleading fan-boy than a professional commentator.

All I’m left wondering is WHY? Why would anyone opt for Kellerman over an all-time great like Larry Merchant? Even Kellerman’s interviews are miserable when compared to those administered by the great Larry Merchant. Merchant was never afraid to ask tough questions and was never afraid to confront a fighter about the reality of any given situation. It didn’t matter whether it was a questionable decision, someone ducking another, or a potential opponent whose name strikes fear into a self-proclaimed ‘great’; Merchant was always prepared to get to the bottom of things.

Kellerman, on the other hand, appears like a star-struck school girl who was just introduced to a quarterback from a rival school. Where Larry always asked tough, challenging questions, Kellerman’s interviews are best defined by softball questions and giddy school-girl laughter. To me, it seems rather pathetic.

As things stand now, I much prefer the HBO “Boxing After Dark” commentators to the main stage ones. Indeed, the combo of Merchant, Bob Papas, and Lennox Lewis seems far superior to the Lampley-Steward-Kellerman team. In fact, as I see it, swapping Kellerman with any of the three “After Dark” commentators would immediately shift things back in the main attraction’s favor—especially if that were the great Larry Merchant.

Sometimes Merchant may seem dry, disinterested, or even inebriated. This all adds to his overall charm and does nothing but add entertainment value to the broadcast. With Kellerman, we get no such thing; just lots of yelling which seems to serve no purpose other than annoyance.

I honestly hope HBO gets rid of Kellerman, and soon. I really think he sucks. Perhaps my dream of reuniting the Tremendous Trio of Merchant, Foreman, and Lampley is nothing more than a utopian fantasy. Perhaps even simply reuniting the Dynamic Duo of Merchant & Foreman is too much to ask. But please, for the love of God, do not make the fans suffer miserably by listening to the incompetent moron, Kellerman. In my opinion, his presence does the HBO commentating team a major disservice, which is a shame.

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Article posted on 26.06.2007

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