Steward proved quicker with jab than Merchant

For the $54.95 many of us paid to watch HBO’s closed-circuit telecast of the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout Saturday, we actually saw not one main event but two.

In the ring, the Pretty Boy defeated the Golden Boy in a bout that was good, not great, and will doubtlessly lead to a rematch that shouldn’t be held.

Meanwhile, down at the announcers’ table, Emanuel Steward and Larry Merchant were fighting, too. They were going at it verbally over the most important theme of the bout — the 34-year-old De La Hoya’s stamina against the younger, faster Mayweather.

The winner of this dust-up was Steward, the one-time trainer, who correctly predicted before the fight that stamina would be a major issue for De La Hoya against a fighter whom boxing historian Bert Sugar said "fights like a ferret who’s just taken six cups of cappuccino."

Merchant, who is too coy by half and whose pseudo-sage comments have been wearing thin for years now, took Steward on as early as Round 5. Manny had noted that De La Hoya was fighting flat-footed and said that because of his rigid posture, he would tire in the late rounds.

"Emanuel, maybe he will get tired," Merchant said as if he were speaking to a 6-year-old, "but right now the fight is happening. … We don’t really know yet who’s going to get tired."

Oh yeah? Mayweather is four years younger and noticeably quicker than Oscar. De La Hoya had to chase him around the ring and landed most of his blows only in the corners. From the get-go the question of Oscar’s stamina might as well have been a huge neon sign blinking on and off over the center of the ring.

Yet in Round 8, feeling with some reason that De La Hoya was winning at the time, Merchant said: "Emanuel, I don’t think a fighter can depend on the other fighter getting tired at the end. What if he doesn’t?"

As it turned out, De La Hoya inexplicably dispensed with his jab — his best punch — over the last four rounds, which may have cost him the fight. "For some reason it wasn’t the night of the jab," he told Merchant with a puzzling smile after the split decision.

Bottom line: Forget the 30-year-old Mayweather retiring. Maybe it’s time for the 76-year-old Merchant to quietly exit the stage. And as for De La Hoya-Mayweather II, what would it prove? Oscar won’t be any sharper at 35.

HBO will re-air the fight on its basic channel at 10 p.m. Saturday, on HBO2 at 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, and also at 11:30 p.m. next Tuesday.

• WILTED ROSES — There is no grander spectacle in sports than the Kentucky Derby, as NBC’s telecast again showed Saturday.

Who will soon forget Street Sense’s winning jockey, 40-year-old journeyman Calvin Borel, exulting, crying, shouting and standing in the stirrups after overtaking 19 horses for the roses? Or the wisdom of Street Sense’s semi-retired trainer, Carl Nafzger? "I think you should let the horse bring you to the Derby," he said, "and not bring the horse to the Derby."

Then there was Bob Costas’ reference to that "noted railbird Queen Elizabeth II," who attended the race.

Nevertheless, the first third of the telecast was ruined by the intolerable self-promotion under the guise of reporting that NBC engaged in during the run-up to the race. Its reporters interviewed celebrity after celebrity associated with the network’s shows.

Talk about self-promotion!

NBC could have been reporting about some of the horses in the field or discussing the protocols of Elizabeth’s arrival. Instead we saw Shaun Robinson of "Access Hollywood," Jerry O’Connell of "Crossing Jordan," Greg Grunberg of "Heroes," Phil Laak from "Poker After Dark," and NFL stars Michael Strahan and Byron Leftwich, reminding viewers of "NBC Sunday Night Football." What a sell out — and all under the guise of pre-race coverage.

It was a broadcast that did not smell of roses, and producer Sam Flood should have been ashamed of himself. Here’s hoping he at least protested to his NBC bosses.

• IT’S CONTAGIOUS — This year’s ratings numbers prove that the NFL Draft has become a major sports event. Coverage over two full days April 28 and 29 on ESPN, ESPN2 and the NFL Network reached nearly 39 million viewers. The draft reached 23.5 million as recently as 2001.

Bill Taaffe is a former award-winning TV-radio sports columnist for Sports Illustrated. His "Remote Control" column is published Tuesday. He can be reached at

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