Newsletter: The Fight Corner: Jim Lampley is ready for his last HBO boxing call
Welcome to a special edition of our weekly boxing/MMA newsletter. I’m Lance Pugmire.
If the tears flow Saturday as Jim Lampley ends his boxing broadcasting career on the final HBO fight card, the veteran who served the premium network at ringside for 30 years says it won’t be long before his mood lifts about future work.
“I have friends and associates who seem to feel this is going to be a huge emotional challenge at the end of this, but I don’t feel that way,” Lampley told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week.
“I feel like I’m very psychologically prepared for another life — and it will be, in some ways, another life because I won’t be calling boxing matches anymore. But I have been aware of the thought process for quite a while, and I’m a loyal corporate soldier.”
Lampley has worked for HBO since 1988, a shift he’s spoken of passionately before, waiting his turn while honoring the connection to the sport that late broadcasting legend Howard Cosell of their mutual past network ABC owned.
As it became obvious that HBO, under vice president of sports Peter Nelson, was unable to satisfy the demands of powerful promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank — he left for ESPN — and woo and retain talent like Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, the home of major fights since 1973 became obsolete.
Its goodbye broadcast comes at StubHub Center, where women’s unified welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus defends her belt on a card that also includes super-flyweight Juan Francisco Estrada’s fourth fight of the year and a women’s middleweight title defense by two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields.
“We’ll have some moments … we should not leave the air without a retrospective … Max [Kellerman], Roy [Jones Jr.] and Lampley deserve a chance to say goodbye. We reached out to Larry [Merchant] and he has graciously agreed to accept,” Lampley said. “All of those things will make the evening worthwhile. I’m going to do my best not to cry and we’ll see, but there’s still a long way to go.”
While Lampley walks away from calling fights, he said he will retain his producer’s hat after presiding over the documentary miniseries “On Freddie Roach,” and his own boxing show, “The Fight Game.”
Nelson has spoken in highbrow phrases about his plans for the storytelling of sports on HBO, and Lampley says he has his own ideas to complement that strategy.
“When it came time to realize the landscape of boxing television is changing, the delivery systems are changing, and that the depth was tilting away from us, I prepared myself psychologically and operationally for the possibility I wouldn’t be calling boxing matches anymore,” Lampley said.
His fondness for HBO, however, remained, he said.
“I left commercial networks behind to a certain degree and sacrificed opportunities in 1988 to go to work for HBO and put HBO in front of the other network I was working for. HBO was always No. 1,” he said. “To some, that might have seemed illogical. It just had to do with my unusually great reverence for the artistic impact of this network, the way it worked and doing telecasts without commercials.
“I’ve been addicted for a long time to that editorial process. So I’ve turned my back on some upward mobility in order to work for what I saw as the No. 1 television network in the world and, artistically, the most important network to have been on the air.”
Lampley said while attending the University of North Carolina he strived to be an executive producer before landing an ABC college football job from a pool of 430 applicants.
“My on-air career was an accident. It happened, and I rode that train for as far as I could make it go,” he said.
Of HBO’s exit, he says loyally, “I totally understand the thought process. I know why the network is doing what it’s doing. Under these circumstances, I believe I would make the same decision if I were in the corporate suite.”
ESPN Plus and the new streaming service DAZN, which landed Joshua and Alvarez, have offered high television ratings and rich purses, respectively, to the fighters while Showtime has been joined by Fox in aligning with powerful fight manager Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions stable more than four years after HBO split with PBC.
“Boxing’s going to be fine. That’s fantastic,” Lampley said. “What won’t happen is that one network will broadcast over a 45-year stretch the succession of fights we have. No one will have as dominant a franchise. It’s going to be more colonized, more split up than when it was lodged in two primary places [HBO and Showtime]. You won’t see the catalog of what [ours] turned out to be.”
Tale of the tape
First HBO boxing telecast: Jan. 22, 1973, Frazier vs. Foreman, Kingston, Jamaica.
Boxers with most appearances on HBO:
Roy Jones Jr. and Oscar de la Hoya (32)
Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather (27)
Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto (24)
Lennox Lewis and Bernard Hopkins (23)
HBO Boxing commentators, 1973-2018:
Jim Lampley (1988-2018)
Marv Albert (1 fight)
Larry Merchant (1 fight)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder touched on multiple topics during an hourlong conference call with reporters this week after his compelling draw with Tyson Fury on Saturday night at Staples Center.
The opinions were strong, entertaining and extended, and here’s the gist of it:
On the fight: “Amazing. I’ve fought so hard to bring a strong American back to the heavyweight division, to keep it lit. To see the turnout and the attention, it was overwhelming. To have the world’s attention, this is what I’ve been looking for.”
On his fight plan, which left him desperately seeking power punches that missed too often and left him out-boxed at times by Fury, but ultimately landed two knockdowns, including the one in the 12th in which Fury “rose from the dead,” according to promoter Lou DiBella: “I felt the pressure and got overanxious to knock Tyson Fury out. This was my first time on pay-per-view, and the moment got the best of me. I got out of character and abandoned the game plan. I was fighting Fury and fighting against myself.”
On a Fury rematch, which the unbeaten lineal champion has said he’d like to bring to England even though Las Vegas offers more financial reward: “Everyone is talking about this fight that hasn’t happened. I’m willing and ready to give Fury a rematch as soon as possible and end this talk once and for all. This man got up for the rematch.”
Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza said he expects the fight to happen during the first half of 2019.
The thrill of Wilder-Fury leaves three-belt Joshua in a weird place, with his promoter Eddie Hearn left to select from second-rate heavyweights while the fight fans anticipate the rematch.
Wilder said he believes Joshua and Hearn were “throwing up” as the drama of Wilder-Fury played out.
“They’re getting what they deserved,” Wilder said. “They felt like they were the only heavyweight that people cared about, the only one running this sport. We showed them they’re not, that this is a group of guys making this happen. Fury and I showed the world what this looks like when the best fight the best. No one is talking about Joshua, and we plan on keeping it that way for so long.
“They had their opportunity. They led people on. Joshua could’ve been here, but their ego got the best of them, so let them continue to fight the second-tier fighters. My fight is the most exciting in the division, and I’m ready to give the fans what they want to see.”
Mayweather in Japan
The rules are set — three three-minute rounds, boxing only, no referee — for Floyd Mayweather Jr. to take to Japan on New Year’s Eve to fight Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa for a money-making exhibition at Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
At a workout Thursday in Las Vegas, Mayweather said, “This is a great way for me to go out there and give people some entertainment. It’s an exhibition match … giving me a chance to do something different.
“It’s going to be amazing. I’m in the entertainment business. That’s what I go out there to do. I’m working out to put on a show for three rounds.”
The real show is expected to come later in 2019, because Mayweather is hopeful Manny Pacquiao defeats Adrien Brioner on Jan. 19 in Las Vegas to set up a rematch of their record-selling 2015 bout.
Shields is expected to be walked into the ring by UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg on Saturday as Cyborg continues training for her Dec. 29 title defense against bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
Shields’ high profile and stand-up prowess could make her a natural for an eventual transition to mixed martial arts, but she said, “I’m trying to get women’s boxing to where women’s MMA is.”
Like Ronda Rousey, “I’d be able to create my own weight class if I came over, but I want a 100% win factor. I’d only have a 50% chance just knowing boxing. I’d have to get the wrestling and stuff down.”
Shields has the ability to elevate her sport simply based on her dominance in the ring and her realness.
For instance, in a talk last week, she was asked about confronting the demons of a volatile, harrowing childhood in Michigan.
Asked how she recovered, she said, “God did it. He gave me the strength to endure all those trials and tribulations and get me through the times I wanted to give up. I knew God had something in store for me.
“He made me stronger in my mind. At 13, I had a serious anger issue. I went to church and said, ‘I pray that you bless me with a stronger mind to handle the things I’m going through.’ Because I’d flip out before that. God was like, ‘You’ve got to change that. Be good to people and people will be good to you.’ ”
Until next time
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