Larry Merchant has made the rodeo rounds for decades galore, and there is no fight game pundit who has assessed more horses, and pondered more and I dare so more insightfully than any other analyst in the sphere.
The former newspaper columnist turned HBO color man got on the horn with TALKBOX, and I asked him to look into his crystal ball.
“90 thousand people who bought tickets, wow,” Merchant said. “There are known unknowns about both fighters. Klitschko hasn’t fought in over a year after he lost to Tyson Fury and Fury exposed Klitschko with his movement. And the unknown here about the challenger Joshua is ‘he the real deal,’ has he got the right stuff, can he take a punch from a guy like Klitschko?”
Merchant said that Wlad told him that AJ took a punch better than Deontay Wilder did, for the record.
AJ looks the part and it remains to be seen whether the chops match the looks, the elder statesman of fight punditry told us.
What about aging? About being 41? Is maybe Wlad over that hill, too gray to be OK? “Against Fury, Wlad just lost to a bigger, faster guy, a younger guy as well. Joshua is not that type of fighter. There will be punches landed in this fight,” Merchant said. He thinks some detonations will occur, and his inclination is “to go with the younger guy,” though he noted that AJ is untested, relatively.
Wlad loves what he’s doing, the ex HBO man continued. He’s made oodles of money and still campaigns. He mght have been distracted before the Fury fight, so maybe that’s a factor. Or it was an alibi. We will know Saturday.
I asked Larry if he does as I do, poll random people as to whether they know who the heavyweight champion is? He chuckled…”I’ve said on a few occasions, there isn’t one in a thousand people who knows who Deontay Wilder is,” he noted.
We haven’t been mainstream in awhile, he said, and that the heartland hasn’t been into boxing as much, because they haven’t had a rep to love…same as for the Hispanics, they haven’t been able to revere master pugilists of late as much as in previous decades. There is so much boxing on TV, and “someone is watching it and someone is making money off of it,” he stated, on the other side. A Gennady Golovkin versus Canelo fight could also perk up the sphere, he told us. He said that some PBC events have done good numbers, that’s good news…. so, despite that, Merchant said, the sport will not ever be what it once was, the culture changes, it is what it is…but boxing has its fans, and enough of them to support a lot of people in the television world.
No, no one like Oscar De La Hoya or a great American heavyweight hope has emerged. But maybe this weekend will spur us forward, he told TALKBOX.
We can hope…And will…