No one familiar with Rich Marotta’s distinguished 34-year sportscasting career was surprised to learn that he had been elected to the Southern California Sports Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.
That’s especially true for boxing fans who have listened to Marotta’s insightful commentary on some of the greatest fights and fighters of the past quarter century.
However, Marotta, who will be inducted at the Hall of Fame’s 20th annual awards luncheon at the Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake, Calif., today (Jan. 25), was caught off guard when he received the call from SCSB president Bob Miller last November.
“The first thing I said to Bob was ‘You’re joking,’” said Marotta, who was Miller’s broadcast partner for L.A. King’s games from 1976 to ‘78. “I’m totally honored and totally shocked to be added to a group that includes men such as Vin Scully, Chic Hearn and Dick Enberg. Those guys are singular historic talents.”
Marotta’s sincere humility is part of what has endeared him to sports fans over the past three decades but he’s no slouch himself. Marotta, a versatile broadcaster who is as comfortable doing the play-by-play as he is color commentary, has called three major league Los Angeles sports teams — the Kings, Raiders, and Clippers.
However, Marotta says his most gratifying broadcast gigs have been in professional boxing.
“Boxing is my favorite sport and fighters are my favorite athletes,” said Marotta, whose first live boxing show was a card at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas in 1982. Marotta and late sports writer Alan Malamud called the action to the USA Network-televised card headlined by Bruce Curry.
His first ongoing boxing series was Forum Boxing’s Fight Night, which he did twice a month (usually on Mondays) alongside Tom Kelley during most of the 1990s. The show, which was often broadcast from the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif., introduced future hall of famers such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson to Los Angeles fans (on KCAL) and to a nationwide audience (on the Prime Ticket cable network).
Shortly after the Forum Boxing series ended, Marotta joined Barry Tompkins on Fox Sports Net’s Sunday Night Fights for much of the last decade. He was recently reunited with his broadcasting chum on a new weekly boxing series, Top Rank Live!, which Fox Sports Net began airing last year.
Marotta, who hosted a weekly boxing radio show, The Neutral Corner, that recently ended after a 10-year run, has also been apart of the international broadcasts for many high-profile HBO and Showtime boxing cards over the past 20 years.
Among those international broadcasts was the most thrilling fight he’s ever seen, the lightweight slugfest between the late Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo in May of 2005.
The action was so intense and brutal that Marotta, who did the telecast with Alan Massengale, worried about the safety of both fighters before the bout‘s dramatic 10th-round conclusion.
“During the course of the fight it was getting tough to watch but I couldn’t help admire their courage,” he said. “As soon as the fight ended I said ‘I think we’ve just seen the greatest fight in history of boxing.’”
Marotta’s most memorable broadcast was the night George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the heavyweight title at age 45.
“That was the singular most electric moment for me as a broadcaster,” Marotta said of Foreman’s improbable 10th-round stoppage in November of 1994.
“Moorer’s head fell right in front of me,” he recalled. “I can still see it bouncing on the canvas not more than 6-feet away from where I sat. It was such an amazing moment and to my everlasting regret I went over the top screaming.”
Marotta need not apologize for his passion getting the better of him during a broadcast. It’s his unbridled enthusiasm for the sport and its participants that sets him apart from other veteran broadcasters who call boxing.
“There’s a lot of good in the sport.” Marotta said. “I’ve been lucky to work with the people I have and to have commentated on the fights and fighters that I have.
“The fighters never cease to impress me with the effort they give. Speaking of action fights, I just called one in December between Humberto Soto and Urbano Antillon. The 12 rounds of rage between those two lightweights and the honor of working with Nick Charles and Genaro Hernandez on the pay-per-view broadcast made that a very fulfilling fight.”
There have been many of them for Marotta, some well known, such as the Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales and Barrera-Morales trilogies; some not so well-known.
“There was a junior flyweight title bout between ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez and a tough-as-nails guy from Thailand named Saman Sorjaturong that I did during the Forum Boxing days,” Marotta said. “It was a great fight with an unlikely result. Gonzalez gave him a beating and knocked him down but Sorjaturong came right back and staged this amazing turnaround. He stopped Gonzalez in what I think was his last fight. That was one of the best fights I’ve called.”
Beyond the blood-and-guts excitement the two 108 pounders produced, Marotta was impressed with their humility before and after the bout. It’s what he cherishes most about the sport.
“I love the boxers,” he said. “You get ‘em from everywhere — Mexico, Thailand, the U.S., the UK, Africa — and apart from a few exceptions, they are usually so nice and humble. They treat everyone the same.”
Not unlike Marotta himself.