Max Kellerman

Submitted by on Sep 16, 2015

Raissman: Kellerman punches away

Ed Mulholland

Max Kellerman has come a long way from his public access days but it’s been rocky ride to top for HBO’s boxing commentator.

Rarely at a loss for words, Max Kellerman seemed like he was searching for just the right ones.

Someone asked him if he ever thought much about “Max On Boxing,” the weekly public access Manhattan Cable TV show he created and hosted. The show debuted on Sept. 8, 1989, when Kellerman was just 16.

“It’s a long time ago,”Kellerman, 36, said.”There’s no way around what’s gone on with me personally.”

Then he talked about his brother, Sam, who was found dead on the floor of his Hollywood. Calif.. apartment in October of 2005. Sam Kellerman. 29, was killed by James Butler. a boxer he had befriended. Autopsy reports said Kellerman was struck from behind with a blunt object more than 30 times. Butler eventually pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 29 years in prison.

“That (his brother’s death) happened almost five years ago, on October 12. I found out on October 17,”Kellerman said.”It was after that I lost my mind. I really didn’t care what was happening.”

The tragedy built compartments in Kellerman’s soul – before and after walls. “Everything before, like ‘Max on Boxing’ now is enveloped in this sweet kind of nostalgia,”Kellerman said.”It certainly feels like a long time ago.”

And a long way from a dingy Wayne’s World-esque studio with one camera stuck in his face and an old telephone by his side to the big technology of HBO Sports. the summit for any boxing broadcaster, where he is employed as an analyst for “Boxing After Dark”and”World Championship Boxing,” splitting time with Larry Merchant. Kellerman is heir apparent to Merchant, the cantankerous conscience of the sport.

On Saturday, Max Kellerman will be in deep, perhaps his biggest assignment at HBO, working as a primary analyst, with Emanuel Steward and Jim Lampley. for Floyd (Money) Mayweather’s return to the ring against Juan Manuel Marquez in a mega Pay-Per-View matchup. This could well be Kellerman’s defining evening behind a boxing microphone.

On the way to this night in Las Vegas there have been many stops. Perhaps only Keith Olbermann has burned more bridges than MeMax. For Kellerman it went from ESPN ‘s “Friday Night Fights”studio to”Around the Horn.”

Then it was off to Fox, where the suits gave him his own show, “I, Max” on Fox Sports Net. That show flamed out in a year. Kellerman pressed on, moving to ESPN-1050 in October of 2006, but marching out the door last March, with six months left on his contract, taking his famed army with him. It seemed like he was headed to another radio station, but we’ll get to that later.

“Would I do certain things different? Absolutely. I don’t know anybody who has made the optimal choice at every moment in their life. Some things, given the information I had at the time, well, I made what I thought was a good choice,”Kellerman said.”Now, I would be more diplomatic, not so plain-spoken behind the scenes.”

Shaping his own role now at HBO is infinitely more important, as is knowing what to say on the air. The learning started quickly. In late June of 2005, Kellerman was in a production meeting for the Mayweather-Arturo Gatti fight in Atlantic City. His freelance assignment was to work “upstairs” with Bob Costas. who would serve as host of this PPV affair.

Going into the fight, Kellerman saw it as a huge mismatch, a cakewalk for Mayweather. Costas and the producers were all in the meeting. They asked Kellerman what his commentary would be at the top of the show, before the first undercard fight. Kellerman, typically outspoken, proclaimed it would the biggest Pay-Per-View mismatch since the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis bout in June of 2002.

“Everyone jumped me saying, ‘Max, you don’t want to say that.’ I immediately, because I had worked at ESPN, thought yeah, right, you don’t want me to say that (it’s going to be a mismatch) because you’re trying to sell the event. I figured they were going to give me resistance on this,”Kellerman said.”Costas says: ‘No, no, no, you want to save that commentary. You don’t want to say that off the top. Save it for minutes before the main event when the most people are watching.

“That night,”Kellerman said,”I learned that at HBO we don’t run away from strong, unfavorable opinions, we just offer them to the largest audience possible.”

No one has put this theory to better use than Merchant. As soon as Kellerman “officially” joined HBO in April of 2006, the comparisons with Merchant started.

And in 2007, when word leaked out that HBO Sports boss Ross Greenburg would dump Merchant from “WBC “and replace him with Kellerman, the comparisons became harsher and more pointed. One scribe (guess who?) even wrote that dumping Merchant in favor of Kellerman”would be like replacing Picasso with the guy who sells the Velvet Elvises outside of Graceland .”

At the time, obviously, Kellerman did not have much to say about all this. He was in a tricky position. Not only was he viewed as an intruder pushing out a legend, but Merchant was a guy he grew up watching, a voice he learned from, a voice he adored. Greenburg found a compromise, crafting a schedule in which both analysts would have turns at “WBC” dates and PPV extravaganzas.

On HBO, even in his earliest days, Kellerman, the fellow who on ESPN-1050 anointed himself “a creative genius,” who came to the mike an arrogant know-it-all, checked his radio persona, his pompous alter-ego, at the door.

He also learned from Merchant.

“Larry was the only one to have this role at HBO. So, early on, I was imitating him. I was also trying to figure out how to separate myself from what Larry created and finding out what I could do,”Kellerman said.”But there is stuff Larry does so well it’s hard to let go. He doesn’t overpower a broadcast. His opinions carry weight.”

Merchant subscribes to the less-is-more theory, something that does not fly in the world of sports talk radio. Kellerman would like to return to that medium, to reunite with Valley of the Stupid residents.

“I love the radio. I loved what I did,”Kellerman said.”Now that some time has passed, yes, I was interested in (joining) Mike Francesa and WFAN. What he’s done with his show, and his career, is very impressive and I was absolutely interested in that. And I think there was interest there too,”Kellerman said.”There are several (radio) things we are looking at. Hopefully I will be back on the air soon.”

That will have to wait. Kellerman likes Marquez’s chances against Mayweather. How will he say it? When will he say it? When the lights go on, will Kellerman’s hands shake like they did when he teamed with Costas for the first time? Big-time Saturday night fight. Fifty bucks a pop.

So far away from that public access studio.

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