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Original Issue

A Blow to the Senses

Last Friday's fight between TVKO's Al Bernstein and the viewers should have been stopped

Riddick Bowe knocked down Evander Holyfield in the 11th round last Friday night; Al Bernstein knocked out viewers much, much earlier. Believe you me: Holyfield took a lot less punishment than we did.

Talk was not cheap for boxing's latest punch-for-profit spectacle. I guess TVKO, the outfit that broadcast the fight, figures that for $39.95 we don't want a silent movie. Then again, we don't want The Guns of Navarone.

TVKO rounded up the usual suspects: host Jim Hill, who must own his tux by now; blow-by-blow announcer Len Berman, who can walk the walk but can't talk the talk; and the relentless and remorseless Bernstein, who replaced the repellent and regrettable Joe Goossen, as analyst. TVKO also invited heavyweight contender Lennox Lewis aboard as a guest analyst. His role seemed to be to pitch his own title-fight availability.

After 12 rounds with these guys, I couldn't believe I was still standing. Actually, I wasn't. This wasn't pay-per-view, it was pray-for-us.

CompuBox showed that Bowe threw 711 punches in the fight and landed 357. Meanwhile, CompuVox showed that Bernstein also seldom eased up: During 36 minutes of boxing, only twice did 10 seconds or more elapse without someone, usually Bernstein, speaking.

This is all part of sports television's continuing assault on the senses. Improved technology now allows us to see what's happening better than ever; we have less need to be told what's happening. But TV producers think excitement must be generated from the broadcasting stage rather than from the playing stage. So analysts turn up the volume, and crooners like Bernstein belt out endless tunes of torrid talk. When a fight is as entertaining and energetic as Holyfield-Bowe, this approach is rather unfortunate. As the punches came more frequently, Bernstein spoke more furiously.

And he talked so loudly, he wrinkled my pants.

The barrage was numbing. (Imagine standing smack in the middle of a steel plant while The McLaughlin Group is piped in over loudspeakers. Well, O.K., you don't have to imagine it if you don't want to.) Like Ferdie Pacheco, Bernstein doesn't analyze a fight, he attacks it. He keeps throwing incredible combinations to our bodies and our heads.

That's not to say that Bernstein doesn't often make good points. He just makes them repeatedly. He implored Holyfield to use the jab more often. He said this, oh, 200, 250 times. If Holyfield indeed was underusing the jab, it's fair to say that Bernstein was underusing the lull.

Fight aficionados might recall that Bernstein terrorized the memorable Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns bout in 1985, often shouting over the call of broadcast partner Al Michaels. But, mercifully, that contest was over in three rounds. Bernstein's Holyfield-Bowe talkathon, on the other hand, was 12 rounds of low blows to the viewer.

"The fact that Holyfield is finishing this bout is extraordinary," Bernstein screeched near the end. The fact that viewers were able to finish the fight was just as extraordinary. Only in the last round were we saved by the bell.