In boxing, we so rarely see the periphery — the refs, cornermen and timekeeper. After watching the fighters and ogling at the ring card girls, everything else is ornamental.
Least of all do we truly savor the ring announcers — the old-school, baritone bards who bring vocal flavor to every bout. While some may consider Michael Buffer the first movie star of his profession, he’s hardly the progenitor of the middle-ring monolith.
That would be Jimmy Lennon Sr, who’s fifth and final child, Jimmy Lennon Jr, will be in the center of the tornadic bout on May 2, between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
A 2013 inductee into the Boxing Hall of Fame, Lennon has been in the vortex of hundreds of iconic bouts, including Mike Tyson’s entire career.
Lennon took some time to talk with CBS Local Sports about his father, career and the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
JK: You’re almost always introduced as the “Classy” Jimmy Lennon Jr. How did that moniker originate?
Lennon: Steve Albert did it when he started with Showtime. Whatever he recognized in me led him to that [moniker], and it stuck from there.
JK: When did you first use your “Showtime” signature call?
Lennon: It was a fight at the Mirage. It was in 1992, a Julio Cesar Chavez title fight. I had a discussion with Jay Larkin and the Mirage, and we came up with “Showtime.” I’ve built on it ever since.
JK: The “Junior” in your name is not just cosmetic. Your father was a renowned ring announcer.
Lennon: I grew up watching him do the fights. As a young boy I thought everyone’s dad was on TV. That’s how I became a boxing fan. And so I always enjoyed the sport. I had other intentions. My father had five children, and for some reason, he waited until the last child, me, to become junior. And I happened to be most like him.
When I graduated college, people told me I looked and sounded like him. So we did some work together. He would do the main event, and I would do the undercard. When his health deteriorated, I took over. But I never studied it. I absorbed it from him.
JK: When you watch the fight, are you thinking about how you just did or how you’ll do later?
Lennon: I’m thinking about all of it. But I am a fight fan. I am so excited to get out of the ring and hear the bell ring, and can’t wait for Mayweather and Pacquiao so I can do that again. Sometimes I get so involved I forget about how I will do the decision. Sometimes I think of ways to make it special. When it’s a close fight, I think about how I’ll announce it.
JK: What are you reading from those cards?
Lennon: It’s a cheat sheet, with the generic stuff. Lots of information. And it can change at any moment. Don King was famous for that. I worked for him for many years. He’d tell me, over my shoulder, to mention this sponsor or that, while I’m in the middle of my routine.
JK: Where does the announcer sit?
Lennon: With Showtime they have a place for me, and its behind the timekeeper or announcers team. It’s the first row, generally, so I have easy access to the ring. One of my challenges is sometimes I’m in the ring and then someone just takes it. So I have to kick someone out of the seat. Sometimes it’s Jamie Foxx or Mike Tyson, so it can be awkward.
JK: Most excited you’ve ever been before a bout you announced?
Lennon: When Mike Tyson fought — and I did so many of his fights — there was such a level of anticipation. When that first bell rang, everyone was standing up. Sometimes no one sat down for his entire fight.
JK: If there was one fight in history you wish you worked, which would it be?
Lennon: I’d have to go back to the Ali days. Probably Ali-Frazier, all three of them.
JK: Have you ever feared for your safety in the ring after a fight?
Lennon: I really haven’t. I’ve done so many fights. But in general, I grew up on fights, where things were thrown into the ring. I’ve been in riots, where people were fighting. Sometimes they see me and say “Hey there’s Jimmy,” and they back off.
I once did a Muay Thai fight in Anaheim, California, where people stormed the ring and threw chairs. I’ve even been in rings that collapsed from too many people.
JK: Your dad was in Raging Bull.
Lennon: He was in 50 movies. Maybe more. I remember him working in it. Maybe a week or 10 days. They didn’t use him a lot, but a Scorsese film is done to perfection. He loved Robert De Niro.
He was hired for Rocky, but he was told by the director that he didn’t look like an announcer. Then he told the director that he didn’t look like a director, then walked off the set. It was one of his great regrets. He was used for Rocky III. Stallone himself asked him to do the third film.
JK: Have you done films?
Lennon: I have. I’m in one with Jake Gyllenhaal called Southpaw. I was in Hot Shots! I was in I Spy. I’ve been in many television shows, as well.
JK: Are you allowed to root for a fighter?
Lennon: Neutrality is essential to my job. I need to make it look like I’m not rooting. The fighters deserve equal billing, whether it’s a four-round fight or a title fight.
JK: So then you don’t predict May 2.
Lennon: I’m afraid I can’t. What I can say is I think it will be a close fight, and a good fight. Pacquiao has to be aggressive, has to force the action. People talk about Floyd being fast, but so is Pacquiao. Mayweather is a fantastic champion. It’s going to be super close.
Even if I wanted to pick a winner, I couldn’t. I really like both men. Floyd has been incredibly generous to me. He shakes my hand and says he’s honored to have me announcing his fights.