Larry Merchant Interview: Part One – “Andre Ward Is Like A Minor League Franchise”

By William Trillo

For fight fans the final weekends in November looked promising on paper. Yet when the highly anticipated fights played out the collective thud in their aftermath was deafening. Kovalev vs. Ward was a good not great fight and the PPV numbers were disastrous. The following week fight fans got little or no reprieve from the mediocrity as Lomachenko vs. Walters was a veritable dud with viewer numbers that were also surprisingly low.

Over the course of this past weekend, a slow one for boxing fans, I tried to make heads or tails of what is going on with the fight game. What is the nagging problem? Why can’t boxing keep from punching itself in the gut? I had some theories but needed more than my twisted view on things to put the pieces together.

With that I decided to reach out to long time boxing commentator Larry Merchant to get his views on the state of boxing as we close out another year. As always Merchant had some very candid thoughts on boxing and why it is sputtering to the finish line in 2016.

Here is what Merchant had to say on these topics:

On Boxings Free Fall

“Look, there is no doubt in general that America is not producing the number of serious fighters like we used to have,” stated Merchant, “But the fact that we are standing here on a corner waiting for them to pass by suggests that there is not enough of them passing by…and that’s a problem. The promoters are trying to find the best way to promote their fighters and advance them in one way or another.”

“Arguably this is a low period,” said Merchant, “Arum had a couple of fighters who looked like they had a chance to become box office attractions. That being Felix Verdejo, who would succeed Miguel Cotto like Cotto succeeded Tito Trinidad. But Verdejo is still quite young and has been hurt. Arum also has the Super-Middleweight Gilberto Ramirez who might have had a chance but is also young and slowed down by an injury. You also could say the similar things (injuries) about PBC’s Deontay Wilder.”


“I don’t know but it looks like that whole Haymon project seems to be imploding although they do have maybe two good fights scheduled for next year. But they are having a hard time creating a buzz about any of their fighters. And by that I mean a buzz that could lead to stardom.”

What Is The Problem With Boxing Today?

“There’s another problem it seems to me. I was one among the many who thought Kovalev won that fight over Ward,” Merchant then somewhat justified the outcome, “It was perfectly understandable as a classic hometown decision.”

Merchant went on to say, “When two American fighters get rewarded, and I am talking about Mayweather and Ward, for high level and maybe even virtuoso boxing skill which lowers the temperature of a fight, I think that the game has a problem and that is defining what it is. The fact that the referee (Robert Byrd) let Ward throw one punch and fall into a clinch, which is part of Wards tactics, or throwing one punch and step back, he is very good at it. Now, you give Ward high marks for coming back from the knockdown and steadying himself and so on.

“My take is, and what I try to tell people is this; Once upon a time there was always one guy out there who was a pure boxer. Maybe a guy like Sweet Pea, but it was OK because a week or two before or a week or two later you were going to get a fight where something exciting was going to happen. So the spectrum was covered and it was OK. Back in the day when I was in Philadelphia I liked Harold Johnson who was a pure mechanic, but really good and really strong, and there were enough good exciting fights at the same time to have him in the mix. Right now there are not those kinds of fighters. ”

How Are These Problems Fixed?

“Whether it’s the promoters or the commissioners or both they need to get together and decide that the fighter who fights in a way that he is willing to take some risks and is willing to try to make the fight happen needs to get the benefit of the doubt more than the hometown guy. It’s up to the commissions to modify the rules of engagement. Sometimes the scoring is accurately reflected in the results but in the biggest fights of the year it’s not. It’s very disappointing.” But given boxings scattered organizations which is to say there is no organization, which means every man for himself inside and outside of the ring, I do not know how you impose that.”

“When in the biggest fight and the biggest matches the boxer gets the benefit of the doubt, if that’s the way it is, then in every gym in America trainers are saying, “you see what that boxer did, that’s how you do it”, then you end up getting more of the same until some serious fighters come along.”

On The Low PPV Numbers

“The numbers is a whole other thing,” stated Merchant, “The fact that two fighters took a minimum of seven million dollars out of the night isn’t bad. The fact that it did relatively low in PPV numbers isn’t good. Now, one of the things we know from experience is that no European fighter has ever been the major attraction. He has never been the A-side consistently. Pacquiao and a few fighters from South of the Border have done that by finding a fan base and generating a tribal interest. But you can go back and look, whether it’s the Klitschko’s or many others who have come here to fight, sometimes they have had big gates but they do not sustain them. That’s just a fact of life. When Golovkin fought on PPV it was maybe more money than they could have gotten from the networks but it was also a PPV disaster. But if they got the kind of money they would have gotten out of the networks, then they tried and they saw and now they got to move on.”

On Andre Ward As A PPV Star

“Andre Ward is like a minor league franchise in Oakland. I was pleasantly surprised that fans showed up to Vegas for his fight from San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. They gave him an edge because it was a big event and a much anticipated fight amongst the fight establishment and those who followed Ward in the bay area. But, we know he has never been a big attraction.”

Merchant had plenty more to say in this interview. From Terrance Crawford to Bernard Hopkins and still more about the Kovalev vs. Ward fiasco Merchant let it all hang out in this candid interview. Stay tuned to for Part Two of our Larry Merchant Interview.

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4 Responses to “Larry Merchant Interview: Part One – “Andre Ward Is Like A Minor League Franchise””

  1. David McGarry says:

    I said right from the start that Kovalev v Ward would be a stinker and it’s not as if I had a unique insight. I must admit I was surprised by how Lomachenko v Walters turned out.

    The problem with boxing today is…. you’re looking at it from an American perspective. Boxing has never been more popular in Europe. Britain leads the way with more world champions than any other country. Success, starting with the amateurs at the Olympics, breeds success.

    One of the things that has helped British boxing in recent years is you have two leading promoters trying to outdo each other, plus a number of smaller promoters all trying to grow their business and forming bonds with the big two.

    Frank Warren has his own boxing channel – Boxnation – and has been a major promoter for over 30 years. Eddie Hearn has very close connections to Sky Sports, the country’s biggest cable TV franchise. Both guys put on at least one big show a month.

    Mainland Europe is dominated by Sauerland, and this outfit has close ties to the British promoters, especially Eddie Hearn.

    Back in the USA, first Golden Boy Promotions came very close to getting a monopoly on world class boxing talent in the country. Then Al Haymon came along and got even closer to complete control. Monopolies are never good for businesses, and especially not good for the customers.

    Things were much better when Don King and Bob Arum were competing against each other. The situation will not improve until you have at least two top level promoters in the country trying to earn your money by putting on shows you want to watch.

  2. William says:

    Get rid of one promoter/advisor/manager and I promise things will open up. I am told Bute vs. Pascal 2 was on the table until that promoter/advisor/manager mucked up the negotiations. Now we get Bute vs. Alvarez with the winner getting Adonis.,…who do you think benefits the most from that?

    Answer: promoter/advisor/manager

  3. David McGarry says:

    If only we could have had Sleepin’ Bute v Pascal 2 the world would be a much better place.

  4. William says:

    Part Two should stroke your Limey ego a bit. 🙂