Larry Wilmore Takes on Boxing with Mike Tyson on the Nightly Show

Thursday evening on the Nightly show, host Larry Wilmore was joined by long time boxing manager, Jackie Kallen, ESPN’s LZ Granderson, comedian Keith Robinson, and Mike Tyson to discuss the state of the fight game.

Wilmore’s intro had one of the better jokes of the night, when referencing the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, he said, “I haven’t been this excited about a fight since I was this excited about the fight they should have had five years ago.” Yeah, Larry. We know. We know.

After the opening, Wilmore then moved to his desk and covered the week’s current events before returning to the subject of Manny and Floyd and their press conference on Wednesday. After a pretty funny joke challenging whether this was the biggest fight to ever hit Vegas (he contended 2Pac and Biggie was more Biggie), he got to the crux of the night’s episode, what is the state of boxing? The host ran off a laundry list of the sport’s issues: corruption, lack of stars, apathy, and competition from MMA. Literally he was asking if the sport is dying in spite of the biggest fight ever on the horizon as well as the introduction of the new NBC Premier Boxing Champions series.

It’s a thorny question. Can it be true that the sport is in trouble while at the same time being on the verge of its biggest attraction ever and holding a major TV network deal? The concern over the health of the athletes was raised as well in regards to combat sports in general with the revelation that nearly 1/3 of all MMA fighters suffers a traumatic brain injury during a fight and 20% of all boxers will be diagnosed with the same over the long term.

After the break, the show returned with the panel of Kallen, Granderson, Robinson, and Tyson, to discuss these issues and more. Tyson took issue with Wilmore’s assertion boxing is “past its heyday” by pointing out that Mayweather is the highest paid athlete in the world which means people are spending their money “pretty freely” on a boxing match. Although the host’s suggestion that this fight is an aberration is one that even hardcore fight fans have probably considered.

Kallen, the former manager of James Toney and subject of the pretty awful boxing movie, Against The Ropes, supported Wilmore’s belief that the sport has changed and not for the better. Robinson then argued that MMA too often ends up being two guys hugging up against a fence. Actually, that’s not what he said at all, but this is a PG-13 web site, so I cleaned that up.

By far, Tyson provided the high points of the discussion. When the subject of Don King and corruption came up, he shared with saliency that opportunistic promoters are hardly anything new, saying that “boxing is the only sport in the history of the world where all the deals are not on the table.” On the subject of the often depressed financial state of those that take up boxing as a profession, Mike was typically blunt, referring to his brethren as “slum dwellers.” When Kallen tried to soften his statement for him, Tyson came back twice as hard, saying “I’m from hell. I was born in hell.” He continued, “Every time I won a fight, I do good, it’s one step out of hell.” Quite wisely, no one argued with him after that.

By far, the most enjoyable portion of the episode was “Keep It 100” with Wilmore holding up a series of cards with boxers faces on them and asking Tyson whether he thought he could take them or not. The photos included everyone from Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali to Jake LaMotta and Robert DeNiro as Jake Lamotta. Mike was confident he could take Rocky 1, but he had his doubts about Rocky 4.

I’m not sure anything was solved during the episode regarding the present or future of boxing, but it was good to see a program like the Nightly Show discuss the sport. While there are legitimate concerns about the current condition and future of boxing, there can be no denying that access and interest has grown of late. That’s definitely a good thing.

You can watch the entire episode at Comedy Central’s web site HERE.

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