Monday, April 16, 2012
By Dan Rafael
As memorable as Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s fourth-round knockout of Victor Ortiz was in September -- when he knocked out Ortiz while he had his hands down and wasn't looking -- Mayweather's exchange with HBO commentator Larry Merchant after the fight was equally memorable.
During the instant-classic interview, Mayweather, being booed relentlessly by the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas because of the unsportsmanlike way the fight ended, was agitated by Merchant's questioning of what can best be described as a legal sucker puncher.
Mayweather cut the interview short and began berating and cursing out Merchant, whom he said HBO should fire.
The now-81-year-old Merchant -- the best fight analyst of all time, in my opinion -- responded with the line heard 'round the world: "I wish I was 50 years younger and I'd kick your ass."
Now Mayweather has his next fight lined up, for May 5 on HBO PPV against junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto.
And waiting for the fighters after the bout to interview them will be none other than Merchant, who told ESPN.com that executive producer Rick Bernstein called him recently to officially assign him to the pay-per-view.
Many believed that HBO would keep Merchant off the show to appease Mayweather and instead assign Max Kellerman, who splits pay-per-view and "World Championship Boxing" broadcasts with Merchant. But HBO made the right call and put Merchant on the May 5 card. Kellerman has been assigned for the other biggie, the June 9 Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. pay-per-view.
"They told me that I will be doing the May 5 show, and I am looking forward to it," Merchant said. "Everybody knows what happened, and it seemed like the right thing to do was to put me on the fight."
Merchant tried to downplay the notion of a "rematch" with Mayweather.
"To me, it's a fight I want to see and the fight is first, second and third," Merchant said. "I understand that there is a certain fascination with the question and answers between Mayweather and me, but the fight is first.
"There have been times when there have been contentious interviews, but we try to treat it professionally, both the fighter and me. In this case [in September], there was a highly controversial ending to a fight and a volatile, explosive atmosphere in the arena. As the next part of that drama, I found myself being personally attacked and I responded spontaneously. When somebody attacks you, you can duck, take the punch or respond. Without thinking about it, I responded the way I did. I felt that it was an honest, spontaneous response and you can't second-guess that any more than you can second-guess the fans who saw what they saw with the way Mayweather knocked out Ortiz."
Merchant said he has no regrets about how he handled the interview, but he considers it to be in the past.
"I don't have any regrets, and the five minutes of fame I had afterward was a giggle and a hoot," Merchant said.
He said he was inundated with calls and messages about the interview and was amused that a TMZ camera crew was waiting for him at the Los Angeles airport when he flew home from Las Vegas the next day.
"There's TMZ, which I didn't even know what it was at the time, at the airport," Merchant laughed. "And then I got a few head waiters who gave me some good tables at restaurants, and it was over."
Certainly Merchant's presence will generate additional interest in the fight, a few extra stories and some discussion as the promotion kicks in. It will be interesting to see if Mayweather, win or lose, talks to him in the ring after the fight.
If he does, how will Mayweather react when Merchant inevitably asks the fighter not only about the fight but also his future plans, which include an 87-day jail term for domestic abuse that begins June 1?
"I'm a sidebar to the main event. I get it, and nobody has offered me a piece of the action," Merchant joked.
More seriously, Merchant added: "I will treat it as a fight. I haven't given any thought about an interview after the fight. I will go in and ask whatever questions I think the fight suggests I should ask. My job is to ask questions and question answers. It's not a popularity contest."