Boxing Hall of Famer Harold Lederman loses fight with cancer, dies at age 79

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Harold Lederman died on Saturday from complications of cancer. (Getty Images for HBO)
Harold Lederman died on Saturday from complications of cancer. (Getty Images for HBO)

Harold Lederman, a longtime boxing judge who served more than 30 years as the unofficial scorer on HBO Sports broadcasts, died Saturday at 79 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Lederman, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016, began judging boxing in 1967. In 1986, he joined the HBO Sports crew, where he helped a generation of fans understand the rules and the intricacies of scoring boxing.

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His passion for boxing was obvious in his work and to anyone who met him. He was eager to talk about the great fight that was on television the week before as well as the hot young prospect he happened to see in person on an undercard somewhere.

He gave up judging in 1999 — he worked his final bout, a super flyweight match between Eric Morel and Francisco Espitia, on Aug. 6, 1999, alongside his daughter, Julie — and spent the final 29 years of his career working on HBO’s boxing telecasts.

A licensed pharmacist, Lederman was frequently in the arena long before the TV cameras turned on, enjoying the undercard bouts and talking with fight fans.

Jim Lampley, who began working with Lederman at HBO Sports in 1986 and himself went on to earn induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, raved about his friend in a statement released by an HBO Sports spokesman.

“It was one of the greatest privileges of my broadcasting career to work with Harold Lederman, whose unique humanity and lifelong love of boxing brought joy to the hearts of millions of fans, show after show after show,” Lampley said. “They waited for his moments, they were thrilled by his insights, they gloried in imitating his voice. No one in the sport had more friends, because no one in the sport was more deserving of friends. As deeply saddened as I am by his passing, I am equally deeply joyful that he made it to the final bell on December 8. Nothing was more important to the legacy of HBO Boxing, so in that we can all take solace. Now his scorecard is complete.”

Lederman’s accomplishments are vast, and recognized by the awards he won. In addition to his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Lederman was also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame and the Rockland County, New York, Sports Hall of Fame.

In addition, he won the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Sam Taub Award in 2009 for career broadcast excellent. In 2006, in a choice which surprised no one who knew him, the Boxing Writers Association also honored him with its Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award.

Lederman’s judging career covered more than 100 world title fights which were held on six continents. Among the significant fights he judged were Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton; Michael Spinks-Gerry Cooney; Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi; Larry Holmes-Spinks; Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Mustafa Hamsho; Michael Dokes-Mike Weaver; Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor; Donald Curry Marlon Starling; Cooney-Ken Norton; Roberto Duran-Carlos Palomino; Matthew Saad Muhammad-Marvin Johnson; James Scott-Eddie Mustafa Muhammad; Emile Griffith-Vito Antuofermo; and Griffith-Dick Tiger.

He was known for explaining the scoring criteria succinctly and wasn’t afraid to criticize a score if he thought the judges got it wrong. Later in his career, HBO took advantage of his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and his love affair with the game and recorded segments promoting some of its fights it dubbed, “Hey Harold.”

“Harold Lederman had a lifelong love affair with the sport of boxing,” said Peter Nelson, the executive vice president of HBO Sports, in a statement. “Over the past 50 years he was universally respected and celebrated by the many people who make the sport what it is. Harold was happiest when seated ringside, studying the action and scoring the fight. When he joined HBO Sports in 1986 he added a new and critical component to live boxing coverage. Viewers embraced his unique style and his command of the rules while his broadcast colleagues relished his enthusiasm and boundless energy. He was a historian and walking rulebook. He always had time for you whether you were a heavyweight champion or just a spectator looking to say hello. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Eileen and daughters Julie and Iris. There isn’t a person in the sport who won’t miss our Harold Lederman.”

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