The Hauser Report: Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and Spence-Crawford


By Thomas Hauser

Almost five years have passed since HBO announced that it would no longer televise live fights. That ended an era widely regarded as the last golden age of boxing.

Most sports have individual athletes who compete week after week. The consistency builds familiarity and a fan following. But elite fighters tend to fight only twice a year. That means a network's announcing team is particularly important to developing a fan base.

At its peak, HBO's announcing team for boxing consisted of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Emanuel Steward, and Harold Lederman. Emanuel died in 2012 at the much-too-young age of sixty-eight. Harold died five months after HBO's last boxing telecast. Fortunately, Jim and Larry are still with us.

Lampley was HBO's blow-by-blow commentator for thirty years. Merchant was its lead analyst on boxing telecasts for thirty-four. For twenty-four of those years, they worked together. Their presence at ringside made fights more important to viewers than might otherwise have been the case.

Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford was the type of fight that HBO once televised on a regular basis. I spoke with Jim and Larry before and after the bout (and in Larry's case, during) to get their reaction to it.

Lampley was the greatest blow-by-blow commentator in the history of boxing. He had it all - an understanding of the sport and business; the ability to summarize the action in terse sound bites as it unfolded (not two seconds later); and an electric voice that demanded attention. He didn't rely on canned punchlines and signature phrases. Nor would he have worn a fuchsia tuxedo that looked like something out of the recently-released Barbie movie (as Mauro Ranallo did for Spence-Crawford).

Each to his own. Tastes differ.

Lampley moved from California to North Carolina several years ago. He's 74 years old and lives with his wife, Debra, in a renovated farm house on the outskirts of Chapel Hill. Their home encompasses 5,200 square feet and stands on 6.2 acres of land.

"Our forever house," Jim calls it.

Lampley has taught a course in American news media at his alma mater (the University of North Carolina) for five semesters. He's now constructing a second course (this one on the marriage of sports and television) and writing a memoir with the help of Art Chansky (who was sports editor of The Daily Tarheel when Jim was a freshman at UNC).

Jim was HBO's voice of boxing when the network was the heart and soul of boxing. "I stepped into the middle of a special era at HBO and HBO Sports," he says. "HBO doesn't exist the way it once was. And HBO Sports no longer exists, period."

Lampley watched Spence-Crawford at the home of Phil Ford (a longtime friend).

Ford was a two-time All-American and National Player of the Year during his senior season at the University of North Carolina. A 6-foot-2-inch point guard, he was chosen by the Sacramento Kings with the second overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft and named "rookie of the year" after his inaugural NBA season. He's currently a fundraiser for UNC.

Crawford fought on HBO eleven times, so Lampley followed Terence closely during the fighter's formative years. "People are looking at this as an even match-up," he told me on the afternoon of the fight. "But I don't think it is. I would be very surprised if there doesn't come a time when either Derrick James [Spence's trainer] or the referee has to stop the fight."

He was right.

"It was a magnificent performance," Jim said afterward. "As a fighter, Terence Crawford is everything that the people who believed in him thought he could be."

"What do you miss about being behind the microphone for HBO Boxing," I asked.


Unlike Lampley (who spent his entire professional career in television), Merchant began his media journey as a newspaperman. That led to a notable exchange with New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who took issue with something Larry wrote and complained, "I’m tired of being written about by $100-a-week creeps.”

"I’m not a $100-a-week creep," Merchant responded. "I’m a $200-a-week creep."

Larry is now 92 years old and lives in an apartment overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica.

"I'm doing well for an old man," he says.

Merchant watched Spence-Crawford with three friends who came over to his apartment for the occasion.

"I'm rooting for a fight so good that we want to see it again," he told me.

Afterward, Larry opined, "It was a brilliant performance by Crawford against a very good opponent. It reminded me of what Shohei Otani did a week ago when he pitched a complete-game one-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader and hit two home runs in the second. If I wore a hat, I'd take it off to Otani and Crawford."

Asked to critique the telecast, Merchant added, "Television is show and tell. You don't always have to talk. Sometimes it's enough to just show. Crawford's performance was so magnificent that they didn't have to keep talking all the way through it, particularly when they were talking about something other than the actual fight."

Did Larry wish he'd been there?

"There are times when I'd like to be at a big fight in person," he answered. "And there are times when I whimsically say to myself, 'Wouldn't be nice if someone wanted to hire a 92-year-old man for one fight.' But the truth is, I don't miss being behind the microphone anymore. I had a good run. I was part of a team that left a real mark on boxing and television. I'm satisfied with that."

Thomas Hauser's email address is His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing's highest honor - induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.