Al Bernstein was on my short list of people who I
wanted to interview for Boxing Wise since I enjoy his
work and respect his opinions. Some may question him as
a announcer or analyst but no one can question him as a
person, as he is the consummate gentleman and one of the
good guys in boxing. I found Mr. Bernstein and his answers
to be thoughtful, in-depth, polite, and above all honest.
To this point Mr. Bernstein is by far my favorite
interview, because of his engaging personality and the
way he had me feeling at ease before, during and after the
interview. After the first question of the interview Mr.
Bernstein made the interview feel more like two guys
talking about boxing over a beer rather than a interview.
Al Bernstein, the voice of ESPN boxing since 1980, is a renowned analyst who filled the blow-by-blow role on the network's weekly Top Rank Boxing series for 18 years. Al Bernstein also reports from the sites of virtually all major championship fights for ESPN's Sports Center, and narrates and writes the script for most ESPN boxing specials. Besides his ESPN work, Al Bernstein provides analysis for closed circuit championship fights. He also served as analyst for NBC's boxing coverage at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Al Bernstein was chosen Boxing Illustrated's 1994 Commentator of the Year. Previously, he made Sport magazine's "Top 100 in Sports" for 1990 the only television commentator chosen, was the World Boxing Association's Outstanding Boxing Commentator of the Year in 1989, received the 1988 Sam Taub Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, and was the Rocky Marciano Foundation's 1993 Broadcaster of the Year. Al Bernstein has written for both KO Magazine and The Ring, was contributing editor for Boxing Illustrated in 1978-80. While editor for Lerner Publications in Chicago from 1971-80, Bernstein won the Chicago Newspaper Guild Award in 1975 for The Best News Story. Al Bernstein is a western movie aficionado who competes in celebrity rodeo team-penning competitions with his horse Sunset Matt and is also a avid basketball player.
BW - Lets start with the question most people are asking themselves about you. Your'e more limited role at ESPN. Where you given any explanation as to why you were taken of the live boxing shows as a commentator by the new head of ESPN boxing Bill Cayton. Al Bernstein - Well not exactly. No. My situation as is it exists, let me first let explain the facts of what is the case now. Then I can deal with that other issue. I am still under contract to ESPN for 2 more years and I am currently still covering all the major fights for Sportscenter and doing my "inside the ropes" feature which runs every two weeks. In the coming months I will be covering the Tyson fight, the Foreman fight DeLaHoya vs. Quartey and also Holyfield vs. Lewis. The other thing I am still doing for ESPN and I am going to New York to tape those and am in the process of taping, is the shows that air on Classic Sports called Big Fights boxing hour. Those are the things I am still doing for ESPN, those are all extra things in addition to my regular contract. So that's that situation. As far as the live boxing that I have done for 18 years, no....no explanation was given to me. Of course I have read things in the newspaper but I was simply told "they wanted to go in a differen direction". That is the only explanation I was given. BW - Was there any kind of friction or bad blood between you and Bill Cayton at any time. Al Bernstein - Not to my knowledge, I have not had that much dealings with Bill Cayton to speak of. Other than him being with a fighter that was on our shows and I think I can say safely and I don't think I will be contradicted that my relations with about 90 percent of the people I deal with in boxing generally are trouble free. You know to the point where obviously I am in the job where I am saying things and have to say things (negative) about fighters in situations but in general I like to think that I dont have that many problems with people in the boxing world. And to my knowledge there were none with Cayton. BW - So you didn't make any kind of comments about Bill Cayton or his fighters, like the time Bill Cayton claimed that Vinny Pazienza had faster handspeed than Roy Jones. I remember the press gave Mr. Cayton alot of grief about that comment. Al Bernstein - I don't even remember that. I did do that fight. I did the pay per view. I would like to think that nobody would be short sighted enough to try and alter programming on a network or affect the career of another human being based upon anything that petty. I have no idea but Bill Cayton has said in print on many occasions that he is the one that orchestrated the changes in the boxing on ESPN. I don't know if he is capable of doing that or not but he says it publicly so I guess I have to take it at face value. BW - You now work with ESPN classic sports doing the classic fights and also do boxing pieces for the ESPN Sportscenter. Do you still get fullfillment from your job now even though it is in a more limited role now. Al Bernstein - Well.....yeah. Here is the thing that happend. What I have done is just altered slightly. I enjoy the classic sports shows they are very enjoyable because you get to research them and they are shot very well, alot of care is put into those shows by the people at Classic Sports. Truthfully there is probably more care being put into those shows than maybe some other ones at ESPN. Because at ESPN clearly there are so many shows to put on, things like the superbouts and shows like that. That you don't always have the time, its like the difference between doing a feature film and doing a T.V movie. When they do a T.V movie they try and do their best but clearly there is not the budget or the timeframe to do it. With Classic Sports show it is a show where alot of effort and time is put into it, I wrote the scripts for the first 13 that aired and it was very fullfilling and enjoyable. So what I have done and what I am in the process of doing is taking this additional time, which luckily is being paid for by courtesy of ESPN (I laugh). If Bill Cayton did make them push me of the boxing, they are paying for the privilege of having to make that decision (we both laugh). What I am trying to do is take that time and utilize it to find additional things, not only to create revenue but to enjoy it and have a good time. I have several other projects. BW - That is something I also wanted to ask. Your contract with ESPN does it allow to work such as writing for a boxing magazine or maybe doing pay per view events as a commentator. Al Bernstein - Yes as a matter of fact it does. I can do a certain number of pay per view events and I will be doing those. I have a couple of people who are talking to us about me doing some pay per views. It also allows me to do non boxing for almost anybody. While I have been so busy with the boxing, I am currently talking to one of the stations here in Las Vegas about me doing sports for them and my manager is having discussions with alot of people about some non boxing stuff. The other thing that I have been busy with is a show called Al Bernstein's boxing party. Which is not a television or radio show, it is a live stage performance show, it has footage from different fights and it has sports music. I have had a couple of CD's out in which I sing and do sports music and we also do trivia on the stage show. It's kind of a multi media sports entertainment event that is designed especially for the Indian and riverboat casinos around the country and Las Vegas and Atlantic City. I have performed them all over, now that I have more time in my schedule I am really concentrating on doing those. BW - Would you like to let the people know who read this know where the show will be held in Vegas. Al Bernstein - Right now in Vegas we are talking to a couple of Hotels about now doing it regularly. I have done it around the country and I just did it in the Las Vegas Hilton about two weeks ago. Right now we are talking to people to see where we are going to end up having a permanent home for it. I have done it all around, I did it at the Players Island Casino in Lake Charles, Foxwoods, Cripple Creek Colorado, I have done it in maybe 15 to 20 casinos around the country and now I am going to be going on the road more with it and also finding a home for it here in Vegas. BW - As you said your contract with ESPN runs out in 2 years, have you given any thought to what you want to do when it expires. Al Bernstein - Thats a good question. That what this next 2 years is all about really. I would like eventually of course to get back into doing live boxing, and we have had inquiries from people. But I cant really do anything right now. ESPN has shown no inclination to buy me out of the contract and I don't know if I do want them to buy me out. It is naive not to admit the fact that people are interested in me doing live boxing, but right now I cant. I would say when that 2 year period is over, there are obviously people out there..... the people that are doing boxing are obviously the people who I would have to go to. Theres alot of people doing boxing Showtime, Fox, HBO, USSB. In fact I may very well end up doing a pay per view on USSB thru one of the promoters here in Las Vegas in january. So there is alot of people out there and I am just trying to be patient and do everything kind of in order and not jump the gun on anything. I enjoy doing live boxing events it is how I made my name. I like it and for now I have to admit I don't miss being on the road, thats the one thing about the 18 years of doing the ESPN boxing show was that there was quite a bit of traveling. I just found out I am going to be a dad for the first time, so because of that I am happy not to be on the road so much. I'll look into to doing boxing matches more probably in the future but it is early to speculate what would happen at the end of that contract. BW - Could you tell us how you prepared for a live boxing show at ESPN and what kind of work went into that as far as studying fighters and the other work done to prepare for the show. Al Bernstein - For any remote broadcast that you are going to do, I think theres a couple of things you have to do. The one thing that was a little different about our shows is that you are always going to see 4 to 6 boxers that you are going to have to announce even if it is a pre-taped fight. Sometimes 8 boxers. You want to get whatever data you can about those boxers which is usually a process that begins during the week thru some phone calls. We were very fortunate at ESPN and they still are to have COMPU BOX which is the company that counts the punches they also do research and they put together a niece package on at least the main event fighters. You go over that package and you augment it with some phone calls and then when you got on the site more often than not we would go to the weigh-ins and chat with the fighters. All of that combined should give you a pretty good picture of what the fighters are all about. BW - I thought you and Barry Thompkins made a excellent team, do you still keep in touch with him or any of your other co-hosts. Al Bernstein - It's funny you should say that, I just talked to him a couple of days ago. In fact there is a possibility he and I may work together on a pay per view for a tough man contest in March. Barry Thompkins and I worked together for about 7 years and I believe overall it was the strongest partnership I've had in all the years. I've worked with over the years at ESPN....they counted them up once and I worked with something like 40 partners over 18 years which is amazing. Barry was there the longest and I felt like we were pretty well in sync. Barry and I have remained very good friends, of course he is doing great over at FOX network. Not only doing the boxing but also doing basketball, I think Barry is one of the best basketball announcers in the world. BW - I have seen him do everything from PAC 10 football, basketball, boxing and even women's volleyball. Al Bernstein - Yeah Barry is really a great all purpose announcer. You eluded to it earlier, I thought we had kind of a special blend. Somehow ESPN never got that, they never really......of course in those days their emphasis on boxing was much less. As long as it went along and did its thing I guess they were happy. They never quite understood what Barry and I were about and I dont think they understood what that chemistry was or what our act was. And thats a shame because I think they could have promoted it more and I think it would have been something they could have utilized better. BW - Looking at some of the boxers you have covered in the past and even today, who do you think would do well as an analyst or commentator. Al Bernstein - He is not a boxer though he did box, but he is a trainer that I always thought would be a excellent analyst is Tommy Brooks. Of course he is so busy now with fighters that I don't think he would be interested in doing it. Of the boxers that we covered, I have to think about it for a moment, because there are some. There are some guys who I thought under the right circumstances would be very good at it. BW - I always thought Kevin Kelly might be a good choice. Al Bernstein - Kevin would be good, Kevin would have to be careful about editing himself a little better because he talks alot (laughs). He can do it, there is no question about that. I tell you someone else who could do it and this may surprise you is Michael Nunn. Michael I think could do it, if again he would just edit himself a little bit. And that just comes from somebody showing him the ropes and practicing with him. Dana Rosenblatt could do a good job, he is a guy that I think under the right circumstances and if given the chance do to it could be good. So often boxers are not groomed to do it, they don't get the chance like other athletes. BW - With Las Vegas (Al Bernstein lives in Las Vegas) currently in a boxing lull, do you fly out to any fights or are you like the rest of us and just catch the fights on the television. Al Bernstein - I have been to most of the fights here, I haven't been on the road too much the last 6 weeks or so. I am going to be going to the Foreman vs. Holmes fight to cover that for Sportscenter and I will be in New York for the Holyfield vs. Lewis fight. And December 12th because I am going to be in the area, I am going to be at that double header, which I think is going to be a tremendous double header. Robinson vs. Gatti and Campas vs. Vargas. That might be one of the best double headers in the last 5 or 6 years. I have to say HBO, the HBO after dark and the regular HBO championship boxing series in the last 2 years has been the best boxing I think consistently thats ever been put on T.V. They have just had a great run of boxing. BW - I have a couple of fantasy questions for you: If you could go back in time and announce any 3 fights in history which ones would they be. Al Bernstein - Oh boy let me think about that. I would want to do one Sugar Ray Robinson fight thats for sure, and I think.....let me think which one it would be? I guess it would be (short pause) maybe his fight in Chicago with Carmen Basillio would be one possibility. Even though I am a great Sugar Ray Robinson fan it might also be dramatic to do the one where he failed to win the light heavyweight championship from Joey Maxim. I guess you would want to go back......one of the fights I did do, that I might want to put in that category is Hagler vs. Hearns. I did the pay per view on that. If it's ones I didnt do, one of those Ray Robinson fights. I would have loved to gone back and done the Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman fight in Zaire. I thought that was as dramatic as it could possibly get. I would have loved to have done the Ali vs. Frazier the first fight. I know you only said 3 but there are a bunch more I would love to add. Does it have to be a fight where there was television? BW - No not at all. Al Bernstein - I tell what I would have loved to go back in time to do something like the Joe Louis vs. Max Schmelling fight. Something where world events played into it where there was so much riding on it. Or one of the Jack Dempsey fights where he fought Firpo before 90,000 people. Those would have been fascinating events. BW - What about doing commentary with another announcer, who would you select as your partner if you could choose anyone. Al Bernstein - Don Dunphy for sure. He was the voice of boxing. Don Dunphy should be everybodies idol for boxing. No matter what happens to me the rest of my life and what did happen. The best thing that ever happend to me as a boxing announcer was Don Dunphy saying publicly and in print several times that I was his favorite boxing announcer, of all the guys he had seen in the contemporary group. To me there couldn't be any higher praise than that and in my getting to know him I found him to be the most charming and wonderful man. I was priviliged to give him, when The Ring magazine had it's 75th anniversary, I was priviliged to give him the award for best announcer of all-time. Don worked alone and liked to work alone. I'd like to believe if there is a analyst he would have worked with it would be me, since he did say that he liked my work. I think he and I could have worked well together. BW - You mentioned earlier you are going to be a father. If your son was to be a boxer, who would you send him to train under to learn about the fight game and also about life. Al Bernstein - If he were lets say a amateur boxer or any kind of boxer I would like him to train under somebody like a Jesse Reid (has worked with fighters like Roger Mayweather, Orlando Canizales and Johnny Tapia) There is a gentleman in Louisiana who is not well known but is a tremendous trainer and manager Phil Bailey. Phil is great, great teacher of the sport and a great guy. Tommy Brooks is a good man who tries to bring the best out in people. I would want any of those 3 guys to be a influence on my son in every way including boxing. I like their approach, its a nuts and bolts approach which doesn't demean people and I respect that. BW - Have you ever announced a fight from Madison Square Garden or is there a venue where you would like to do a fight from before you retire. Al Bernstein - I have done one from Madison Square Garden. I did the Mancini vs. Romero fight, I did one other one from Madison Square Garden. I have never worked believe it or not The Forum in California which of course is a good boxing venue. That would be fun. Madison Square Garden is of course a place you want to do because it is special and now of course they are getting back involved. BW - The Ring magazine recently listed their top 50 heavyweights of all-time. Who would be in your top 3 or 5. Al Bernstein - Obviously you would have to go with Ali in that group, Joe Louis. Joe Frazier would be in there for me because of what he did. I never saw him fight but I guess you would have to go with Jack Johnson I've seen the tapes of him and for his time he dominated certainly. BW - Is there anyone you feel is underrated at heavyweight. Al Bernstein - Evander Holyfield is pretty underrated. I don't know if I would put him in the top 5 put he would be darn close. He and Larry Holmes would be guys that are underrated. Holmes was a pretty amazing heavyweight champion. Let me think. I tell you a guy who would have been in the top 5 had he gotten a chance earlier to be a heavyweight champion. Sonny Liston but he came on the scene so late, and was over shadowed by Ali. BW - Is boxing your favorite sport or something you just became fascinated with and learned to analyse. Bert Sugar for instance has been quoted as saying that baseball is his favorite sport. Al Bernstein - In my case, probably my absolute favorite sport is basketball. I like playing it, I like watching and I coached it with young kids. It's really my favorite. Boxing I got involved because, I did amateur boxing as a kid and I wasn't expecting to get involved with boxing. But I wrote a book on Boxing and that is kind of what got me into the broadcasting end of it. I never expected to be that well known for boxing, I really didn't. It kept escalating and you have to dance with what brung you. Boxing is a amazing sport. I know it's not for everybody because of the nature of it but I respect the athlets very, very much. When it is treated as a sport not a brawl or wrestling. And I always tried to treat it like we were looking at the same kind of event as when they covered a college basketball game, football game or whatever on ESPN. Without taking any shots, if there is one thing I regret about not only my predecessors but also what has gone on since I have not been on that show is that I don't get that feeling. BW - Would you like to expand on that as far as the current ESPN2 boxing shows. Al Bernstein - Let's put it this way. I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with the way boxing is presented there. But that is really up to them, that is really their mission to go forward with. The one thing I have to say, is that I will let my work speak for itself. I have a body of work that is 18 years long and I will just let that speak for itself and I will let the fans decide about that show. BW - I have a couple of questions on current boxing news. Do you think Oscar DeLaHoya was cut or cut bad enough to postpone his fight with Ike Quartey or do you think he was just not ready physically or mentally. Al Bernstein - I believe he was. I know there is some cynicism about that, but I don't see the big advantage for them to postpone that fight. Even to just get a little more time to promote it, I don't know that it is some magical elixcir. I don't think that it was a suspicious thing because they rescheduled it immediately and he didn't try and duck him. So I suspect he was cut. BW - Do you feel Mike Tyson can or will regain any of the 3 major belts. Al Bernstein - That is a big question. The big question now is will he stay out of jail. It looks very bad for him, my feeling is that right now you would have to say if he does get one of the belts back it would be a upset. They are going ahead with the petition in Indiana to point out that he may have violated his parole, which he probably did. That doesn't mean they have to punish him and if that is the case.....plus he still has the sentencing to worry about in Maryland. So he has alot of legal problems. BW - Do you think some of the young stars in boxing today are being rushed to title fights. Al Bernstein - I don't think they are being rushed. Because there are so many title belts in boxing and that is the major problem with boxing. Too many weight division and too many championship belts, so guys can get there faster. I think that some of these young stars like Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, and Fernando Vargas who is fighting for a title and may or may not win. That is a fifty, fifty fight. There is a certain pressure, David Reid is a example he will probably be fighting for some kind of title fairly soon. There is pressure just like there is in baseball, basketball and football. Look at Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning although Manning has handled it better, people are forced too justify contracts and the same is true in boxing. Young men that come out with a certain amount of publicity and expectations are pushed along. I think it is part of the landscape now. BW - Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis is now a done deal (or as close as we can get in boxing) what are your initial thoughts on that fight and who do you favor. Al Bernstein - I think it is really a good fight and I think it is a great fight for boxing fans. I'm really, really happy for the sport that the fight got made. It's funny. I was one of the people criticising Holyfield for not making it, and I stand by that criticism. I believe he and Don King were the people that obstructed it. However having said all that and done all that I lean toward Holyfield in the fight. I believe that if he gets past the first couple of rounds against Lennox Lewis and doesn't get nailed with a big right hand or really hurt badly. I think as the fight wears on it will be much more Holyfields fight. Holyfield fights up and down to the level of his opponents so I think he will be really prepared for Lennox Lewis and because of that I think ultimately his heart and determination will take this fight. I think it is going to be a great, great fight. BW - Naseem Hamed what are your opinions on him and do you think he can beat everyone at featherweight. Al Bernstein - At featherweight probably. Although I think it is intersting, watching Luistito Espinoza the other night. Espinoza while he is a vulnerable guy in some respect brings a interesting thing to the dance. He is tall, he throws those looping punches that could get to Naseem whether they will hurt him I don't know. Naseem Hamed is obviously very skilled and talented though he is unorthodox, and though he is maddening to many people to watch. His big liabilities are that he is short, he can be hit and he can be knocked down. He should never ever, ever, ever, ever move up to face the really good jr. lightweights. He would loose to Floyd Mayweather jr., Angel Manfredy, I think he would even loose to Arturo Gatti. I don't think at that weight if he moves up, he will be able to do anything. At featherweight he clearly can beat the featherweights and he is fighting alot of guys who are jumping up from jr. featherweight. BW - His next proposed opponents are also moving up. Barrea and Morales are perhaps next. Al Bernstein - Thats right, so he has that working for him also. Now Erik Morales would be a intresting match for him. I think probably we have to give Naseem his due, he is very talented and he can punch. We saw against McCullough if he chooses to be a boxer and a runner he can pretty much handle that situation also. BW - Although I like Hamed. I pointed out that Espinoza is pretty much a carbon copy of Manuel Medina only he as a much better punch, and Medina gave Hamed fits in Dublin, Ireland. Al Bernstein - That's right, that is a very good analogy. Espinoza clearly is the guy that I think would be very interesting to see him in against. Were going to find out a little something about what Prince Hamed thinks of himself and see whether he fights Espinoza, because you know the HBO people will be probably pushing for that fight. This is as big as Espinoza is going to get. BW - Who do you rate as your top 5 fighters pound for pound of all time. Al Bernstein - Lets see. Sugar Ray Robinson definitely at the top of my list, I wont necessarily do this in order. Archie Moore is in that list, Henry Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, and probably Joe Louis. BW - What about current fighters, any thoughts on the pound for pound fighters now. Al Bernstein - Yeah I like Shane Mosley in that top 5. Roy Jones Jr. obviously, Oscar Delahoya, Evander Holyfield even though he never gets put in anybodies top 5 list. The guy is the heavyweight champion and he keeps beating people. The other thing about Holyfield is when he does the job, technically he is a very sound fighter. What's that 4 people? BW - Yes. Al Bernstein - I would toss in and this may surprise you, I am going to throw in Johnny Tapia. BW - We will find out tomorrow night, personally I lean toward Nana Konadu right now. I think Konadu has the reach advantage and in the tapes I have seen Konadu moves in and out really well. I he gets that jab going to disrupt Tapia's rhythm I think he will win. (Editors note: I really thought hard about excluding this portion of the interview to spare myself the shame of repeating those comments about Konadu beating Tapia ha ha) Al Berstein - Are you? Tapia is also moving up in weight. I cant wait to see that. I tell you the other fight that is good tomorrow is the James Page vs. Jose Luis Lopez fight. That is going to be on Showtime isn't it? BW - Yes for a change Showtime will be featuring a good fight instead of HBO. No Duran or Bean on this card. Al Berstein - They have had a kind of bad run there, but this will be a very niece double header. What can you say, I love Jay Larken (the head of showtime boxing) and all those guys but HBO has had a run of great fights and look what they have coming up! December 12th, how about Mayweather vs. Manfredy. BW - I know, I found it hard to believe Mayweather took such a hard fight after just wining the title. Al Bernstein - You have to give him alot of credit, and I give Manfredy credit for going after it too. That is what boxing needs, so hopefully they will continue making those.