Almost five years since fans last heard him call a fight for HBO, Jim Lampley will be ringside for a big-time Las Vegas fight again as part of the PPV.com coverage of Saturday’s clash between Canelo Alvarez and Jermell Charlo at the T-Mobile Arena. Lampley won’t be donning the headset and microphone, however; instead, he’ll be offering observations and responding to viewer questions in a live chat alongside veteran journalist Lance Pugmire.
“I'm not going to be talking at all unless I do unless I do what I'm not supposed to do and shouldn't be doing,” quipped the Hall-of-Famer during a Zoom interview with ProBox TV. “It’s all ancillary to what's going on in the Showtime Pay Per View broadcasts. So, theoretically, you buy the Showtime Pay Per View broadcast, you listen to Mauro Ranallo and his colleagues calling the fight on Showtime, and at the same time you watch the screen [on PPV.com] to see what Lance Pugmire and Jim Lampley say about the fight. And at the end of the day, you can interact if you want by sending in questions to Jim and Lance: “Why do you idiots think this is what's going on when I can see something else?” So, it's a wonderful way for me to come back to ringside for the first time in a long time, work with a very good and close friend, and have at least some participation in the content.”
Interestingly, Lampley noted that, before the short-lived merger between AT&T and HBO’s corporate overlords Time Warner precipitated the demise of the channel’s boxing coverage, Lampley had been contemplating a change in his ringside role as he envisioned transitioning to the seat next to him.
“You know, when you and I were both working at HBO, there were several times during the last years that I was on the air that it occurred to me that what ultimately will make sense here is that Max [Kellerman] will stand up from his chair and walk around behind Roy [Jones] to my chair, and I'll trade places with him,” he revealed. “And I'll become the person who does the Larry Merchant role, which had become the Max Kellerman role. And Max would become the ongoing blow-by-blow commentator for HBO. I thought that transition would have made all the sense in the world. But of course, our arc as a television provider of boxing came to an end abruptly. And from my perspective, quite unexpectedly, prior to the chance for any of that to happen. I couldn't possibly tell you why AT&T, having purchased the company that had the most honored and respected boxing television franchise in the history of the sport, immediately decided upon acquiring HBO that they didn't want to continue it. I can't tell you why that happened. But that's what happened.”
In the weeks and months after HBO Boxing’s demise, Lampley waited for the phone to ring with offers of a role at a new platform. The first to reach out was short-lived upstart Triller, which hired him to call Teofimo Lopez’s lightweight title defense against George Kambosos. But then Lopez contracted COVID, the fight was delayed, and Triller lost the rights. The company then asked him to call Evander Holyfield’s crossover bout against MMA veteran Vitor Belfort, but for various reasons – including but not limited to Lampley’s discomfort with discussing a fighter from a sport in which he had no background and little interest – he demurred.
“And that was the last time that anybody asked me to speak at a boxing match,” he said. “And did that surprise me? Yes, it did. There are enough streaming services and networks that I really thought somebody would offer me a blow-by-blow gig. But I take it as a compliment to all the people who are sitting in those chairs. I'm happy for all of the respected broadcasters who were sitting in those chairs that the networks which hired them and had put them on the air decided ‘We're going to stick with these guys.’”
Instead, Lampley’s career took a sharp left turn as he wound up at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to teach a course on the “evolution of storytelling, and American electronic news video.” While the natural assumption might be that a course taught by Jim Lampley would have a sports broadcasting focus, he also has a background as a news correspondent and anchor and drew on that to offer a course that examined the nature of modern news media more broadly.
“I taught that course for five semesters, and it was hard,” he said. “It was heavy lifting. It was challenging, it was emotionally challenging because of what's going on with regard to the subject of truth and American electronic news media.” Despite that, he said, it was “a really fun, rewarding on the ground existence living in Chapel Hill, back in the place where I went to both undergraduate school and graduate school.”
It was while studying communications at graduate school that he was chosen out of a talent hunt in 1974 to be ABC’s first sideline reporter, covering college and then professional football. And it was from there that he first forayed into the sport with which he is synonymous and with which he has been associated for more than 30 years – a degree of success and longevity that doubtless surprised the executive who set it in motion.
“I was first assigned to boxing at ABC by a division president who was doing it to get rid of me, whose basic position was ‘This guy is not going to bond with boxing and boxing isn't going to bond with him. And this will force him to walk on his contract.’ He did not pay any attention to the fact that ABC had just signed an introductory "get to know you” contract with a 19-year-old heavyweight from New York, whose name was Mike Tyson. And my first on air exposures in boxing were calling Mike's first several network television appearances at ABC. And then when I left ABC and went to CBS, and Mike left ABC and went to HBO, HBO in their infinite wisdom reached out and said, ‘You have a connection to Tyson. Let's put you back together with him on the air.’ And that's how I got the HBO boxing job. So, migrations through careers in network television are not always predictable.
“And now I'm going to be involved in a new way of providing content during a boxing match which is PPV.com.”