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Interview From The Vault: Al Bernstein

Al Bernstein is a long time boxing analyst starting out his career on ESPN before moving to Showtime in 2003, and in 2012 Al was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

A year ago I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Al Bernstein, and I thought I would share the interview again for those who didn’t see it the first time around. The interview is a year old, but notice his comments on Chris Eubank Jr.

Interview with Al Bernstein

MMA UK: My first memory of your work was the weekly show you did on ESPN, I understand you got that gig thanks to Tommy Hearns?

Al Bernstein: Yes, I had been helping the ESPN crew with the telecasts of the Top Rank Boxing show in Chicago with info on the fighters, and they asked me to sit in and help out on the telecast to help Tommy with details on the fighters. Well, they like what I did on that telecast and it led me to do shows on my own as the analyst.

MMA UK: Can you remember your first boxing memory and the first fight you ever worked on?

Al Bernstein: My first boxing memory was as a youngster listening to the Patterson-Johanson fights in bed on a little transistor radio. I wasn’t even supposed to be up that late so I was nestled into the covers like I was asleep, with the volume down, that fired my interest in the sport.

MMA UK: You started out in for me the Golden era of boxing, great boxers like Hagler, Leonard, Duran and Hearns, plus countless others, boxing at its finest.

Al Bernstein: Yes the 1980’s were indeed special. The great Gil Clancy, who was a great mentor to me, said it was one of the best decades ever in boxing and he saw some good ones. I was privileged to do many of the fights of the Four Kings and my most special, memory is the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns fight. That was a remarkable night for the sport, It came early in my career and I was very lucky to be at ringside for that.

MMA UK: I also remember that era having one hell of a Light Heavyweight division, Spinks, Saad Muhammad and Marvin Johnson, some great fights?

Al Bernstein: That period was possibly the best ever in terms of depth for that division. There was also Victor Galindez, John Conteh, Eddie Mustafa Muhammed, Yaqcui Lopez, James Scott, Eddie and Johnny Davis and so many others. And in on the end of that era was Michael Spinks and Dwight Muhammad Quawi. There were so many terrific fights.

MMA UK: Personally I think Sugar Ray Leonard is the greatest fighter who ever lived, just based on the quality of boxer he beat. I believe didn’t see Leonard at his absolute peak due to his lay off due to his eye injury and his many retirements.

Al Bernstein: Many make that case for Ray and certainly he’s among the best of all time. The eye injury did shorten his career—even though he returned after it. His opposition was remarkable—Hagler, Duran and Hearns are legends and Wilfred Benitez was a brilliant fighter. Ray could do everything in a ring.

MMA UK: Of all Leonard’s wins, what was his greatest?

Al Bernstein: I think the first Hearns fight was remarkable because he came back from adversity to do it. If that were a 12 round fight as title fights are today—he might well have lost by decision.

MMA UK: Obviously over the years we have gained more governing bodies, more World Champions, fewer fights on free TV, do you think those things are the main reasons why boxing isn’t that popular now or mainstream in comparison since say the 80’s?

Al Bernstein: The 1990’s ended up being detrimental to the sport because the match-ups the sport made were generally not as good as they needed to be and it led to the mainstream sports media in the United States virtually ending its coverage of the sport—except for certain big matches. The multiple championships and multiple weight divisions contributed to the problems and the proliferation of sports and entertainment options available.

MMA UK: I do feel now boxing has a chance to hit the heights again, we have a new breed of talent coming through, Golovkin, Alvarez, Lomachenko, Garcia and others.

Al Bernstein: The sport has had a renaissance in recent years to some extent. 2013 was the best in terms of boxing’s product that the sport has seen in 25 years, and this year has started out extremely well. Internationally the sport is very healthy—, especially in the UK. Arenas for big fights sell out in a day, competitive fights are made, and UK fans are passionate about the sport. In the US there is also renewed interest.

MMA UK: Fights like Frampton v Santa Cruz do nothing but good for boxing and is another sign the sport is on the up. How did you view the rematch, I had Frampton 2 rounds down. Where did Frampton go wrong, his comment saying he would win more easily 2nd time around a sign of overconfidence maybe or did Santa Cruz just make the adjustments required?

Al Bernstein: Santa Cruz made adjustments and used his height and reach more effectively. That was really the deciding factor—more so than Frampton performing poorly.

MMA UK: You obviously were at the Mayweather Pacquiao fight, while it must have been some evening, the regret was it happened too late, both were past their prime and it wasn’t as competitive as it would have been saying a few years previously.

Al Bernstein: It was exciting because of the nature of the event and all that surrounded it—even though the actual fight was not thrilling. It would have been better several years earlier and we will never know how much the injury of Manny influenced the quality of the fight.

MMA UK: Do you follow MMA at all, what’s your views on MMA?

Al Bernstein: I am an MMA observer—I think MMA is a nuanced and difficult sport to compete in. I respect the fighters and I think it’s often very exciting. I have done play by play on about a half dozen MMA events and enjoyed it.

MMA UK: Probably the most talked about and controversial fighter in the UK is Chris Eubank Jr, how good is he, and do you think his career is not going where it should be, turning down the Golovkin fight for example?

Al Bernstein: He’s a good young fighter, but not nearly as good now as he and his father think he is. They are also burning bridges at an alarming rate.

MMA UK: What past fight which never got made would you have liked to have seen and which fight do you want to see made in the present day?

Al Bernstein: I would have loved seeing Aaron Pryor vs Sugar Ray Leonard—they came close to fighting. I wanted to see Lennox Lewis vs Riddick Bowe as well. We never saw Floyd Mayweather against Paul Williams—I would have been very curious to see how Mayweather dealt with his height and reach.

Currently I want to see Joshua vs Wilder, Demetrius Andrade vs Jarrett Hurd or Erickson Lubin, also, of course, Canelo vs GGG. The best would be Mikey Garcia vs Vasyl Lomachenckio at 135

MMA UK: What’s the saddest fight you ever saw, Ali getting beat by Larry Holmes was awful to watch?

Al Bernstein: That was right up there. Might be the saddest.

MMA UK: If you could change one thing in boxing what would it be?

Al Bernstein: One champion per weight class (That would also be mine)

Quick Fire Questions:

Favourite Fight: Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo

Favourite Film: Young Frankenstein or The Magnificent Seven (original) (Also my favourite film)

Favourite Book: To Kill a Mockingbird

The thing that irritates you the most: Bullies and blowhards.

Al, Thank you so much for the interview, your time is really appreciated.