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Larry Merchant still going strong as boxing media legend turns 90

The longtime HBO analyst and boxing journalist has hit a milestone birthday.

Nonito Donaire v Jorge Arce Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Larry Merchant — the wordsmith who started out as a newspaperman and graced HBO airwaves with his often poetic and trenchant analysis for 35 years — sounded upbeat and ready to party when congratulated on making it to the 90-year mark.

“It’s been a good day,” Merchant told me, after I sang him a few bars of “Happy Birthday.”

“Yesterday, my wife and I got our second COVID shot. And now I’m going to go out, and see if I can collect 90 candles!”

I laughed, and cracked that to do my part, I would alert the local fire marshal, to be on the safe side.

Merchant found it interesting that he and his wife got their shots Wednesday in the parking lot of The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., which has played host to countless evenings of sporting majesty, and he remembered a time he and Mrs. Merchant saw Paul McCartney at the famed venue.

He didn’t try to get backstage passes for McCartney, he said, he did use a press pass to his advantage once. He wanted to see Bob Hope, so he used the press pass from his gig at “Stars and Stripes,” the periodical put out by the US Armed Forces. Merchant served in the Army; he was given a nod by security, and then ushered in to see Mr. Hope.

Merchant graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in journalism, and got out of the Army in 1953. He did stints at the Wilmington (NC) News, the AP, and then ran sports at the Philadelphia Daily News. He had the urge to spread the news in NY, and in 1965 came aboard the New York Post.

10 years later, he started transitioning more to the televised side, with gigs at NBC, and in 1978 joined HBO Sports as an expert boxing analyst; his first ringside call came for the Sugar Ray Leonard win over Dicky Ecklund on July 18 that year.

Merchant stayed until the end of 2012, and I’d be happy if he were offered and decided to take more work sitting ringside and sharing his reactions and thoughts.

In case you were curious, yes, he would be getting some extra attention for his birthday. “I’m going to my daughter’s, and she has a nice outdoor setup,” he said.

There will be dinner, fine conversation, I’d imagine, and will there be cake? “This is no time for dieting, Larry,” I suggested.

“Yes, I put in my order,” Merchant said, “for chocolate cake with raspberry. Listen, I’m very grateful. My wife has had some health issues, and she’s so happy right now, with the COVID shot, and my birthday. I see this all as the championship rounds of COVID. We have to keep our guard up, keep our defenses strong, and keep punching, and get through this to fight another day.”

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