For many fight fans, this one included, Al Bernstein is the finest boxing commentator working today. In fact, Al is one of the best of all time. Bernstein celebrated his 73rd birthday over the weekend, but Al shows no signs of slowing down. Yet despite how much more Al is sure to go on to achieve before he’s through, he already has some fine career to look back on with pride.
It was back in 1980 when Bernstein began calling fights for ESPN. Staying with ESPN until 2003, Al then began working for Showtime, with whom he still works today. How many great fights, how many world title fights Al has called since his start is a tough one. But we know Bernstein called epics such as Hagler-Hearns, Corrales-Castillo, and so many more.
Interestingly, one of the best fights Al ever saw, according to a number of interviews Bernstein has given over the years, is the 1980 slugfest between little-known warriors Caveman Lee and John LoCicero. A few years back, Al was kind enough to explain to ESB just what was so special about that fight:
“It was in the summer of 1980, and there was no air-conditioning,” Al recalled. “Anyway, in round five, LoCicero hit Lee with around 25 unanswered shots. I’m not exaggerating! Then, with LoCicero exhausted and punched out, Lee came back and knocked him out. It was incredible.”
So, what makes Bernstein such a great, fan-friendly commentator? Unlike so many others, Al is not in love with his own voice (ironically enough, however, he is an accomplished singer, with a number of albums to his credit). Al lets his co-commentators have their airtime, he doesn’t hog things. Also, pre-fight prep is something Bernstein prides himself on – and it shows. Bernstein is also full of passion for his sport, he respects each and every fighter he watches from ringside, and Al has a fine knowledge of the history of boxing. Add it all up, and Al is objective when he’s working, he’s fair, he doesn’t show favouritism, and he realises how lucky he is to be doing the job he does. That last bit might sound ever so simple, but you’d be amazed how many privileged people in boxing, who work on the safe side of the ropes, fail to appreciate that which they have, and earn a living from.
Bernstein adds plenty to the fights he calls, yet he never tries to be the star of the show. So many boxing commentators could learn a whole lot from him.
Now, here’s a list Al was kind enough to hand to this web site a while back, on his picks for the Top 10 greatest fighters ever. Bernstein is, after all, a guy well worth listening to.
1: Sugar Ray Robinson
2: Henry Armstrong
3: Archie Moore (Moore being the one legendary fighter Al says he would so love to have interviewed)
4: Joe Louis
5: Muhammad Ali
6: Sugar Ray Leonard
7: Jack Johnson
8: Marvin Hagler
9: Roberto Duran
10: Ricardo Lopez
A fine list to be sure, but then what did you expect from Mr. Al Bernstein!