From March 1988 until December 2018, when HBO ended its boxing program, Jim Lampley was the primary face and voice of the most prestigious boxing broadcasts in the world. During that time, he covered the rise and fall of Mike Tyson; the emergence of Lennox Lewis, Gennady Golovkin, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar de La Hoya, Terence Crawford, and many others; the Fan Man chaos, the Bowe-Golota riot at Madison Square Garden, and the controversial last-moment comeback KO of Meldrick Taylor by Julio Cesar Chavez.
As Lampley returns to ringside to generate live text coverage of Canelo Alvarez vs Jermell Charlo for PPV.com on September 30, ProBox TV asked him to name his favorite calls from his illustrious, Hall-of-Fame career. Here, in his own words with only the lightest of editing, is his extemporaneous response:
“Well, I'll mention three. And I'll mention three because you don't have time for me to mention 30. The first one is Gatti-Ward 1 [Micky Ward MD 10 Arturo Gatti, May 18, 2002]. Astonishing fight, the kind of fight that's inexplicable to people outside the boxing culture.
“You know, one of the things I say to people who are coming to boxing for the first time, is I try to explain to them this is a sport about love. That is so counterintuitive. You couldn't recognize it unless you spend years in the sport and learning to understand it. You watch two fighters fight each other in an intense 12 round battle, and every minute is life or death, and they are hammering each other in a way that appears so disruptive, it looks like the meanest thing you've ever seen. And then the bell sounds at the end of the 12th round, and they fall into each other's arms. That is an instinctive gesture of love. At that moment, they are saying to each other: ‘I know you better than your mother does. I know everything about you. And I respect everything about you because of what you've just put me through.’
“And Gatti-Ward 1 is kind of the ultimate application of that. Of course, the postscript winds up being Mickey speaking the eulogy at Arturo’s funeral, Mickey and Arturo going to the hospital together in the same EMT truck after their third fight, Mickey delivering Arturo’s induction speech into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I'll never forget Pat Lynch, Arturo's manager, running into me in the hallway after the fight at Mohegan Sun Casino and Pat was bereft, he was so upset and so down, and I said, ‘What's the trouble?’ He said, ‘I can't believe that we lost.’ I said, ‘Lost? How many people remember that? How many people two years from now, who watch this fight and appreciate it, will be able to tell you that Mickey won the decision?’ I said, ‘Pat, nobody's going to remember who won. That's not the imprint of this fight. The imprint of this fight is mutual greatness. And in a fight like this, there are always two winners.’
“So that's one. I got the privilege of calling that fight, got the privilege of knowing Mickey and Arturo.
“The other two are about drama. I had the privilege over the years of developing a great friendship with the greatest actor of my and your generation, Jack Nicholson. And early on in our friendship, I remember asking Jack if he had a mantra, if he had something in his head that he always kept as a guidepost when he was doing his scenes. And he said ‘Simple, simple, Jim. Two words. Don't overact.’ So, 1990, February in Tokyo, 34,000 people in Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo. [Buster Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson, February 11, 1990].
“Everybody knows the story. Everybody knows the fight. And we get to the moment in the 10th round when the accumulated punishment has built up. And now to the utter shock of the global boxing audience, in what is still seen to this day as the largest upset in boxing history, Buster Douglas is putting the finishing touches on his knockout of Mike Tyson and as Tyson is lying on the canvas and the referee’s counting him out, the words in my head are those of Jack Nicholson. Don't overact. So, my call is: ‘Mike Tyson has been knocked out.’ In pretty much that tone of voice. It wasn't overwhelmingly demonstrative. It wasn't a reach for some ability to capsule all that drama into one expressive phrase. It wouldn't have worked that way. Don't overact. ‘Mike Tyson has been knocked out.’ I got a lot of kudos in newspapers from that.
“And then four and a half years later in Las Vegas, and George Foreman puts the finishing touches on his masterpiece, a true masterpiece against Michael Moorer. [George Foreman KO10 Michael Moorer, November 5, 1994]. And as Moorer is lying on the canvas and Joe Cortez is counting to 10, I'm sitting there thinking to myself, ‘Why in the world didn't you think of this? Why? Why did you not give any credence to what Foreman said to you several times in recent months?’ Because George was my expert commentator at that moment. And several times during the buildup to the fight, in quiet moments at the crew meal before fights or in moments between rehearsals at ringside, I would buttonhole him and say, ‘George, how are you going to beat Moorer? He's a southpaw. He's a mover. He's 19 years younger than you. He's unbeaten et cetera, et cetera. Holyfield couldn't find him. We called the fight together. How are you going to find him? How can you possibly beat him?’ And several times – more than just three or four, several times – George looked at me calmly and said, ‘Jim, you watch. There will come a moment late in the fight when he's going to come and stand in front of me and let me knock him out.
“Think of the words. Think of the pictures. ‘He's going to come and stand in front of me and let me knock him out.’ How did he know that? You know, there was some formula. There was a plan. It wasn't an accident. And when you look at George's life, he's a genius. So, he knew that. He had an idea. ‘He's gonna come stand in front of me and let me knock him out.’ Was it a duplication of what Ali had done to him in Zaire? To a certain degree, it was. Was he wearing the same trunks he had worn in Zaire? Yes, he was. Twenty years had gone by. And I'm sitting there now as Cortez is counting him out and I'm thinking, ‘Why didn't I come up with an idea for this? Why didn't I sit up last night and think of [an equivalent to] Do you believe in miracles? Why am I not prepared for what now has happened before my very eyes?’ And all I could think of was those conversations with George. And there's a little bit of ‘Don’t overact’ in it. And I said, ‘It happened! It happened!’ And then the capsule: ‘20 years after losing the championship in Zaire, George Foreman comes back to win it in most unexpected style,’ whatever it was I said. But the call that people remember is, ‘It happened! It happened!’ And that was a direct response to the number of times he had told me what would happen. And it did.”