By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Jim Lampley got a call last week that he didn’t want to hear.
But he knew that it would come.
After spending 45 years as the gold standard of premium cable boxing, HBO execs pulled the plug on the “Network of Champions” – saying it would pivot away from the ring at the close of 2018.
It’s a shock to those unfamiliar with corporate backstories.
Still, Lampley, who’ll turn 70 next April, sees the heart of the C-suite matter.
“I was aware, most others weren't,” he told Boxing Scene.
“Fairer, I think, to identify the decision as a shared thought – HBO and AT&T (which recently acquired Time Warner, HBO’s parent company) – and I get it.
“HBO identity is to be No. 1 and the talent pool tectonically shifted against us over the past few years. Cost of becoming dominant again not worth paying for what research says about viewer impact. HBO identity is to be No. 1 in all we do. If I were CEO I probably would have made same call.”
Executive VP Peter Nelson said boxing “was no longer a determinant factor” for subscribers.
The network aired its first boxing broadcast – George Foreman’s heavyweight title-winning KO of Joe Frazier – in 1973, and Lampley became its full-time blow-by-blow man 15 years later upon taking the mic for Mike Tyson’s erasure of Tony Tubbs in Tokyo.
Lampley, Tyson and HBO were back in Japan 23 months later for one of the network’s most memorable events, and the one the North Carolina native claims fans still most frequently ask him about – and still bristle about when he insists the shocking result was no fluke.
“Year in, year out it is still Tyson-Douglas,” he said.
“Twenty-eight years later people still can't get over it. People freak when I tell them it was an on-merit style loss. Mike had trouble with anyone who was taller, could move and jab, drop the right hand over the top. Buster was the best he had met in those categories up to that moment.
“A minor-league Lennox. Mike could never have beaten Lennox and he knew that very well. Lennox was by far the best heavyweight I covered. Prime Lennox was too good for Mike and Evander.
“Whacked Bowe in Olympic final and Riddick refused to fight him in pros. Prime Lennox too good for Wladimir, too. His overhand right one of the hardest punches ever in the sport. Making it to round eight vs. Lennox was Mike's greatest show of courage, for which he got no credit.”
To his credit, Lampley’s voice is indelibly linked to many of the sport’s top moments of the last 30 years.
He called Lewis-Tyson as part of a unique dual broadcast with Showtime, then was part of a joint announce team when the networks again did business on Mayweather-Pacquiao three years ago.
His “It happened, it happened” call punctuated Foreman’s shocking KO of Michael Moorer in 1994, and his excitement was clearly evident across the Gatti-Ward trilogy in 2002 and 2003. The final high-end bout of his HBO run came two weeks ago in Las Vegas when Canelo Alvarez edged Gennady Golovkin.
Going forward, Lampley expects HBO teammate Max Kellerman to become a boxing fixture at ESPN – where he co-hosts a mid-morning talk show with Stephen A. Smith – and said that the basic cable network’s long-term partnership with promotional giant Top Rank will give it an edge.
Other prominent players remaining in boxing include Showtime, fledgling streaming service DAZN – which showed Anthony Joshua’s recent defeat of Alexander Povetkin – and Fox Sports, which signed a four-year deal in September to work with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions stable.
As for his own plans, Lampley is anticipating a full-time shift from announcing to producing, where he said he can have “broader impact and better longevity.”
HBO’s last scheduled fight card will be topped by middleweight contenders Daniel Jacobs and Serigy Derevyanchenko from Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27.
But if you’re thinking Lampley is morose as the finale nears, think again.
“Not melancholy, philosophical,” he said.
“Nothing lasts forever. Things wouldn't have meaning if they did. Knew for a long time this day would come, and I made ready for it. Hope others did, too. No one ever televised boxing better than HBO, whether you are talking my era or Barry Tompkins, who preceded me. No one close.
“Basically what I do (is) try to say it well. Probably had some off nights but most of them reflected real work.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF light heavyweight title – Chicago, Illinois
Artur Beterbiev (champion/No. 9 IWBR) vs. Callum Johnson (No. 7 IBF/No. 34 IWBR)
Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KO): First title defense; One fight beyond seven rounds (1-0, 1 KO)
Johnson (17-0, 12 KO): First title fight; First opponent with fewer than two losses
Fitzbitz says: Johnson has faced a soft schedule and seems way over his head with a foe as talented as Beterbiev. The champ figures to get this thing done quickly and impressively. Beterbiev in 7 (95/5)
WBA super bantamweight title – Chicago, Illinois
Daniel Roman (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Gavin McDonnell (No. 2 WBA/No. 16 IWBR)
Roman (25-2-1, 9 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in scheduled 12-rounders (4-0, 2 KO)
McDonnell (20-1-2, 5 KO): Second title fight (0-1); First fight outside the United Kingdom
Fitzbitz says: There’s plenty of reason to like McDonnell here. He’s talented and deserves to be a top-level guy. But the vibe here is that Roman’s ceiling is a little bit higher. Roman by decision (65/35)
WBC super flyweight title – Pak Kret, Thailand
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Iran Diaz (No. 12 WBC/No. 15 IWBR)
Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1, 41 KO): Third title defense; Fifteen straight KOs in fights in Thailand
Diaz (14-2-3, 6 KO): First title fight; Was KO’d in lone fight outside of Mexico
Fitzbitz says: The champ was impressive in dethroning Gonzalez and has shown no indication he’s about to slide against a challenger who doesn’t belong on the same marquee. Sor Rungvisai in 5 (95/5)
WBA super lightweight title – Yokohama, Japan
Kiryl Relikh (champion/No. 15 IWBR) vs. Eduard Troyanovsky (No. 1 WBA/No. 6 IWBR)
Relikh (22-2, 19 KO): First title defense; Will be fighting in his sixth country as a professional
Troyanovsky (27-1, 24 KO): Sixth title fight (4-1); Held IBF/IBO titles at 140 pounds (three defenses)
Fitzbitz says: The Russian has some miles as a 38-year-old, but he’s scored stoppages in 17 straight fights and ought to be ready to come back to the title level in a good fight. Troyanovsky in 9 (65/35)
WBC light flyweight title – Yokohama, Japan
Ken Shiro (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Milan Melindo (No. 5 WBC/No. 4 IWBR)
Shiro (13-0, 7 KO): Fourth title defense; Three KOs in six scheduled 12-rounders
Melindo (37-3, 13 KO): Sixth title fight (2-3); Split two career fights in Japan (1-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Shiro is part of a wave of Asians who’ve won titles early. Meanwhile, Melindo is a veteran who became a champ later in life. Says here the younger guy has the edge. Shiro by decision (65/35)
This week’s garbage title-fight schedule:
WBA bantamweight title – Yokohama, Japan
Nayoa Inoue (“champion”) vs. Juan Carlos Payano (No. 4 WBA)
Why it’s garbage: Inoue may well be the world’s best fighter at 118 pounds. But the WBA’s champion is Ryan Burnett, and until that fact changes then Inoue’s claim is trash – no matter his level of talent.
Last week's picks: 0-2 (LOSS: Groves, Ridhwan)
2018 picks record: 62-30 (67.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 983-334 (74.6 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.