Saturday night’s card from Carson, Calif., marked the end of a 45-year run for boxing on HBO, and to be entirely honest, the card wasn’t much to remember. Claressa Shields opened with a one-sided win over Femke Hermans, Juan Francisco Estrada dismantled Victor Mendez, and in the main event, Cecilia Braekhus proved her superiority against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes.
None of the fights were competitive. None will go down with the great fights we’ve seen on HBO over the years. But for Jim Lampley, the veteran HBO boxing play-by-play man, it was still a night to remember.
Here’s what Lampley told our colleagues at Fight Hub TV after the event:
“It might be the end of my on-air career, which is really an interesting thing. My on-air career began 44 years ago and it was something of an accident, because I wasn’t looking to be a television commentator. I was looking to be an executive. I went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina trying to learn how to be a broadcast executive, and while I was there, ABC Sports came up with a kind of one-of-a-kind gimmick idea. They wanted to put a college age announcer on the sidelines of the college football telecast. There was a national talent hunt and I was chosen from that.
“So I became a guinea pig for something that nobody knew whether it would work or not, and I went out and did something that had not been done before. And that ultimately led to 44 years of going from one opportunity to the next, and one step to the next, and putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually I landed at HBO boxing.
“The first moment that I came to this network and began covering fights here — I’d covered fights at ABC, and I knew that my destiny was boxing, and I’d always wanted my destiny to be boxing. I got started at ABC and once I was covering fights at ABC, it only made sense to want to cover fights at the place that was doing the best boxing telecast on the air.
“I’ll never forget, the first fight I did for HBO, 1988 in Tokyo, Japan, Mike Tyson against Tony Tubbs. At that moment I had 13 years as a network broadcaster, I’d been to five Olympics, I was a host at the Olympics already at that point, I had hosted college football for seven years on ABC. I was a pro, and I was not supposed to get nervous. And at that first telecast for (HBO) in Tokyo, my hand shook on the microphone. And I was shocked! I was standing in front of the camera doing a live on-camera, and I realized that my hand was shaking. And in the truck, the director had to tighten the shot so that it wouldn’t be distracting for the audience that my hand shook.
“When I walked away that night, I had to think to myself, ‘Why in the world did I get so nervous?’ And I realized that I got nervous that night because to me, this was the holy grail, you know? This was, to me, as high as you could go, to do boxing on HBO. To do a show where you didn’t throw to commercials. To do a show where you worked with people like Larry Merchant and all the other people that I ultimately worked with. To do a show at the television network which is more honored for its work in more different areas than any other network in any country in the world.
“That was why my hand shook that night. To this day, I never go on the air for HBO, or never have gone on the air for HBO, without reflecting that it’s, to me, the highest privilege you can have in this business, to work for this company. So to have been given 30-plus years of that, and to have the right to be the person who stands here and says goodbye for this particular institution, is a privilege that is beyond indescribable. I have no right to be anything other than overwhelmingly grateful, and overwhelmingly thrilled by what happened to me in my life, professionally.
“And if I never work on the air in my life, which is possible, I’m cool with that. Because I had a life that far exceeded anything I could have imagined. And every bit of it was an unexpected gift. That’s how I feel tonight. I feel like the beneficiary of a totally unexpected gift. It was great. Thank you very much.”