Monday, September 19, 2011

It Was Larry Merchant Who Took The Punch From Mayweather

By Rich Mancuso

It was not the Victor Ortiz head butt or the hug, apology, and kiss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. or that referee Joe Cortiz did not have his eyes on the fighters. It was the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Larry Merchant show on HBO Pay-Per-View, in a ring at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas Saturday night.

And it was one of the most awkward moments in boxing, an ending that may have topped the Mike Tyson bite of the ear to Evander Holyfield in their championship fight. It was boxing theatre, the appropriate term for an evening that had us talking more about Mayweather and Larry Merchant. And for boxing and fans, another travesty that brings more negativity rather than the positive aspects at a time when the sport is supposed to be at a momentum.

Because Floyd Mayweather Jr. continues to be the villain and not a champion, even if he won another title and continued to secure his legacy as a seven- time and five division champion. It does not justify making a post fight interview into pro wrestling theatre. The 80-year old Merchant could have made this more interesting had he took a shot at Mayweather. And as much as Merchant can get under your skin at times, boxing deserves better. Merchant, and for that matter any professional journalist or broadcaster, should not have to take abuse, threats, or embarrassment in attempting to get the answer.

You knew it was coming. It could be seen. Mayweather thrives to be in the spotlight and in all fairness it was time to address his fans and the boxing world. Merchant was ready with the ammunition and instead we get a confrontation that has become chemistry of this era of new school boxing. The question was coming that Mayweather was not ready to answer, his long awaited meeting with Manny Pacquiao.

It was better than scripts WWE writers put together every week, and something Mayweather knows something about having been a part of a main event two years ago for a WWE WrestleMania event opposing the Big Show. Mayweather was the big show, the bully, and give Merchant credit for standing tall. That moment in the ring has made highlight reels, already getting a record number of views in this age of technology. But the encounter should not be something known as a defining moment for boxing. It was a disgrace and became more of a storyline than the Mayweather punch that dethroned Ortiz of his WBC welterweight title.

And if HBO enjoyed the moment, it is further humiliation to Merchant who at a time last year appeared to be walking on thin ice with the cable network. There have been awkward and contentious moments in sports with media and athletes. We have seen Jim Grey of the Showtime Boxing broadcast team put the controversial Pete Rose on the spot on network television regarding Rose admitting his guilt to gambling on the game of baseball. Mike Tyson in a post fight interview was always an adventure. The tolerance of boxing theatre in the ring after a fight went beyond the spectrum Saturday night.

There has never been any public feud with Mayweather and Merchant, not to the knowledge of those close to the situation. It was Mayweather in character, and Merchant ready with the question about Pacquiao igniting a spark that lit the fire. Except there is nothing that can stop the fire with Mayweather, or for that matter any of the unjustified actions that take place during or fight or post fight ring interview.

Boxing has become pure theatre. HBO executives were heard to say they loved the theatre, so did the promoters, Mayweather one of them. Because this was more thrilling theatre that will cause those who did not purchase the pay-per-view to order HBO or watch the replay next Saturday night, meaning ratings and more money in the pockets of promoters and those who believe they are putting boxing back on top.

There is no reason to rehash the confrontation. Though Merchant may have had the lines of his career, his legacy as a boxing broadcaster, when he responded to Mayweather, “If I was 50 years younger I would kick your ass.” Then Merchant, as the professional went back to business and had his moment with Victor Ortiz. Merchant held his composure and Mayweather went about his business to tell the world that Pacquiao was carrying his name, something that still does not answer if the fight will be made next year.

Mayweather has etched his name in stone as a Boxing Hall of Famer. The knockout over Ortiz should not be considered a defining moment of his legacy until he meets Pacquiao. Ortiz wants a rematch that may not be warranted or offered, though Mayweather has consented. Perhaps this is another way for Mayweather to avoid Pacquiao for another 16 months. There is anger in the face of Floyd Maywether Jr. and Larry Merchant was the victim of a verbal assault that was not warranted.

But when Mayweather says, as he did in the post fight news conference that he keeps boxing alive, yeah he surely does. He continues to make news as the controversial and villain of the sport. His tears and thank you to the fans are another part of the personality that makes him the villain.
As for Larry Merchant, it is business as usual. He will analyze and continue the post fight interviews with fighters for HBO Sports. There will be no apology forthcoming from Mayweather and no reputable boxing organization, even the WBC, of which Mayweather now represents, will force the issue of a Mayweather apology to Merchant. It is the way boxing has become to be known, controversial and theatrics.

An anticipated and much hyped fight for the sport resulted with another black eye for fans. Victor Ortiz made the mistake and lost some respect and value. You don’t apologize to your opponent in the heat of a championship fight. And for Merchant, who avoided a black eye, it will be a thing of the past.
And we still don’t know the answer that Merchant, may or may not have received from his adversary Floyd Maywether Jr. Will the new WBC welterweight champion get in the ring with Manny Pacquiao?

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