ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the best parts of hitting the road to cover fights is getting a chance to spend time with old friends in the business.
That was the case Saturday morning when I had breakfast at the fight hotel with two broadcasting legends, Larry Merchant and The Colonel, Bob Sheridan. These are two boxing lifers with close to 90 years of experience between them in calling fights and enough stories to fill several books. I am proud to call both friends and it’s always a kick to talk boxing with them, which I do often. But to be with them together at the same time hearing stories? This was a first and a total thrill.
Merchant, a Hall of Famer, left HBO last year after decades of calling fights for the network, but he still does some fights here and there, working international telecasts for Top Rank and Golden Boy. (Maybe he can bring peace to their cold war?)
Sheridan, who belongs in the Hall of Fame without question, has done blow-by-blow for fights all over the world and called nearly 1,000 world title bouts, although his work is not typically heard in America. Most of his work is for a promoter’s worldwide feed, not the domestic television broadcast (although you will hear some of his work and the many voiceovers he has done on hundreds of fights that replay on ESPN Classic).
Merchant and Sheridan have known each other forever and sat near each other at ringside for decades doing their separate broadcasts, but on Saturday night they will for the first time call a fight card together when they handle the announcing duties for Top Rank’s international telecast of the Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez card at the Amway Center.
Merchant is in his 38th year calling fights and Sheridan is in his 47th year, so it’s about time they do a fight together.
They spent all of breakfast telling stories and comparing notes on their careers. It was a blast.
Merchant was a newspaper writer for decades before becoming a broadcaster. The first fight he ever covered was Sugar Ray Robinson-Carmen Basilio I at Yankee Stadium in 1957, when Robinson, the greatest fighter who ever lived, lost a split decision and the middleweight title.
The first fight Sheridan ever went to was as a soda salesmen when he was in college at the University of Miami, not as a broadcaster. And what a way to be introduced to live boxing -- seeing Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) stop Sonny Liston in the sixth round in Miami Beach to win the heavyweight championship for the first time in 1964.
Merchant talked about his memories of such greats as Archie Moore and Henry Armstrong, including one about a sparring session they had together, and Sheridan talked about his trip to Zaire to call Ali-George Foreman -- “The Rumble in the Jungle” -- and how he helped Don King, the promoter he is most closely associated with, meet Pope Benedict.
Both broadcasters are also baseball fanatics and since Merchant covered baseball along with boxing for many years, he has a ton of great stories from those days, including being present when Yogi Berra gave his most famous quote -- “It’s never over till it’s over!” -- while schmoozing with writers.
Merchant recalled being present at Yankee Stadium when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig gave their historic farewell speeches (when he was a kid, not a writer) and also shared memories of Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio.
Loved the Musial story. Merchant was covering a Cardinals game in Philadelphia once and it got rained out, so Merchant went over to the Cardinals hotel to see what he could drum up. He ran into Musial, whom Merchant called “the nicest guy ever,” and asked him, “Why are you always smiling?”
Musial’s answer was classic: “If you hit .340 for 20 years, you’d be smiling too.”
After so many good old-time stories from Merchant and Sheridan, I was also smiling.