In January 2009, Showtime announced that Steve Albert would be stepping back from his duties as Showtime Championship Boxing's play-by-play man, handing the reins to CBS Sports commentator Gus Johnson, the love him or hate him, screaming lunatic we all knew from March Madness.
When that move was made, this is what I said:
Gus Johnson is a good play-by-play man and I look forward to hearing him call some fights for Showtime. If he stinks, hey, Steve Albert's always available.
Chances are, Gus won't stink, either, and he's got a familiar voice that lends further "big sport" credibility to the product, at least ideally. If he meshes well with Al Bernstein, it could be a phenomenal team that rivals any combination of HBO's commentators. As much as I like Steve Albert, I always felt his biggest flaw was not quite being able to make a fight seem even bigger than it is. I maintain that Jim Lampley does this brilliantly. Maybe Gus will be able to turn a great fight into something even more exciting.
I think after about a year of Gus Johnson being the key man in the booth on major Showtime broadcasts, I can now say that this just isn't working out.
Now, let me say this: just like I suck at boxing, I'm 100% certain I would suck at calling a fight. It takes a lot of talent, presence, dedication and work to be as good as Gus Johnson is at broadcasting sports. Even the worst major broadcasters are pretty good at their jobs, except maybe Thom Brennaman, who gives me gas every time he calls a game I watch.
But I haven't enjoyed Johnson as a boxing commentator, and last night's two-fight card put me over the edge as a viewer. No more "well he's still learning." Gus isn't fit for boxing.
I enjoy Gus during March Madness. His over-the-top enthusiasm is something I look forward to every year, even if at this point it sometimes feels dreadfully forced, as if he tries to make sure he gets at least one good scream and jump on the table moment in every year, even if one doesn't really come to him.
And when Gus calls MMA, I feel he does a competent enough job, though bigger MMA fans than myself might well disagree. I don't know for sure.
Boxing sounds like a side job for him, and despite my hopes, he has not made one fight he's called better because he was the one calling it. His best moment came during the 12th round of Carl Froch-Jermain Taylor last April, but even that could have been better and less -- again -- forced. It felt like Gus was screaming not because what was happening was so great (which it was), but because Gus is the guy who screams. It was fun enough, but I never shook the feeling that it didn't feel quite right.
Last night, he played homer for Shobox graduates Carlos Abregu and Antonio DeMarco. Most of his calls were "ooh!" He must have said "right hook" about 278 times. It took him forever to give proper credit to a dominant Edwin Valero, almost as if someone finally said in his earpiece, "Hey, this guy's clearly winning."
I'm not going to start an online petition about it or anything, but I think I can speak for more than myself when I say that Gus Johnson isn't the man to serve as Showtime's lead boxing commentator. He leaves broadcast teammate Al Bernstein gasping for air at times, as Bernstein heroically carries the load on these broadcasts. Johnson and Bernstein aren't poor together; actually, they've developed a decent rapport, especially when you consider Johnson's weaknesses.
All I'm saying is a lot of these fights deserve better than "ooh!" out of the play-by-play man.
There are some worthy candidates out there, but sadly not a ton. With boxing broadcasts so limited and the sport such a niche nowadays, there probably aren't as many qualified guys who really know boxing as you might hope.
Bernstein himself is a better play-by-play guy, and the Bernstein/Steve Farhood team I've seen a few times has been terrific. Shobox's Nick Charles is better than Johnson by a fair bit. If Steve Albert wanted to come back (there were doubts he was really as willing to step down as he made it out), that'd be an easy decision if I were in charge.
What do you think? Am I way off base here? Have you enjoyed Gus calling boxing?