LAS VEGAS — Al Bernstein’s Hall of Fame boxing broadcasting career started over 40 years ago as a journalist in the 70’s. After some questionable commentary during some recent boxing events, the Hall of Famer speaking out. Bernstein has no issues pointed out his own flaws while calling a fight, but is concerned that boxing is straying away from some of the basics of commentating and wants to see it rectified quickly.
Boxing is like no other sport when it comes to commentating, because in many cases fans rely solely on the voices of those hired to call events to get a firm grip on what’s going on inside of the ring. Bernstein is widely considered the best in the game right now, and in 2012 he earned his way into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Mr. Bernstein opens up about commentating and explains the magnitude of Spence-Crawford, July 29th fight.
Zenger: We talked a little off record following the Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko fight. Can you talk about the responsibilities of a boxing commentator?
Bernstein: Boxing is one of those sports where… doing any other sport, while you make individual comments on the technique of players, what they’re doing, we all know what the score is, don’t we?
Bernstein: And we know how the event is proceeding. You may comment on the wind helping the homerun, which is okay to do because it’s part of the story, but you know it’s a homerun. In boxing, calling a boxing match, I am a firm believer that, you call a boxing match round by round, based on the action that’s in front of you, and you pay attention to every single thing that’s happening. One of the problems now, and I’m not directing this at that specific broadcast, though it may apply, all sports suffer from this, but boxing suffers in a unique way. All sports are now discussed instead of announced. We have people having discussions about the fight. If you’re having a discussion, by nature, you may miss something that’s happened in the last 30 seconds. This trend is especially troublesome in boxing because a lot of the time discussion has a lot to do with opinions. Although I feel we are there to sometimes offer opinions, not always. Whether people are totally on board with them or not, we have statistics we can point out, trends of fighters, how well have they done in the later rounds in other fights, how quick do they start, I can go on and on with things that are fair game for a commentator and in fact are important for a commentator to say to people. And none of those things have to do with opinions.
We recently had a fight and one of the fighters was a slow starter, that’s not an opinion. I can use numbers to point that out. We have gotten to the point where most of what broadcasters say, even by play-by-play announcers, and I emphasize that, much of it now is opinion. I don’t want as much opinion as I want insight and information. That’s what I want as a sports viewer. I know that an opinion is going to sneak in there. I don’t want to rely on just opinions. I don’t care if you’re the biggest expert in the history of boxing, as a competitor or pundit, I don’t want to just hear your opinion. This is a topic that I’m very invested in. I don’t like sticking my nose into any of my colleague’s business. My way is not the only way, there’s many ways to approach this job, but I believe there are some basics that we have gotten away from in the world of sportscasting. Boxing is the one sport that demands that we constantly check ourselves. It’s a constant source of anxiety to me, when a fight is finished, and you are not 100% sure whether you’ve given a completely fair and balanced commentary. You gave your best effort, but did you give credit to both fighters in the right way, did you give them both their due.
Zenger: Can you remember a recent fight where you had to kind of check yourself?
Bernstein: We had a fight recently, [Batyr] Akhmedov and Kenneth Sims Jr. It was a great close fight. One card was an outlier. It was too big for Sims Jr., and I emphasized that afterwards, and I desperately tried to get back in. I even nudged Mauro [Ranallo] to let me back in for a minute before he throws it up to [Brian] Custer. I wanted to say, however, that doesn’t mean that Kenneth Sims Jr. did not win this fight and it wasn’t a great performance. I didn’t want that taking away from him because it was a career performance for him. I personally thought the fight was a draw, but either way, when you’re announcing a boxing match, it is incumbent of you to describe the things that are in front of you, take it round-by-round. So many times someone can say a narrative that they say is happening, and because they’re so busy talking about the narrative, they’re not actually paying attention to what’s happening.
I’ll give you a perfect example and this is going to be self-deprecating. But I’m fair enough to say it because it was on my announce team. I review every show that I’ve done. When we did [Caleb] Plant and [David] Benavidez, we emphasized so strongly that Benavidez’s amount of punches had been so radically reduced by Plant, which of course was a part of his plan. And I may have said it once, but I should’ve repeated it again, that didn’t mean Benavidez was losing the fight, didn’t mean he lost all of those rounds, and I think we over emphasized that. We didn’t need to do that as much as we did. When an announcer relies on opinion mostly, in my opinion they’re in trouble. I’ve done plenty of play-by-play and I’ve done color. When I do play-by-play, I check my analyst hat at the door.
Zenger: You were around for Leonard-Hearns, Hagler-Hearns, Duran-Leonard, just amazing super fights. We just received the announcement for Errol Spence Jr. versus Terence Crawford. This has to rank up there for you, because no part of me sees this fight ending in a dull manner.
Bernstein: I don’t think it will be dull. There will be plenty of strategy, but I don’t think it will just be a chess match. It’s interesting you’re saying this. I’ve been reading articles where people… again, here is where facts come into play. Instead of saying, it is, or it isn’t, I’ve seen a number of articles where they went back and started listing many of the welterweight championship fights from the last 30 or so years. They took some of the ones that transcended great welterweight fights. You have two categories, there is the super fight, which is what this one is, and then there are the great welterweight fights. There are six or seven going back to Hearns and Leonard, and when you look at all of them, you say to yourself, this one belongs with those doesn’t it.
Where it ranks with them, we don’t know yet, because we have the ability to look at how those played out. We have to wait and see with this one. I agree with you, it’s probably going to be a really good fight. It should be. We didn’t know that Pernell Whitaker was really going to kind of dominate Julio Cesar Chavez. And we sure didn’t know he was going to get robbed of the decision. We didn’t know that Oscar De La Hoya and [Felix] Trinidad was going to have half of a really good fight and then a half that wasn’t so perfect. Hearns-Leonard of course produced in a monstrous way. Even that, we wouldn’t have expected that Ray Leonard would end up being the puncher in the fight and Tommy Hearns was going to be the boxer. So, we don’t know how these things are going to turn out. If you look at the level of what we expect from a major fight, you have to be honest and say, this is right there with the great welterweight fights that we’ve had. And thankfully, in my opinion, it got made within the window of viability.