Best I Covered – Jim Lampley
In recent years, boxing has been filled with many voids both in and out of the ring that are irreplaceable. One of the most gaping voids is at ringside, where Jim Lampley’s harmoniously commanding voice ruled for decades on HBO. The Hall of Fame blow-by-blow announcer was a generational talent who brought boxing into living rooms across the world.
He started as a sideline reporter for college football games on ABC. He covered the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” among assignments for a record 14 Olympics on United States TV.
From March 1988 to December 2018, Lampley was the voice of boxing.
Famous for many calls, including the iconic “It happened … IT HAPPENED!” call when George Foreman stopped Michael Moorer on November 5, 1994, to become heavyweight champion, Lampley possesses a treasure trove of magnetic memories and stories.
As Lampley, showing as much poise as Chris Rock did after being slapped by Will Smith at the Oscar’s, was signing off for the last time, on December 8, 2018, he said, “Most of all, we thank the people who poured forth their bodies and their souls to write our 45-year history in the ring, the fighters. They are uniquely precious. And the life lessons they provided for us are timeless and indispensable. And here now, for your memories is the indelible evidence.”
Here now for you, are some gold nuggets from a living gem in Jim Lampley’s “Best I Covered:”
Best Boxers: I’m going to say one of the best boxers I saw is someone I covered very early in my career, and that would be Sugar Ray Leonard. He had the most boxing skill of any fighter I ever covered. The second is Vasiliy Lomachenko, and though he was not as naturally gifted as Leonard, Vasiliy and his father invented a whole new style. They were the architects of an entirely new language for boxing. For having achieved that, I make Vasiliy equal to Leonard as the two best boxers I ever covered.
Best Puncher: Gennadiy Golovkin was the most consistently hard puncher, and it’s almost a cliché that you’re going choose somebody from the heavyweight division, but I think it’s more interesting when somebody has consistent punching power over the course of a long career in a weight class the way Gennadiy did. The fact that he weighed in hundreds of times as an amateur and a professional at the same weight, 160 pounds, makes the retention of his punching power exciting, not to mention some of the cartoon style knockouts that he produced.
Best Defense: Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker I covered the first year I was calling fights on ABC. Then after I moved to HBO, he also moved to HBO about the same time, so I had several Sweet Pea Whitaker fights there. It was clear in my mind that he was the best defender among all the fighters that I saw.
Best Overall: That’s difficult, because I want to say Leonard. I don’t want to say the same name in two different categories, but offensively, defensively, punching, day-to-day, Ray was the best fighter I saw.
Best Knockout: I’ll go with this. The very first fight I covered in my career was Mike Tyson versus Jesse Ferguson. What makes Mike’s knockout of Jesse Ferguson so memorable was what he said in the post-fight interview, when Alex Wallau (former president of the ABC television network) approached him about the uppercut he had thrown, which had broken Jesse’s nose. Mike said, ‘Cus D’Amato taught me that the purpose of the uppercut was to drive the opponent’s nose bone into his brain, and I was trying to drive his nose bone into his brain.’ It was at that moment, and that was the first fight I ever called on network television, that I realized this is not going to be the greatest quote machine in boxing, this is going to be the greatest quote machine in sports. I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, look what I happened on to here,’ because I did not ask to do boxing. I was assigned to do boxing on ABC Sports by an executive who thought that would get rid of me. I would say that knockout, on that day, early in 1987 was the best.
Most Underrated: Let’s call Bernard Hopkins the most underrated, because he had craft, sophistication, ring knowledge, those are the hardest things for the general audience to appreciate and maybe they were hard for me to sometimes appreciate, but he was absolutely brilliant at what he did and he showed it over, and over, and over.
Best Event: Prince Naseem Hamed versus Kevin Kelley in Madison Square Garden in New York, because the spectacle of the fight, the electricity and the fireworks that they created, and the excitement that George Foreman was feeling and exhibiting next to me all make it the best event.
Strangest Moment: ‘Fan Man’ landing on the apron of the ring in Las Vegas (during the second minute of round 7 causing a 21-minute delay of Riddick Bowe Evander Holyfield II on Nov. 6, 1993, at Caesars Palace when James Miller crashed into the ring on a powered paraglider). Nothing else can match the strangeness of that.
Most Emotional Moment: My goodbye to HBO Boxing on December 8, 2018, when I stood with Max Kellerman and Roy Jones, and said goodbye to all of those years of boxing on HBO, on behalf of not just me, but Barry Tompkins as well. I do want to add one thing, I covered four fights after which one of the boxers died. There is no sadness like the sadness of covering a ring death.
Biggest Controversy: There were a lot of them (laughs). Don King’s attempt to overturn the result of the Tokyo fight (when Buster Douglas shocked the world and stopped Tyson in the 10th on February 11, 1990) was a big controversy, but it didn’t last all that long. I can name any number of what I thought were bad decisions, but there’s so much coin of the realm, that they go along with each other. I think the biggest controversy would be the absence of police and security guards at Madison Square Garden the night Riddick Bowe’s entourage attacked Andrew Golota after their fight in the Garden (on July 11, 1996, in which Golota was disqualified for constant low blows in the seventh round). I wound up covering a 25-minute riot before we signed off. That would be, from a general society standpoint, the biggest controversy.
Most Memorable Interview: That’s so easy. On the night that we were doing Mike Tyson’s last fight on HBO, and he had already signed his next contract to go to Showtime. We were covering him in his last HBO appearance against Alex Stewart (a Tyson first-round KO on December 8, 1990) in Atlantic City. On the day of the fight, my boss, the brilliant president of HBO Sports, Seth Abraham, called me to his suite. He said, ‘Jim, I’m sure you understand that because of their antipathy for Larry Merchant and the things that he has said about Mike on the air, Don (King) will not allow Mike to do the standard post-fight interview with Larry in the ring after the fight. But, if you’ll agree to do it, he has agreed to bring Mike down ringside to talk to you.’ I said sure, I’ll do it. I think the audience deserves to hear from him. Seth said, ‘If you’ll agree, this is what I want you to do.’ Seth proceeded to tell me all of the details of the contract Mike had already signed with Showtime; the dollar-for-dollar, fight-per-fight details. Then Seth proceeded to tell me the dollar-for-dollar, fight-per-fight details of what the last HBO offer was to Tyson. Seth said he wanted me to lay that out to Mike and ask him why he’s signing to go to Showtime. That was going to be too much fun. There was no way I was going to turn that down. So, I stood with Mike, I congratulated him on the win over Alex Stewart. I talked to him about how this was his last fight on HBO, congratulating him on going to Showtime and then I said, ‘Mike, by the way, their contract, which you’re signing, is 10 fights for $85 million. Our contract offer was for eight fights at $120 million. Why are you leaving to go there?’ He laid it off on our commentary and how we had treated him with disrespect. As Seth Abraham later insisted to me, the real reason was because King was getting half of the pay-per-view revenue at Showtime. I’ve never known this for a fact. Obviously, I saw no documents. I saw no contracts. But it was fun for Seth to give me the ammunitions to ask those questions of Mike on the air.
Favorite Fight: For sentimental reason, I have to say Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward I (on May 18, 2002, at the Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Ct., won by Ward by 10-round majority decision, kicking off their historic trilogy). It’s the most memorable conversation piece for all of us. I called it with Emanuel Steward. He’s gone now. He was a very, very dear close friend of mine. I miss him a lot. I can still hear his voice saying, ‘Oh my God,’ during that fight.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.
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