CANASTOTA, N.Y. – The working relationship between a boxing blow-by-blow announcer and an analyst is not unlike that of say, a premier quarterback and his go-to wide receiver. Maybe it isn’t absolutely necessary for the two to be best buddies away from the arena, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Veteran blow-by-blow announcer BARRY TOMPKINS and color commentator STEVE FARHOOD have been teammates, as it were, for just five years on ShoBox: The Next Generation. But the way each can anticipate the other’s next move and respond accordingly is as evident during a broadcast as was the chemistry between the premier pitch-and-catch combo of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in the two-minute drill.
And while it is obvious to viewers that Tompkins and Farhood mesh well at ringside, both agree that the easy patter they exchange on fight night is forged in part by the way they get along so well during dinner earlier in the evening. There are just some things that can’t be faked, and especially not on live television.
“I’ve worked with people in the past where you really had to put the spoon in their mouth and you never knew what they were going to say or how long they were going to go,” the 76-year-old Tompkins said in explaining why he and Farhood, 60, go together like peanut butter and jelly. “With Steve, I never have to worry about any of that. I could throw anything out there and I know it’s going to come back on a platter. We have a very similar sense of humor. Our aesthetics are a lot alike, about what’s right and wrong about the sport and what makes for a good broadcast.”
Said Farhood: “If you’re comfortable with the people you work with, it’s going to make things that much better, that much more natural. If you’re not especially comfortable with the people you work with, I think in the long run it’s going to show. You can fake it short-term, but not in the long term. I’ve been blessed to be so close to Barry and Nick (that would be former ShoBox partner Nick Charles, who was five days shy of his 65th birthday when he died on June 25, 2011, after waging a courageous battle against metastatic bladder cancer). Who better to teach me broadcasting? Their styles were so different, so the chemistry was a little different. Nick was more intense and Barry is more laid back. But both were very easy to work with, and very understanding of the fact that the show is about the boxing, not about the announcers.”
Tompkins and Farhood – so different in some ways, so alike in others – are ecstatic that they will be inducted together into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category here Sunday afternoon. It might seem at first glance that they are being immortalized in tandem, but that simply is a happy coincidence. Tompkins, the San Francisco native who has called boxing matches for 40 years, has never thought of himself as solely or even primarily a “boxing guy.” Farhood, a born-and-bred resident of New York City, started out as a print journalist (he is a former editor of The Ring magazine and the winner of multiple writing awards) before transitioning to TV with boxing-commentating gigs with ESPN, CNN, SportsChannel and USA Networks’ Tuesday Night Fights before finding his niche with ShoBox. While he enjoys other sports well enough, he makes no bones about the fact he is, first and foremost, a devotee of the sweet science.
“He’s the most knowledgeable boxing person I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around the sport for 40 years,” Tompkins said of Farhood.
Although Tompkins has called fights for various broadcast outlets since 1976 – while with HBO Sports, he had the great good fortune to work such classics as Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns I, Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney, Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello I (“the greatest fight I ever saw”), Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hagler and Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks – he said that his career as a jack-of-all-trades has helped keep him fresher and more viable for whatever assignment he is given.
“I never necessarily thought of myself as a boxing guy,” he noted. “Now, over the course of time I’ve sort of become one because that’s been the one constant in my life. I’ve always done boxing. But for a long time people thought of me as a tennis guy because I was doing a lot of tennis, although that was only for about a 10-year period. Now, I do maybe one tournament a year, so I’m not thought of as a tennis guy anymore. When I was at ESPN, I probably did about 60 basketball games a year, so I was thought of as a basketball guy. At other times I was thought of as a football guy. But boxing has been the one constant, and especially now when I’m not doing as much other stuff.”
One thing Tompkins and Farhood share is laser-beam focus on the immediate task at hand, which is why this IBHOF induction weekend will be very special on the one hand, yet have a ring of practiced familiarity on the other. Neither will be able to fully participate in the four-day IBHOF induction weekend festivities until after Friday night’s ShoBox telecast at the nearby Turning Stone Resort & Casino, the main event of which will find undefeated and world-rated super lightweights Regis Prograis (19-0, 16 KOs) and Joel Diaz Jr. (23-0, 19 KOs) squaring off in a scheduled 10-rounder for Prograis’ fringe NABF title.
“There will be a sigh of relief for us after the Friday show because then we can focus on the Hall of Fame,” Farhood noted. “But until then, this is a working trip. It’s a good show, too, maybe the best main event we’ve had in a couple of years.”
But the heady rush of becoming Hall of Famers will have a bit of a somber tone for Tompkins and especially Farhood, given their high regard for Charles, whom both believe is deserving of consideration for posthumous induction into the IBHOF.
“Nick’s fight to beat cancer (for which he shared, with George Chuvalo, the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Bill Crawford Award for Courage in Overcoming Adversity in 2009) was hugely inspiring to many people,” Farhood said. “Nick understood that he was a public figure and he carried himself as such. He had been a public figure his entire adult life, starting as early as he did in broadcasting. But as close as I was to him, I did get to see him when his guard was down.
“Nick was a connoisseur of fine wine, as anyone who knew him well was aware. But he would never drink wine the day of a show. We were having dinner in his hometown of Chicago before his last show (on April 30, 2010). We all knew it was his last show. The waiter came around and asked if we wanted something to drink. Nick said, `Aw, screw it. What do I have to lose?’ and he ordered a glass of red wine. I just began to cry because I had been in that situation with him dozens of times when he said, `No, thank you, I have a show to do.’”
Added Tompkins: “There was nobody better than Nick Charles, both as a person and as a broadcaster.”
The IBHOF inductions of Tompkins and Farhood mark the latest coup in what has been an exceptionally good year for Showtime boxing in general, and ShoBox in particular. On March 16, Gordon Hall, the longtime executive producer of ShoBox, received the Al Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism at the BWAA’s 92nd annual Awards Dinner in New York City. The new Hall of Famers also take care to credit other members of the ShoBox team, including producer Rick Gaughan, director Rick Phillips and former IBF super welterweight champion Raul Marquez, another analyst for whom Tompkins has served as a broadcasting mentor.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of four stories that Bernard Fernandez will be filing from Canastota on Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. Up next: A profile of ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Sr.
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