By Steve Kim
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Back in early July, Larry Merchant was at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., where he was part of a media day for a July 27 card that was being staged in Macau. As he was sitting in one of the metal folding chairs that were lined up along the side of the gym facing the ring, a young well-wisher came up to Merchant and asked him a question before requesting to take a photo with him.
"Mr. Merchant, how are you enjoying retirement?"
Merchant replied, with a chuckle, "I don't know -- I'll let you know when I'm retired."
This happens a lot, it seems, because while Merchant is no longer the wise, sharp-tongued color commentator employed by HBO, he is still anything but retired, even at age 82.
"The interesting thing to me is when we announced back in December in Houston [about leaving HBO]… I remember using the words, 'I'll see you here, there and anywhere,'" Merchant said from his den at his home in Santa Monica this past Friday afternoon. "Even as I was saying then, I knew that nothing I could say would alter the fact that people were looking at these montages of my greatest hits and that it was a farewell and a goodbye."
What exactly did he intend to do with the rest of his career?
"I didn't think about it deeply," he said. "I wanted to take the next year and see, 'Well, do I have a business? What am I going to do? Can I combine certain things?'" Merchant says he found that his personal brand is still strong, even without the attachment to HBO. "I'm doing these international broadcasts and my wife and I went to Macau for the last Top Rank extravaganza with [Zou] Shiming, and from there we went to Copenhagen on a Baltic cruise that I've always wanted to go on, to places I had never been, places like St. Petersburg and Helsinki -- where incidentally I ate reindeer meatballs -- and Stockholm and then we came home."
So yeah, that's what Merchant has been up to -- sitting ringside across the globe and consuming reindeer meatballs in his spare time.
"We went around the world, 24 time zones, I did a fight and I found that, not that I missed it in some palpable way, but that I like doing it. That I like getting the story and weaving them into the fabric of the narrative of a fight and that was the enjoyable part of the evening to me," said Merchant, who did the international broadcast for Golden Boy Promotions on April 20 from San Antonio, on which Saul Alvarez defeated Austin Trout in front of 40,000 fans. (Ironically, it seems that Merchant is the only one in boxing who can work with both Golden Boy and Top Rank these days.)
Merchant still watches every major card and keeps in close contact with the people in the game. He is still a regular presence on various radio shows and podcasts and boxing scribes still contact him often for his thoughts. Merchant, a professional provocateur, still matters.
They say that work is beneficial to our health and retirement can actually kill you. When Merchant is asked whether this could happen, he quipped (as only he can), "I'll let you know as soon as I get killed." He added, "But there is an end, we do walk into the sunset, and I suppose that when you 'retire' officially, it's a stage of life that is going toward the end of life. I get that."
As always, Merchant had a lot to say about the sport he loves. Here are his thoughts on several major issues in boxing.
On PEDs: "I am volubly against PEDs, in essence, because it creates unfair competition… What I must say about boxing, and this is presumably because of weight classes, is that in most cases that we have heard of, it hasn't been meaningful. The clearest case to me was Shane Mosley against Oscar De La Hoya. He fought him twice -- the second time [Mosley] had PEDs and he didn't perform as well as the first time. We're seeing that the risk-reward factor is being addressed. For example, we're seeing that Lamont Peterson has suffered, Erik Morales and the way they dealt with him is really interesting and why boxing is set apart."
On Top Rank and Golden Boy refusing to work with each other: "I would say that, so far, boxing fans have lost one good fight that figured to be a really good fight and that was [Abner] Mares and [Nonito] Donaire. The other side of it is that a competition has grown between Top Rank and Golden Boy and between HBO and Showtime. I think we're seeing better scraps. If you don't have the elite fighters, guys that fans want too see no matter who the opponents are, then you have to put on a good fight."
On Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao: "It was a big blow to prizefighting [that they never fought], but remember they couldn't make [Mike] Tyson and [Lennox] Lewis for a very long time, and then when both fighters were presumably past their best -- and Tyson was past his best at about 23 -- they finally made it and it was a very big event… But as I said at the time and others said, 'The longer you wait, the more likely something is going to happen to make it not happen.' And Pacquiao's losses [last year to Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez] were those 'somethings.' But time can heal that wound. We might see Pacquiao make a comeback starting with the [Brandon] Rios fight, we might see Mayweather lose to 'Canelo' [Alvarez]… If they can carry on long enough, then theoretically -- and hopefully -- they're going to be one or two others that emerge and became national and/or stars. Maybe, it's Canelo."
Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets (a lot.)