Had Larry Merchant been fifty years younger he would have kicked Floyd Mayweather’s ass in 2011.
That’s according to Larry Merchant, who, in the aftermath of Mayweather’s controversial win over Victor Ortiz decided he’d had enough of Mayweather’s grandstanding and his arrogance and his cherry-picking and his insults and chose to give him a piece of his mind. It resulted in an iconic slanging match, a heated exchange between fighter and HBO reporter, during which Merchant, then 80, admirably stood his ground.
Now, six years later, Merchant has mellowed somewhat. He retired from HBO duties in 2012 and will be watching the August 26 boxing match between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor from home, like the rest of us. He won’t have the chance to call Mayweather on his nonsense. He won’t have the chance to tell the world what he really thinks. Instead, Merchant, 86, will sit back in his chair, smile and then, just as the fight begins, simply remind himself it’s all a game. A “circus”, if you will.
“P.T. Barnum famously said ‘a sucker is born every day’,” Merchant told Fighters Only.
“This is one of those events that moves and twitches people. Despite all the good stuff we’ve had recently, this is the event I’m asked about the most. It’s a circus, sure, but I have always gone by the good old American idea that anybody is entitled to put up a tent and charge people to come in. If it makes money, good for them. This is just one of those events that connects a lot of dots and the stars align to make it a giant worldwide event.
“Quite aside from his pure boxing skills, Floyd Mayweather is a genius marketer and self-promoter and this is yet another example of his matchmaking skills. Those skills have been crucial to his career. There are probably 10,000 mixed martial artists who could beat Mayweather and 10,000 boxers who could beat McGregor. But it’s something people want to see happen. Maybe they want to see someone mess up Mayweather in some way. There’s a lot of curiosity and it seems to have caught fire. I just hope the fire doesn’t envelop prizefigthing.”
While some react with righteous indignation at the thought of Mayweather and McGregor ripping up the rules in the name of getting paid, Larry Merchant simply shrugs his shoulders. It’s not exactly something he ever wanted to see. Nor is it something he expects to be all that competitive or entertaining. But, to him, Mayweather-McGregor is merely the latest incarnation of a trend, one which has long seen big names blur the lines between disciplines and schedule a spectacle in order to grab the public’s money.
“I was there when Andre the Giant threw Chuck Wepner out of the ring in New York,” Merchant said, “and I remember seeing some highlights – or, more accurately, lowlights – of the (Muhammad) Ali and (Antonio) Inoki fight. The whole thing turned out to be a fraud. But Ali got, I think, if I remember correctly, a guarantee of seven million dollars, which was a lot of money. I get it. Whatever it is either man suffers, whether it’s physical or psychological, it’s worth the candle, I guess.
“Back in the old, old, old days, they would try these kind of mixed animal events. Jesse Owens, when he won four gold medals at the ’36 Olympics, had nowhere to go professionally and was in some races against horses.
“I just kind of shrug and smile and say, okay, some people are going to have some fun and hopefully it works out in a way that they come out not just lighter in their wallets but having seen something they won’t see again for a while. It’s a spectacle, it’s showbiz and it’s buyer beware. A sucker’s born every day.”
Ask Merchant for an August 26 prediction and he does his best not to laugh. If pushed, he leans the way of every other sane being with so much as a semblance of boxing and MMA knowledge. He backs his old foe Mayweather.
Where he differs from most, however, is the method of the Mayweather victory.
“A long time ago I said the excitement stops with Mayweather fights as soon as the first bell rings,” said Merchant. “As for McGregor, if the chance is a million to one, what is the real chance? You can never say it’s zero, but my expectation is that Mayweather will frustrate McGregor and McGregor will struggle to land much and there will be a lot of clinching and finally McGregor will foul him and that will be the end of the fight. I think that the most likely end is a disqualification. I wish they would put that up on the odds boards. I’d take my shot at a DQ.”