US boxing commentary remains the gold standard for broadcasters around the world. There is no special formula, but a mix of talent and experience helps, plus the ongoing practise of covering big fights week in and week out. For most readers of this website, the voices of Larry Merchant, Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, Steve Farhood, Emanuel Steward, and Howard Cosell are likely to be the ones that they are familiar with. But every other country around the world has its own teams, with their unique styles and ways of delivering their views on a fight as it progresses.
The quality of broadcasting in each country varies, although there does seem to be a direct correlation between the amount of boxing broadcast in each one and the polish of its national commentators.
Below is a brief survey of some standout commentary styles from around the world. Although not taken verbatim from actual bouts, they are carefully constructed approximations of what comes out each time a match takes place in those countries.
THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Republic of Ireland does not host much in the way of big-time boxing. It shows.
The RTE commentary team always seem as if they were phoned at home that morning and told, “Look, Dave’s called in sick. Do you mind covering the boxing tonight?” And then they’ve agreed and gone back to bed, only to be woken an hour or so later with the realisation that they know absolutely nothing about boxing. They tell themselves that it’s going to be okay, that it’s only two guys hitting each other, that they will be fine, but then they get to the arena at night and put the headphones on, and they wait for it all to start, and that’s the moment that the centre drops out of their world and they realise just how out of their depth they are. And so their minds begin to spark and they begin to talk, but forget the point they are trying to make, and they just start going down random verbal corridors, and it all becomes a game of word association.
Irish commentary: “This is a great night in Irish boxing. We are coming to the ring now and there’s a great atmosphere. John’s from Derry, and they always say that in Derry you can be one of two things—an artist, a fighter, or a football player. That’s three things, though. Also, a writer. You could be a writer. But I don’t know if people in Derry really push on that. They should, because there’s a lot of people there and you can only be one of two things, or three, or four—four things. Anyway, there’s a lot of people here tonight and I don’t know how many that it is, but it’s a big number. And it’s hot. So hot. Like fire, but everyone’s very careful about fire safety because nobody wants the crowd to burn to death.”
Case in point: Dunne-Martinez, Dublin.
Australians tend to have one fighter that everyone gets behind. Then that fighter goes abroad, gets knocked out, and comes home. Once home, they start fighting washed-up former contenders until one day an American boxer, travelling for a big payday, comes over and spreads them across the ring in about eight rounds. Danny Green’s career was like this. After losing twice to Markus Beyer in Germany, Green largely fought the rest of his career (twenty out of twenty-one fights) at home until losses to Antonio Tarver and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk finished him as a top-flight contender.
But you should take the time to listen to the domestic commentaries on his fights. It is both incredibly partisan and strangely adorable. And it is brilliant, because the commentators start by trying to imitate the American sportscasters, but devolve, in about a round, to two guys cheering on their friend in a bar fight.
Australian commentary: “Welcome to a great night in Australia boxing. A momentous night. Right, Bruce? And as the bell rings, we are honoured to see our friend Jake taking on the GREAT former champion from the United States. They’re moving around now, trying to figure each other out. That’s great movement from Jake, great boxing. Oh, that’s it. He’s thrown a jab. Go on, Jake. Sorry, little unprofessional there. We are trying to remain neutral tonight des—THAT’S IT, JAKE! HIT HIM AGAIN! GO ON! DO IT! COME ON, JAKE-O! JUST BANJO HIM! COME ON! [The referee steps in to break a clinch] OI, OI, GET BACK—IT’S JUST THE TWO OF THEM, JUST THE TWO OF THEM! GET BACK, YOU DRONGO! [Jake scores a knockdown] THAT’S IT! THAT’S IT! STAY DOWN, SON! HE JUST DID YOU. [The referee begins to count. The former champion gets on his feet] DOES HE WANT SOME MORE? HE WANTS SOME MORE? COME ON, BRING IT! [The US fighter gets up and knocks out the Australian fighter. There is a few moments of stunned silence from the commentary team] Well, it was close. Very close. So, that was a good night for Australian boxing. Thanks, and see you next time.”
Case in point: Green-Jones, Jr., Sydney
German boxing commentary tends to talk grandly about how great the fighter is as they fight a bunch of guys that no one has ever heard of. It is often thought that visiting fighters are so anonymous that they literally have no names. This lasts until the German travels (Abraham-Dirrell, Abraham-Froch, Abraham-Ward, Abraham-Ramirez, and Abraham-Eubank) and get beaten easily. They then come back to Germany and engage in trilogies of fights against other domestic fighters that become known as ‘classics’ even if no one is exactly sure why.
German commentary (translated): “Well, the boxing grandmaster is back after five fights, and five defeats on the road. They were all very, very close and could have gone either way before the bell. But when the fight started, it was the US fighter who won every round. But it was close—one of them had to win the round, and it could have been our guy. We’re now seeing him take on a redemption fight. His opponent is what we call a ‘hungry fighter’, which means we found him eating out of a bin near the train tracks, and enticed him here with a sandwich. [The bell rings] Out he comes now, with the feet of a champion. He throws a jab. That’s a masterful jab, he’s chosen the left hand for that. Good decision. God, he’s a great guy. We love him here. [After twelve rounds, the surprisingly-easy fight has been declared a knockout win for the German, despite it going the distance.] That’s a great result and hopefully we’ll see you again soon. Long live the grandmaster!”
Canadians are a lovely people, and they have many fine fighters and people around them—Jean Pascal, Russ Anber, Yvon Durelle, David Lemieux, George Chuvalo. That’s why it must sting that they are not used as commentators when the big fights hit Montreal and Quebec City. When that happens, I presume they stay at home or go to a bar and drink Molson’s while eating poutine, while quietly and politely bitching about being shunted from what should be their regular gig.
Canadian commentary (probably at a bar called ‘Wayne’s): “So the Americans are in town for the big fight, eh? It’s nice to see that our fighters are getting the exposure on the TV down below. No, I’m not jealous at all. It doesn’t feel like an invasion. Up here in Canada, we’re just happy with our healthcare system, Roch Voisine, Leonard Cohen, and half of your TV stars that you don’t even know are Canadian. We’ve also got our Prime Minister and even though we don’t like him, the rest of the world seems pretty keen on the fella. Wolverine, too—he’s one of ours. So am I jealous that the Americans are in town and commentating on the big fight that I should be there at? No, not at all. Now pass me a Beaver Tail and let’s go hang out at Canadian Tire.”
THE UNITED KINGDOM
The commentary on British matches is brilliantly utilitarian, well-informed, experienced, and respected around the world. It is also incredibly boring, with few outstanding features. If it was a colour, it would be beige. If British boxing commentary had to choose its favourite drink, it would probably opt for water.
There is little to distinguish British boxing commentary from American commentary, except that we rarely have commentators that last for more than a couple of years, and we tend to favour just-retired or about-to-retire champions in the booth. So it is often a little galling when the big fights come to town and the American commentators murder both the language and pronunciation of towns, while idiosyncratically using a not-really-appropriate-or-correct choice British phrase that they have learned at some point in the three days before the fight.
US commentary on a British fight: “Well, it’s good to be here in Nottingham, England (pronounced as ‘KNOTTING HAM’, but actual pronounced as ‘NOTTIN GUM’), for Carl Froch’s fight tonight. Froch is known here as a (checks notes for phrase he picked up in pub the night before) HARD MAN. It promises to be a tough night on the cobbles (not a boxing phrase, a bareknuckle phrase) for his opponent from Liverpool (pronounced as ‘LIVE-ER-POOL’, rhyming the first syllable with ‘alive’, when the actual pronunciation is ‘LIV-ER-POOL’). Hopefully, at the end of this, all being well, the two boys can go the nearest ‘pub’ and have two ‘schooners’ (no one uses this word) of ‘beer’ (different UK meaning). Either way, it promises to be a great night of boxing and there’s a good chance that the Queen herself may be watching (there is absolutely no way that Her Majesty would ever watch a live boxing match. We are more likely to see some random idiot on British TV because one of US TV’s sexiest men).”
I hope you have enjoyed this brief panorama of what passes for commentary around much of the boxing world outside of America. Of course, some people may take offense at this rundown of their beloved commentators. And that is their right. But to that, I would say, “Come on. Be honest. I’m right, aren’t I?”
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