Boxing has three main homes on American television. HBO generally gets the biggest fights and the best fighters, while Showtime has been striving hard in recent years to make a dent with a smaller but more flexible budget. ESPN is the home of prospects and middle of the road fighters, but occasionally gets the chance to showcase a star on the comeback trail or a fan favorite veteran fighter. But how do their announcing teams stack up against one another?
HBO Boxing Announcers
The Big Fight Team: Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Emmanuel Steward – Jim Lampley brings a raw enthusiasm to the boxing game that is hard to match. His excitement is palpable and his voice has become entwined with many of boxing’s most memorable moments over the last several decades. Over the last few years, he has taken a turn for the worse towards fighter-favoritism, but is still the best lead boxing announcer in the business.
Larry Merchant is awaiting his replacement by Max Kellerman, and his often drunken, incoherent ramblings are in turns amusing and dreadful. Emmanuel Steward often brings interesting insights from his experience as a top-flight trainer, but also has conflicts of interest when serving as trainer to an HBO fighter. Collectively, the three men often jump on the same bandwagon and express the same biases against particular fighters. Grade: B
The Small Fight Team: Bob Papa, Max Kellerman and Llenox Lewis – While Lampley brings his instant excitably, Papa brings a consistent and knowledgeable approach to his lead announcer role. Kellerman, if prone to hyperbole, still has as much boxing knowledge stored away as anybody else in the business. Lewis has made great strides since beginning his role as the third man in the HBO Boxing After Dark broadcasts, but definitely still has his flaws, definitely. Grade: B+
Other team members – Unofficial judge Harold Lederman is most famous for saying the exact same thing in the exact same way every time he is called upon. His scorecards are sometimes a bit wacky as time as gone on, but hearing “the unified rules of the associations of boxing committee, JIM” gets a fight fan geared up for a contest like nothing else. Grade: B+
Total HBO Grade: Both teams are solid and while there are weak points, the overall experience is usually enjoyable. Grade: B+
Showtime Boxing Announcers
The Big Fight Team: Gus Johnson and Al Bernstein – Gus Johnson has replaced Steve Albert as the head announcer on Showtime Championship Boxing, while Albert will still appear occasionally when Johnson is unable to. Johnson fill the role of “generic broadcaster” who while studied in boxing doesn’t seem particularly apt to describing it fluently on the fly. Bernstein is extremely intelligent and well-versed in the boxing world and his keys to the fight and mid-fight analysis are usually very accurate. Grade: B-
The Small Fight Team: Nick Charles and Steve Farhood – Farhood is as experienced and bright in regards to boxing analysis as anybody in the business. Charles, the lead announcer on ShoBox: The Next Generation is more company shill than anything else, and when his mind is made up before a fight, nothing that happens during the fight seems to sway him. In a recent broadcast, after Cory Spinks was knocked down, Charles commented on how much he was impressed by him. Farhood’s expertise doesn’t completely mask Charles’s flaws. Grade: C+
Other team members – Sideline reporters Jim Gray and Karyn Bryant are a travesty, each with their own disastrous qualities. Grade: F
Total Showtime Grade: Bernstein and Farhood add knowledge and passion but are brought down by an at best moderate and at worst terrible team of associates. Grade: C
ESPN Boxing Announcers
Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas – The only announcing unit for Friday Night Fights consists of Tessitore and Atlas. Tessitore is a quality lead announcer for the team, and Atlas plays the part of the surly former trainer perfectly, being that he is a surly former trainer. Atlas however reminds of the Goodfellas character Jimmy Two Times (“I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers”) because when he finds a point early in the fight that he likes, he’ll harp on it repeatedly and exhaustively. Still, he often has rare insight into the fights he watches and has a clear passion for the game. His pre-fight demos of strategy are entertaining. Grade: B+
Other team members – Brian Kenny is the in-studio host. While I appreciate that he brings up boxing at every opportunity as a SportsCenter anchor, his picture is also framed on my wall with a collection of others under the heading: “People I hate for being unexplainably and unjustifiably pompous”. Jim Gray, from Showtime, is also displayed there prominently. On the plus side are the studio guests, consisting of well known fighters that provide candid discussion and commentary. Grade: C+
Total ESPN Grade: If only for Brian Kenny… Grade: B
Winner: While HBO’s selection of fights and unending stream of pay-per-views have come under criticism over the last several years, their announcing team is still better than any other network.