British boxing has had some brilliant commentary teams in recent decades. For instance, ITV’s Reg Gutteridge and Jim Watt. Then you had the one-two of Ian Darke and Glenn McCrory when Sky Sports was on the rise, with the ever-present Watt adding the left hook off the one-two.
Pairing a fighter with an eloquent broadcaster elevates the material. The great broadcasters are there to add diligent research, not always used, no one likes a show off, Estuary English and an unflappable air of effortlessness cool. What someone like Glenn McCrory (30-8-1, 12 KOs) brings is a palatable sense of enthusiasm, plus the insight of a former fighter, and it is all delivered in that strong North East accent that he carries around with him like a badge of honour.
Growing up in Manchester, listening to the likes of Watt, Barry McGuigan and McCrory added something to a boxing broadcast as you felt the added realness due to their strong regional accents. Listening to someone who wasn’t there to enunciate, and the best professional broadcasters do it beautifully, but to simply appreciate the action. The sense that they had landed their post-boxing dream job came dripping through every vowel. It made you feel that it could be you talking about the fight, even if you didn’t always agree with them.
Boxing Social caught up with McCrory after he’d been talking to his old friend Ian Darke. The two worked a list of big fights that would tip this from a potential Long Read to a nightmarish experience for the poor soul who has to upload and format it, so there is no need to list them – if you know, you know. McCrory sounded upbeat, we had talked in-depth about his time as a fighter and now he marvelled about the career in broadcasting that he has enjoyed for the past 31-years.
“I’ve been speaking to Ian a little bit recently,” he said. “You end up not keeping in touch for periods then the lockdown happens and you end up talking again about the fights and all that. I left boxing at the age of 25 then went straight into Sky Sports with Ian. I think he’s the best bar none. It is amazing that he isn’t in the game because he is the best.
“He taught me a lot. People could barely understand my accent so Ian gave me all these little tips. How to control your excitement, how to inject some excitement into the fight when you needed it. All the tips and tricks of being a commentator, I learned from the best.
“We also had the fights. It was such a remarkable era with [Mike] Tyson, [Evander] Holyfield, Lennox [Lewis], [Ricky] Hatton, and [Julio] Cesar Chavez. It was just special. It was a thrill, too. I had 27-years covering some of the biggest and best fights ever with Sky. It was a wonderful career. Nothing lasts for ever, you have new teams coming in with different ideas, younger fighters coming through as pundits, but I have no regrets and the time I had there, especially with Ian, was one of the best times of my life.
“Right or wrong, Ian and I told the truth that we saw. If I see it, I say it. If someone said: ‘Go for our guy’ – well, I wouldn’t be able to do that. It feels a little bit unhealthy now with Eddie Hearn having all the power. The Hearns have got the darts, snooker and the boxing, so I feel it makes it an uneven playing field now as they all box for Eddie, they are his fighters.
“I’m still involved in the commentary, I was there for [Tyson] Fury’s win over [Deontay] Wilder, so I am still there at the top-level, still ringside and still enjoying doing my thing 31-years later. From that aspect, it has been a fantastic career. You know, you are at ringside getting blown kisses by Fury after he’s just become the number one heavyweight in the world, Lennox is waving to you, and you are known because you’ve been in the game that long. You feel privileged to have served the sport.”
Jim Rosenthal is another giant of British boxing broadcasting, he once told me that you treat every fight the same yet there are some fights that just get the juices flowing that little bit more. They are those rarities in boxing, the nights when two greats or future greats meet at the right time and just go at it.
“The excitement changes with the level of fights and fighters, sometimes it might be a one-sided fight, but when you’ve got that recent world heavyweight title fight between Wilder and Tyson the feeling is second-to-none. For example, the first fight between [Marco Antonio] Barrera and [Erik] Morales [which Morales won on points] with any hardly British journalists there. It was a Mexican holiday, and me and Ian are thinking: ‘What are we doing here?’ Then you look back and realise you are at the beginning of watching two Mexican legends really making their names. It is my favourite ringside fight of all time.
“That was just two absolute warriors going at it. It was probably the wrong decision to give it to Morales, then again it was probably the wrong one for Barrera in the second fight, but it was two men becoming legends, and we were there to see it. [Oscar] De La Hoya’s first time at Madison Square Garden [a second-round retirement win over Jesse James Leija] was another one. He was ‘The Golden Boy’ and the atmosphere was unbelievable – you’ve even got Jack Nicholson sat a few rows behind you. You can’t buy memories like that. It is incredible.”
McCrory’s zeal always shines through, so I asked him if there is ever a temptation or risk that you just get utterly absorbed in what you are witnessing. “I have got carried away,” he said with a laugh. “I remember Barrera against Naseem Hamed. I remember people saying Barrera never beats him because of that big punch yet Barrera had the perfect style.
“Everything Barrera does is right: the movement, the balance, his decision making – it is all spot on. You knew that sort of fighter, one who did everything correctly, would beat Naz. Then he wobbles Naz in the first round and you think: ‘Now I’ve got to try and commentate on this!’ It is an amazing experience to be a part of.
“[Lennox] Lewis against [Mike] Tyson was an unbelievable experience as we were in Memphis and Tyson was surrounded by some very bad people at that time. Lennox didn’t allow Tyson into the fight so no one got too excited, but it was a huge fight. I had been used to seeing Tyson at his best when sparring him in the past, so seeing him like that, past his best and off the rails, was always sad for me because he could have one of the greatest heavyweights ever. He was so fast, so good, so exciting. He was the 21-year-old who ripped up an entire division.
“Then you’ve got [Riddick] Bowe against [Evander] Holyfield and that 10th round in the first fight. You can hear it in my voice when I commentated. It was amazing. Chavez and De La Hoya, which was the passing of the torch between two greats. You used to have thousands of women attending Oscar’s weigh-ins. It was amazing. We could go on all day about this. Me and Ian did that one night last week when he phoned up to talk about the fights. I had to say: ‘Ian, man, it has been two-hours!’”
McCrory’s exit from Sky in 2016 came after he was found guilty of assault after a dispute with another driver and for also failing to provide a sample for analysis when the police arrived on the scene. A 10-week sentence was suspended for 12 months.
McCrory argued that he was suffering from the stress caused by his father being on his death bed. Still, his career with Sky had come to an end, when that corporation decides your face does not fit it moves you on. However, he is still working at the top-level and enjoying what he does. The change of the Sky line-up around the time smacked of a move into a new direction, one that did not include McCrory and Darke, who had long-since moved on to other things.
The Darkie-McCrory one-two was no more and despite sky-high production values the channel has never been the same since. “You know what, things had changed,” recalled McCrory. “I was now in front of the camera. The excitement, my excitement, had started to dwindle a little as well. I’m still involved in the game, but my years in Sky were brilliant and I cannot say otherwise.
“People kind of say maybe there is a bitterness with me sometimes – that isn’t the truth at all. Maybe sometimes I tell the truth a little bit if I disagree with someone’s comments or if a fight is one-sided. It certainly isn’t anything against Sky because I had so many great years.”
There’s been a few Twitter spats, too. McCrory recently responded to a Lucas Browne post with: ‘You couldn’t put out the cat’. It isn’t a personal thing by any means, McCrory is just bemused that the Australian still views himself as a going concern in the heavyweight division. He insists that there is still a little bit of room for the truth in a business that is consumed by spin.
“That was a joke, one I’d made before, and it was a bit of banter,” he said. “Lucas’s best days have gone yet he still keeps talking a great fight. He’s been beaten by everybody so it was a bit of a banter, just me telling the truth. I don’t have any hard feelings against him. He’s just not a top-class heavyweight or anything like that, he’s really not. To be honest, it is probably just a case of sitting there with a glass of wine and seeing something on Twitter about him fighting this and doing that, and you think: ‘Jesus, not this again. Let’s move along’”
A lot of boxers aren’t fighters, if that makes sense? They are animals inside the ring and like a quiet life outside of it. You also get the inverse situation, some genuinely hard men don’t make it as fighters. McCrory is breathing in rarefied air as a man who won and defended the IBF cruiserweight title as well as being rumoured to be able to handle himself outside the ring if push comes to shove.
“Who me?” he asked when that was put to him. “Oh, I don’t know. Well, you know, I’ve never shied away from fight in my boxing career. I’ve never shied away from anyone in my life. Maybe that is it, maybe it is that daft little thing, but I’d much rather be picking up friends than enemies and I’m not a nasty guy in any way.”
At this point, I told him that I had often watched shows with my wife and she would ask, for reasons known only to her, which pundits would beat the others in a fight and why. I’d always answer, “My money is on Glenn McCrory”, and she would say, “Why? He’s a big, cuddly teddy bear!”
“I’d rather be thought of like that, a big jolly giant, but I have got a temper and can get wound up,” said McCrory when I mentioned this to him. “Most people think of me as a big bear, although a friend always said if you are going to be a bear then you should be a grizzly.”
Interview written by: Terry Dooley
Follow Terry on Twitter at: @Terryboxing