So This Is What The New Milennium Brings Us: Old Broadcasters Lamenting Extravagant Ring Walks

i.jpg

This week, HBO announced their plans to exit the boxing business after 45 years and more than 1,000 fights. Even as major networks announce new long-term deals to televise the sport, it’s a depressing bit of news. No broadcast of any sport by any network has the same “big fight feel” put forth by HBO Boxing.

One of my earliest memories of boxing on HBO was Naseem Hamed’s much-hyped United States debut against Kevin Kelley in 1997. It’s unlikely I would remember this match if not for Prince Naseem’s absurd five-minute shadow dance behind a curtain, causing both my dad and curmudgeonly commentator Larry Merchant to grouse about the arrogance of athletes these days. Merchant — who I once drunkenly (but politely) ambushed in a hotel lobby — made a habit of bemoaning extravagant ring walks over the years. Rewatching Hamed’s entrance reminded me of some of the other wildly entertaining entrances complemented by the equally entertaining comments of old grumps.

Naseem Hamed vs. Kevin Kelley
Madison Square Garden, New York City
December 19, 1997

For the first two minutes of the spectacle, Merchant struggled to get his bearings while Will Smith’s “Men In Black” — unimaginably hot at the time — blared throughout MSG. Four minutes in, Kelly started jumping on the ropes and demanding Hamed come to the ring. After five minutes, Hamed wasn’t even halfway to the ring and Merchant half-jokingly declared they may be witnessing “the end of Western civilization as we know it”.

There were six knockdowns in this fight, the final of which was delivered by Prince Naseem in round 4.

Roy Jones Jr. vs. David Telesco
Radio City Music Hall, New York City
January 15, 2000

Merchants made known his utter disdain for the hip-hop in one glum sentence as Roy Jones Jr. bounced to “Da Rockwilder” with Method Man: So this is what the new millennium is bringing us. Imagine how annoyed he’d have been if either rapper had microphones and bothered performing their song for the audience.

Chris Eubank vs. Steve Collins
Green Glens Arena, Millstreet, Ireland
March 18, 1995

Every Chris Eubank ring walk was comically arrogant, but this might be my favorite. After rising up on a pedestal while sitting on a Harley he didn’t end up driving, Eubank posed like a competitive bodybuilder as smoke surrounded him. He walked wet, with his hips forward and chest out, but shoulders and head back, as if he wanted to see himself — in all his glory — as a spectator would. He was, as always, accompanied by the least-menacing but most-appropriate boxing entrance song ever, “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner. Eubank lost for the first time in his career.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Arturo Gatti
Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
June 25, 2005

Floyd, then known as “Pretty Boy” but well on his way to his ultravillain final form, chose to enter the ring on a golden throne carried by royal servants, Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” enraging the pro-Gatti crowd (Gatti fought in Atlantic City nineteen times before this fight). Instead of throwing in some last-minute analysis or prediction for the fight, Merchant got in a sarcastic dig at the young Mayweather: “Well it was only 90 degrees here today, so obviously he needs fur.”

Naseem Hamed vs. Wayne McCollough
Convention Center, Atlantic City, New Jersey
October 31, 1998

Fun twist here: The announcers aren’t upset about the level of extravagance, but rather the content. On Halloween night in Atlantic City, the British broadcast was disgusted with, some would even say repulsed by, the graveyard imagery, given the dangerous nature of boxing. It was “in very poor taste”. The mood lightened up a bit — as it often does — when “Thriller” came on.

Roy Jones Jr. vs. Clinton Woods
September 7, 2002
Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon

Even thought he was lip-syncing, Roy Jones performing a three-minute rap concert on his way to the ring is one of the most outrageously cocky stunts in boxing ring walk history. While most fighters use the final moments before stepping into the ring as a time to focus, Jones was busy trying to remember the lyrics to one of his rap songs as his opponent waited in the ring. Larry Merchant, believe it or not, was not amused: “Well, Roy believes he’s king of the world. Some people think there’s one less great fighter on the planet than he does.” His opponent’s team threw in the towel in round 6.

Jorge Páez vs. Rafael Ruelas
Noevember 6, 1992
Great Western Forum, Inglewood, California

Páez, a former circus performer, was known more for his ludicrous walks to the ring than his performance in it (career record: 79-14-5). A fight preview in the Los Angeles Times asked what he would wear in the headline, and summarized the Páez experience succinctly: “He frequently pays more attention between rounds to round-card girls than to what his trainers are telling him, and once, in the Philippines, he charged off his stool and chased one around the ring.” Páez broke his nose in round 10 and lost by TKO.

Naseem Hamed vs. Vuyani Bungu
Olympia, Kensington, London, United Kingdom
March 11, 2000

Larry Merchant was on the call for another Hamed fight in 2000, and by that point he had become resigned to the absurdity of the sport he dedicated his life to covering. The more outrageous the entrance, the longer Merchant’s gaps in commentary. A magic carpet ride and the accompaniment of Puff Daddy himself falls under that umbrella. “Of course his critics wish the carpet would continue on to Iceland.” Safe to say Merchant considered himself one of those critics.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Carlos Baldomir
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
November 4, 2006

By 2006 Mayweather’s heel costuming entered the realm of the gaudy. Merchant was his usual self (“[Floyd] is the kind of performer who walks around like there’s a band following him. If he was a peacock, he’d never fold his feathers.”), but host Jim Lampley also verbally rolled his eyes at the Mayweather spectacle: “Floyd, who is something of a narcissist, who says he takes a shower before he works out, is tremendously proud of the way he looks.”

Naseem Hamed vs. Marco Antonio Barrera
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
April 7, 2001

After three-and-a-half minutes of Wu Tang Clan’s “Gravel Pit” and a professional boxer having beer thrown on him as he floated in on a trapeze, Merchant broke the broadcast team’s silence with simply, “Bring in the clown, bring in the fighter. Same guy.” |ES|