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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Larry Merchant wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to say anything on fight night, much less what came out of his mouth. A case of Vegas throat, an affliction cursed by entertainers in this gambling city for years, had left him nearly mute.
A visit with the doctor gave him his voice back, and for that boxing fans everywhere should be grateful.
Microphone in hand, Merchant delivered the knockout of the night.
"I wish I was 50 years younger," Merchant told Floyd Mayweather Jr., "I’d kick your ass."
Not the kind of line you hear from a television sports announcer, even one working on HBO.
Certainly not the kind of line you’d expect from an 80-year-old who only ventures into the ring to talk to people, not hit them.
But those who helped make Mayweather way more millions than he’s worth Saturday night by buying the pay-per-view for his fight with Victor Ortiz had to be cheering at home. They finally got some value out of the $69.95 Mayweather cost them on the night.
It took an octogenarian to deliver it. But the bully finally got his.
"I was just trying to get him to tell his side of the story, but something kicked in and he attacked me personally," Merchant said. "And I combusted."
The result was probably the most memorable line of a ringside reporting career that began 34 years ago for the former newspaper columnist and author. It quickly went viral online, so much so that Merchant was met by a TMZ camera crew at a Los Angeles airport the next morning on his return from Las Vegas.
"At the moment I meant it," Merchant said. "Later when we were summing up I said I couldn’t have kicked his ass, but I would have tried."
No one watching could have blamed Merchant for that. Announcers are conditioned to take some abuse in the heat of the moment, but Mayweather was in Merchant’s face, screaming profanities at him and telling him he should be fired when he decided that enough was enough.
It wasn’t as if Merchant had been badgering Mayweather with tough questions about, say, the felony charges pending against him for an altercation with the mother of his children. He was simply trying to find out why Mayweather had just ended the fight with two punches that were technically legal but very questionable.
"I invite anybody to see it," Merchant said from his home in Southern California. "I’m just trying to get him to tell his side of the story. I’m not there to arbitrate the controversy and decide who is right or wrong."
It was a classic live TV moment, made even better when Merchant turned toward the camera after challenging Mayweather and flashed a bemused smile. By that time Mayweather and his entourage were climbing out of the ring, on their way to a press conference even more bizarre where the boxer ranted about the many things that irritate him in life.
You wouldn’t think someone who makes $30 million or so a fight would have a lot of irritations. Mayweather does, and he’s not shy about expressing them.
Topping the list is his feeling that the media doesn’t give him his due as the greatest fighter ever. Near the top of that list is that he feels Merchant is among those who won’t bow to his greatness.
"I just want to get a fair shake," Mayweather complained. "He still needs to be fired. I still don’t get the props I believe I deserve."
The truth is, Merchant doesn’t need to be fired. If anything, he needs a contract extension for the fine work he always does in the ring under conditions that are not always ideal.
Unlike most in his business, he asks questions that go beyond the maddening "Talk about the game" kind of stuff that is guaranteed not to elicit any useful information. His questions are somewhat halting and often meandering, but that’s part of the charm of watching Merchant at work.
He knows the sport better than most, and can analyze a fight with the best. Unlike some other prominent broadcasters, he’s part of the show but doesn’t make himself the show.
Until Saturday night, that is.
That’s when Mayweather made it personal. That’s when Merchant decided he had enough.
He took a stand on a public stage. He put the bully in his place, and he did what 42 opponents in the ring haven’t done — shut Money Mayweather up.
He’s not bragging about it. But he’s not sorry about it, either.
"Trust me, the thought never occurred to me before that to fight anyone," Merchant said. "Much less Floyd Mayweather Jr."
Too bad. That might be one pay-per-view actually worth buying.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg