Last I met up with an old, dear friend. One I had been keeping in contact with regularly with phone calls, but hadn't seen since the world-wide pandemic hit a couple of years ago.
We met last Thursday afternoon for lunch at the Water Grill on Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica. At 92 years old, he's as active as you can expect from someone his age. And yes, he's still keeping an eye on the sport he covered so ably for decades, most notably his 35 year run as the ringside analyst for HBO.
"I take a walk every day, and go up the inclines of Santa Monica, and occasionally I bump into someone who likes to talk boxing. I'm retired," said Merchant, who has finally made the declaration that his glorious career in the media has come to an end.
For years he was hounded about writing a biography, or even doing a regular podcast. Even after his post-HBO run, there was still a sizable audience for his random thoughts and quips. But those projects simply never piqued his interest to a point where he wanted such a responsibility.
Yet, with that said, he told me, "I'm interested in observing, and I'm interested in helping writers if they want to know about the things I've seen, to put into context what the current fighters do versus the old-timers. I think most of the elite fighters, many of them are superior athletes to those of another generation."
He has a rare perspective on things given the scope of his career. Merchant started his career on a typewriter, and now regularly checks his emails on his computer. He may not have seen it all, but he's seen more than most of us.
Merchant was in attendance for the historic bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in March of 1971, and a multitude of other events that he chronicled first as a newspaper man, and then a broadcaster. There aren't many media members who can say that they actually covered Ali, who is a personal favorite of his.
"I don't think there's any question about that," confirmed Merchant. "Ali was one of the first American athletes who became an internationally important figure, and he changed a lot of things -- not just boxing."
I asked Larry if at this stage of his life did he ever look back and reflect, or does he just live in the moment.
"Both,'' was his answer.
Which meant that while he certainly appreciates the era that featured the quartet of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, he still has great interest in today's game. The guy who was at Leonard-Hearns, is yearning for Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, just like the rest of us. "Like everybody else, I can't wait to see them fight each other."
He admits, "I'm not as consumed by boxing as much as I once was, but it is what it is. It changed before I got into the game, and it's still changing."
Merchant doesn't watch boxing religiously but regularly.
"I would say once every couple of weeks there's a fight on that I sorta watch," he said with a chuckle. Merchant will still go to the occasional fight in person. As for current boxers he is intrigued by, the likes of Sebastian Fundora and Ryan Garcia come to mind. He's long been an admirer of Canelo Alvarez. ("He always impressed me as one of those guys who wanted to be great.")
Baseball is his other sporting passion, Merchant still regularly watches games, and even will listen to them on the radio. Various family members took him to ballgames as a kid growing up in the Bronx.
"I saw Joe DiMaggio hit a home run off Bob Feller," recalled Merchant. 'the Yankee Clipper' was an idol of his. Right around that time boxing came into his life.
"The first fight I ever heard on the radio was Joe Louis," said Merchant, of a bout that took place June 22 in 1938, and was much more than just a prizefight. "My father let me stay up for Louis and Max Schmeling in the rematch, I was seven years old, because there was so much at stake in and out of the ring.
"And I think I got hooked on sports, to me, it was more than a game. I began to read, I had my favorite writers like Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, I went to school on them."
Yeah, he was a kid fan. And he says in 2022, "I'm still a kid fan."
Larry is still alive and kicking. He might joke that he's lost an inch off his fastball, but he's still throwing strikes.
"I get up in the morning between nine and ten, I read the L.A. Times with breakfast, then I read the New York Times," he says. "I have interest in what's going on in our world.
"And then I have lunch with Steve Kim."
Tyson Fury -- who may or may not be retired this upcoming week -- is in the opinion of Mr. Merchant a top 10 all-time heavyweight. "He has rare abilities," said Merchant....Teofimo Lopez did what he was supposed to do in dispatching Pedro Campa in seven rounds. It looks like he will return in December on ESPN's Heisman night... Xander Zayas remained unbeaten. Still just 19, he seems to have a very bright future....DAZN has announced that they will be airing the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch this Saturday in the States. So no, it will not be a pay-per-view....Loving the new season of 'Industry' on HBO...Speaking of HBO, Dan Campbell is great TV on 'Hard Knocks'....I can't like Jackie Rohr of 'City on a Hill' is currently my favorite character on television....I can be reached at email@example.com....