Legendary Sports Broadcaster Jim Lampley Returns to Boxing as Triller Fight Club's Play-By-Play Voice
It's been more than two-and-a-half years since legendary sports broadcaster Jim Lampley has called a boxing match after HBO dropped the sport from its program lineup and the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, Lampley is returning to ringside as Triller's new play-by-play voice. The move comes just in time for a big fight card in Miami on June 19.
"In recent months, it began to become clear to me that an offer might be forthcoming for me to go back calling fights so at that point my attitude became alright where is legitimacy? Where's a jumping off point and a platform where I can do something that is meaningful from the get go? And Triller made this offer not too long ago. They were very decisive and clear in what they wanted to do. What they wanted to do was communicate legitimacy, that's really the key word, and the key element here is the main attraction of Teofimo Lopez against George Kambosos. Lopez defeated Vasyl Lomachenko. I spent many years on HBO and The Fight Game helping to build and develop Lomachenko's reputation and validating him as the number one pound-per-pound fighter in the sport. To see somebody so easily dismantle him was surprising, maybe even shocking and you could see the natural skill, comfort and ring generalship and all that stuff that Teofimo Lopez brought to that particular enterprise. So when Triller came along and said we want to make you an offer and we really want you on board in time to call the main event involving Teofimo Lopez, I said let's do it. I've been looking for a legitimate platform. Lopez is potentially not just a next big thing but "the" next big thing and I'm ready to go."
During the latest edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle, Lampley shows why he is a master storyteller. The four-time Emmy winner, film producer and educator gets personal about his family and explains that destiny guided his sports broadcasting career. The 2015 International Boxing Hall of Famer joined the podcast via Zoom from his home in North Carolina.
Lampley saw his first professional bout when he was 14 years old. It turned out to be one of the most talked about fights in history as a young Cassius Clay stunned Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship on February 25, 1964 in Miami.
"Cassius Clay was already my biggest hero in sports. There's a lot that goes into that. Some of that was my mother having a very strong chemical resistance to racism and the face that Cassius Clay was portraying an anti-racist stance very aggressively, more aggressive than any American athlete up to that point. That made him an ideal sort of central hero for me. In 1963, I began reading in the Miami Herald and the Miami News that there was a possibility of a championship fight being created between Cassius Clay and Sonny Listen and, by the way if it took place, a likely venue was the Miami Beach Convention Center. So I began saving up car-washing and law-mowing money and did so for months to buy a ticket for that fight."
Cassius Clay would change his name to Muhammad Ali a few days after he took the title from Liston.
Lampley's love of boxing was no accident and came at an early age. Jim was only five years old when his lost his dad James, a war hero and superb local golfer.
"After my father died, my mother very constructively and aggressively did everything she could to immerse me in the things she knew my father would want to do with me and would want me to know about that. One of the first things she did was to take me to someone else's house where she was going to a party, march me down a hallway and sit me down in front of a small television set and tell me you're going to watch the Friday Night Fights. (Mom speaking) 'It's Sugar Ray Robinson against Bobo Olson. It's their second fight. This is the most important fighter in the world Sugar Ray Robinson and you're going to see his amazing skills and whatever you don't know about boxing Don Dunphy is going to tell you in the next hour and a half or so.' So I got started watching boxing at age six. My mother's last line before she left the room was you're doing this because if your father was still alive this is what you and he would be doing together."
Lampley's mom eventually moved them from Hendersonville, North Carolina to Miami where young Jim would see at the time the biggest upset in boxing history (to that point) when Clay beat Liston in 1964. He says it was destiny that would lead him to Tokyo, Japan on February 10, 1990, sitting at ringside for HBO, to witness and call James "Buster" Douglas' knockout of then-champ Mike Tyson.
"So there are large elements of my life and that whole story is probably most central in establishing that there's kind of a destiny at play here. I do the things that destiny has laid out for me to do. It isn't me doing that. You know it's some other force in the universe and I've felt that in virtually everything that's ever happened to me in my sports commentary career."
That career has been an amazing journey as Lampley has worked for almost every major sports network at different times. Most recently, he writes, hosts and executive produces his own studio boxing news show, The Fight Game with Jim Lampley on HBO. For more than three decades he was the blow-by-blow announcer on HBO World Championship Boxing. He was a fixture on ABC and NBC sports, covering 14 Olympic Games. Lampley has covered all the major events including the Super Bowl, Major League Baseball, College Football and Basketball, Wimbledon, the USFL and the Indy 500.
When asked about his iconic voice, Lampley humbly responded.
"I've never thought of my voice as a huge asset in my career, but a lot of people do share your point of view. And pretty frequently somebody will tap me on the shoulder in the vegetable department at Whole Foods and say I'd just love to hear your voice. So I think if there's anything there it is that my mother, going back to the formative influence of my life, was a stickler for grammar and diction. She spoke the language correctly and she wanted me to speak the language correctly."
During this edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle, Lampley talks about his early sports reporting days including a wonderful story about how he got the job as a sideline reporter for college football and his first encounter with ABC Sports president Roone Arledge. He also says he'll never forget interview USA Olympic hockey star Mike Eruzione immediately after the U.S. upset Russia in 1984 in Lake Placid.
While work for HBO, Lampley says those calls he's most proud of are "Mike Tyson has been knocked out" at the end of the Buster Douglas fight in 1990 and four years later when George Foreman shocked Michael Moorer in 1994 with "It happened, it happened." That (knockout) was something Foreman had told Lampley he would do while the two were partners on HBO World Championship Boxing. Lampley's respect for the famous champion would continue to grow through the years.
"He was groomed early on by surly, alienated, anti-social people, okay, Liston's camp, the people who had been around Sonny, some of the people who were dealing with racial prejudice and its outgrowth within boxing at that time, they gave George a certain kind of attitude that he used in the ring and out during his first career. And then when he went away from the sport for a long time and he spent ten years more or less in exile from it, I think somewhere in that period of time he thought to himself you know what that wasn't me. He came as the cheerful hamburger-selling, everybody's best friend kind of guy and that personality reversal was in its way compelling and surprising to many. Then he began gradually he started to build his career toward this inevitable title shot because he's one of the most beloved in the culture by this point. That smile is selling Meineke mufflers, it's selling hamburgers, it's all over popular culture, kind of the way Shaq is now by the way. But what I think about what people underestimated about George in his second career is that he was a scientist. He was totally into the craft and technique of boxing. George is still on my list as one of the five smartest people I've ever known."
Lampley is also teaching a class at UNC-Chapel Hill titled Evolution of Storytelling in American Electronic News Media which examines how news and sports stories are created, disseminated and received from 1920-2020. Lampley says the coronavirus pandemic served as a perfect model for discussion.
As for his return to boxing on Triller Fight Club, Lampley is excited but he'll be taking all his television experience with him.
"I'll be looking to be understated. I'll be looking to continue to remember the picture is preeminent, that many times the picture tells the story in a such a graphic and emotionally-unbelievable way that you can't enhance it with something that you say. I'll remember the great underlying satisfaction of this business is to tell the truth."
You can see the entire SportsJam chat with Jim Lampley at https://fb.watch/64FqRkVi17/.