Tyson, Leonard among 10 recommended replacements for Lewis on HBO
Sugar Ray Leonard would bring considerable star power if he were to replace Lennox Lewis as the expert analyst on HBO's Boxing After Dark. Photo / Ray Kasprowicz-FightWireImages.com
Much of the boxing world quickly wrote off Lennox Lewis when Oliver McCall shocked the boxing world by knocking out the then-unbeaten titleholder. Lewis proved the doubters wrong, though, bouncing back to become a two-time lineal heavyweight champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Some people again wrote the former champ off at the outset of Lewis’ commentating career as the expert analyst on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. This time, however, he didn’t prove any of the doubters wrong. Lewis isn’t a naturally gifted talker and it seemed he didn’t put in the work required to improve. HBO finally gave up on the gentlemanly Brit four long years later.
The search for a replacement is now on. (Actually, it was on before Lewis even got his pink slip, but that’s another story for another time.) Hopefully, the brass at HBO will have learned a lesson about what to look for in a broadcaster, switching the primary criteria from who’s most recognizable to who’s most able. A famous face is a nice bonus, but boxing fans the world over are looking for insightful analysis first.
So who will take over Lewis’ microphone? Certainly, it will be a fighter, ex-fighter or trainer; BAD already has two media types in Bob Papa and Max Kellerman, so it doesn’t make sense to add another journalist without professional ring experience to the team.
As has been widely reported, two top trainers, Freddie Roach and Naazim Richardson, have already tried out for the role. Both seem to be excellent candidates – intelligent, personable experts with the ability to dissect technical and strategic nuances in the ring.
There are countless outstanding candidates for this job, just as there were four years ago when Lewis was hired over the likes of Antonio Tarver, Hasim Rahman, Bernard Hopkins, Micky Ward and others who auditioned. In this article, I’m giving my Top 10 choices for Lewis’ replacement, a list that will include a few names I’ve already mentioned. One name I’ve mentioned that doesn’t make the cut for me is Roach. It’s not that he isn’t qualified, but rather that with his overflowing stable of world-class fighters, he has about as many free Saturday nights as Lorne Michaels.
Here are the 10 names that do make my list, presented in alphabetical order:
Shannon Briggs: The dreadlocked Brooklynite had the look and the personality to be the biggest star in boxing, if only he had the ability and discipline to consistently defeat top heavyweights. Luckily for him, the look and the personality are all you need in the broadcasting world. You may recall that Briggs called the Shaun George-Chris Byrd fight for ESPN2 a couple of years ago and was generally impressive. In the most memorable fight of his career, Briggs gave a gutsy effort against Lewis but was ultimately out of his depth. The roles are reversed when it comes to talent behind the microphone.
Nate Campbell: “The Galaxxy Warrior” is another fighter who spent one night working for ESPN2 as a substitute for Teddy Atlas and left audiences generally impressed. Campbell is one of the very best interview subjects in boxing, an opinionated and outspoken guy with natural communication skills. He’s also a sentimental pick for the Boxing After Dark job because his fighting career is winding down and he hasn’t made quite as much money as he’s deserved. A steady gig at ringside for HBO would make up for that.
Joe Goossen: Just seeing what shirt the SoCal-based trainer would wear for each broadcast would make every episode of BAD. memorable. Goossen also happens to be one of the game’s elite veteran cornermen, and if a trainer’s commentating potential can be judged by the quality of his advice between rounds, Goossen could go far. He just has to rein in those F-bombs he so famously let fly while guiding Diego Corrales in the first Jose Luis Castillo fight.
Bernard Hopkins: “The Executioner” has done his share of commentating work in recent years, particularly on Fight Night Club. Hopkins has the gift of gab, as anyone who has interviewed him and found themselves still on the receiving end an hour later can attest. He’s been working on modifying that gift to apply it in shorter bursts and sound bytes on air. B-Hop is coming along, and while he didn’t blow anybody away when HBO added him to the upstairs booth for the Lewis-Rahman II pay-per-view broadcast way back in 2001, he might be ready for HBO now.
James Leija: The retired former junior lightweight titlist is a personal fave, one of those under-the-radar great interviews I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to several times over the years. He’s classy and likeable, smart and respected, a Texan who doesn’t make northern liberals hate Texas. He’s not half as big a name as Lennox Lewis, but Leija might just impress HBO if given the chance to try out. Plus, in a sport with a massive Hispanic fan base and on a broadcast team with two white guys from the east coast, he has some demographic elements in his favor.
Sugar Ray Leonard: I was on the fence about whether to include Leonard. The general consensus is that Leonard didn’t bring much to the broadcast table when HBO first gave him a shot in the ’80s. Frankly, there’s some concern that he could just be another Lennox – superstar name, not much to say. But when I’ve interviewed Sugar Ray, I’ve found that he delivers outstanding quotes every time, so it’s not that he isn’t a good talker. It’s just a matter of him being relaxed enough with the cameras rolling to let loose. He’s twice as old and experienced now as he was the last time he called fights for HBO, and if the network is determined to follow Lewis with another ex-fighter with major star power, Leonard is near the top of that list.
Paulie Malignaggi: We could probably cut and paste the Campbell write-up in this spot. Malignaggi is a gifted talker, never shy about expressing his opinions and offering criticism. And if his one-sided loss to Amir Khan (coincidentally, on the same card as Campbell’s one-sided loss to Victor Ortiz) is any indication, he’s on the downside of his pugilistic career. Sure, the Brooklyn accent is abrasive to some. But otherwise, there seems to be no downside to Malignaggi, who has made a successful transformation from hated punk to beloved veteran.
Hasim Rahman: If nothing else, “The Rock” would be a fun choice because it would mean he’s supplanting Lewis for a second time. Maybe we’d even get Jim Lampley to announce the new hire with, “We’ve got a brand new Boxing After Dark expert analyst, and he’s from the United States!” All joking aside, Rahman is one of the great talkers of his pugilistic generation. He isn’t exactly beloved among fight fans these days, considering that his entire career after upsetting Lewis turned out to be a disappointment, but Rahman still has a recognizable name and a much quicker wit than the man from whom he temporarily took the heavyweight title.
Naazim Richardson: With Floyd Mayweather’s on-camera act having grown stale and with Shane Mosley never packing a dazzling personality, Richardson stole the show on the most recent installment of the 24/7 series. As a commentator, we can be sure he’d study tape obsessively in preparation for each fight, and his success with Mosley (the Mayweather fight notwithstanding) and Hopkins suggests he can break down boxing strategy with the best of them.
Mike Tyson: Lennox Lewis and Ray Leonard are big names. But Tyson destroys them both in that department. Nobody else comes close to “Iron Mike” if you’re hiring based on the ability to stir up interest and draw ratings. How often do you watch sports just to hear what a particular commentator is going to say next? By that measurement, Tyson is Charles Barkley on steroids. And like Barkley, he’s not only unpredictable, he’s also quite insightful. Sure, Tyson was the worst thing about The Hangover. And there’s a chance that on Boxing After Dark, he’d freeze up and create awkward moments. But who in their right mind wouldn’t want to see him give it a try and find out for sure?
ÔÇó One additional note on boxing commentators: How great was Tarver sarcastically mocking the WBC silver belt on Showtime at the outset of the Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez fight? On the whole, I thought this was Tarver’s best broadcast yet, and he continues to prove right my pronouncement after his very first Showtime show that he has the potential to be the best fighter-turned-analyst we’ve ever seen.
ÔÇó So there I was on Saturday night, trying to remember where the heck I parked my car, and then I remembered: I left it inside Israel Vazquez’s cut.
ÔÇó OK, so Vazquez-Marquez IV wasn’t the Fight of the Year candidate we’d hoped for, but at least last weekend offered the Four-Rounder of the Year, Ramsey Luna vs. Rene Luna on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. I see no reason not to let those guys engage in a four-rounder once every month for the remainder of this FNF season.
ÔÇó Not that there was anything objectionable about her scorecard in the Yonnhy Perez-Abner Mares fight, but just hearing Eugenia Williams’ name in connection with a 12-round draw left me a little queasy.
ÔÇó Tomasz Adamek vs. Michael Grant? Really? What, Jorge Luis Gonzalez wasn’t available?
ÔÇó It took a little work from me and my broadcast partner Bill Dettloff, since neither of us are what you’d call tech savvy, but we seem to be clicking on all cylinders now with turning Ring Theory into an actual podcast. International listeners who were unable to hear the last couple of episodes can now find them on our Podbean home page, plus fans can subscribe for free via iTunes so the show is automatically downloaded to your computer when a new episode goes up. Raskin and Dettloff, in your ear, on the go – this is why the MP3 player was invented.