I'd have had no idea that Larry Merchant, the New York native who was cemented to the HBO lead analyst chair for 35 years until moving on at the end of 2012, had any sort of history with Floyd Mayweather -- but I know better.
One of the most surprising skirmishes I've seen in 23 years of covering boxing came when Mayweather, fresh off a beatdown of Victor Ortiz in Las Vegas on Sept. 17, 2011, got into it with Merchant, who was tasked with debriefing him.
Going from amiable to snarly, Mayweather said, "You never give me a fair shake, all right, so I am going to do you a favor and let you talk to Victor Ortiz. You never give me a fair shake. You are [expletive] and HBO should fire you. You don't know [expletive] about boxing. You ain't [expletive]."
Merchant, with a fire and admirable counterpunching quickness that Ortiz would have been well-suited to employ, roared back, "If I were 50 years younger, I'd kick your ass!"
They hugged it out a few months later and there is no hint of lingering ill will coming from the 82-year-old Merchant when I ask him for a prediction on Saturday night's showdown between the 43-0 Mayweather, now 36 and fighting for the first time since a jail stint, and 30-year-old Robert Guerrero (31-1-1). Guerrero has been lobbying for this fight for two years, and has shown that he'd be a potent force on K Street, the DC lobbying pocket, post-boxing, if he decides to go that route.
"The question is whether Guerrero is capable of exploiting any loss in velocity off Mayweather's fastball," Merchant told NYFightblog on a Friday phoner. "Both in terms of age and inactivity, which Mayweather has been questioned about before and has answered positively. What effect did the jailing have on him emotionally? That's largely been dismissed and avoided. I look at it as a loss to an athlete who thought he had built a secure moat."
Guerrero is a lefty, so perhaps that could confuse Mayweather enough for him to land a sharp left hand in between Floyd's guard. Merchant isn't biting, or going against the oddsmakers' call that Floyd is a 7-to-1 or so favorite: "Picking Guerrero, based on Floyd's past matchmaking ability, Mayweather believes he'll win beyond a certainty."
Come back for more Merchant ...