Mike Tyson: If Jimmy Lennon Sr. is not a true Hall of Famer, I'm not sure who is

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Mike Tyson took a deep breath, as if to calm himself. He'd just heard news that had shocked him.

His voice rising, the former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion said, "Man, I wish you hadn't told me that. I wish I didn't know that."

Tyson had been raving about Jimmy Lennon Sr., the legendary Los Angeles-based ring announcer who set the standard for the industry in both boxing and professional wrestling with his style, his diction and his dramatic flair.

As a pre-teen living in New York, Tyson paid next-to-no attention to boxing.

"I was 7, 8, 9 years old and you know what I was into?" Tyson asks. "It wasn't boxing. No way. I wasn't thinking a thing about boxing. I was into wrestling. I loved it. And who was the premier guy in that as far as announcing? Jimmy Lennon Sr. I loved that guy. I loved him. I used to dream that one day, he would introduce me."

Tyson said he'd watch a Spanish-language network of wrestling matches emanating from Los Angeles. He became a fan of wrestling in part by listening to Lennon. He rattles off the names of Morgus "The Maniac"; John "The Golden Greek" Tolos; "Classy" Freddie Blassie; Andre the Giant.

"He did the Spanish so well and I was watching him on the Spanish channel – Channel 47 – for so long that it was a long time before I realized that he wasn't Spanish and spoke English, too," Tyson said.

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Tyson, though, is upset. Lennon's son, Jimmy Lennon Jr., will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y.

He'll become only the second ring announcer to be enshrined, following Michael Buffer, who was inducted last year. 

Tyson and Lennon Jr. are close. "I love Jimmy because he's his father's son, man," Tyson said.

But his true bond is with the elder Lennon, who died in 1992 after having worked for nearly a half-century, most of it as the pre-eminent ring announcer in both boxing and wrestling.

His son, once a teacher and a headmaster at a Los Angeles school, followed in his father's footsteps and became a ring announcer himself. He became so good at it, he will be remembered as one of the greatest ever.

As great as the day will be for him on Sunday, there will be a little feeling of sadness, as well.

Lennon, 54, said he is "humbled, honored and deeply touched," by his election, but there will be somewhat of a void.

His father, Jimmy Lennon Sr., arguably the greatest ring announcer who ever lived and the man who defined the job, died in 1992 without being inducted.

"He's going to be on my mind, for sure," said Lennon Jr., who is the regular ring announcer for Showtime. "Dad deserves to be there more than I do."

Tyson described himself as "totally outraged" that Lennon Sr. isn't in.

"If he's not in the Hall of Fame, then there should be no announcers in the Hall of Fame," Tyson said. "Don't let them forget Jimmy Lennon. We can't let them forget him. I can't believe I'm in the Hall of Fame and this great, legendary man who did so much for this sport is not in. He's part of the American fabric."

Lennon Jr. has called fights in 31 countries and works nearly every weekend of the year, including the major holidays. Along the way, he's had to shake his head at some of the things he saw.

His father would occasionally come home with cuts on the top of his head, the result of being struck by objects thrown by out-of-control fans.

Lennon Jr. got a sense of what his father went through all those years when he worked a Muay Thai boxing fight card in Anaheim, Calif., a while back.

The crowd became angered by what it considered a bad stoppage and Lennon, as always, tried to keep it classy and professional.

He climbed into the ring and began to announce the verdict. But as he was reading, folding chairs were flying over the ropes and into the ring. There were two, then five, and then, suddenly, too many to count.

Cecil Peoples, who refereed the fight, had two of the instigators in a headlock, Lennon recalled, holding them for authorities. Lennon realized he wasn't going to be able to make his announcement and left the ring and headed for a safe place in the back of the room.

He watched, in stunned disbelief, as the hooliganism increased and all manner of objects were hurled toward the ring.

All of a sudden, a Thai man grabbed Lennon's microphone and began urging restraint from the crowd.

"We are Thai people," Lennon recalled the man saying. "This is martial arts. This is not what we are about. Stop this. Please, stop."

As if words were spoken from heaven, suddenly, there was an eerie silence in the ballroom. The chairs, the coins, the cans, the trash stopped flying.

Just as Lennon began to be impressed by the man's ability to control the unruly crowd, he quickly had to head for cover again.

"They stopped and were silent for five, maybe 10 seconds," Lennon said. "And then, just like that, they started again. It was like the movies, but worse. It wasn't long before the chairs filled the ring."

It was a lowlight in a career filled with highlights. Lennon has done a number of combat sports, announcing mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, kickboxing and K1, but he is most closely associated with boxing.

Marc Ratner, the former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission and a long-time friend of the Lennon family, lobbied the Hall of Fame committee for several years to induct both Lennons simultaneously.

Ratner shared Tyson's feeling of melancholy when he learned that Junior made it but Senior did not.

"I am absolutely delighted for Jimmy, because he's highly deserving of this honor and he has been for several years," Ratner said. "My only wish is that father and son had been inducted at the same time. Jimmy Senior has been dead [since 1992] and a lot of the new fans don't remember him. But Senior set the standard."

Lennon Sr. announced thousands of boxing and wrestling matches in and around the Los Angeles area. He became as well known as the stars he would introduce.

Tyson first met him in late 1986 or early 1987, not long after he knocked out Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history.

A boxing historian, Tyson wanted to see a fight card at the legendary Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium, where Lennon Sr. worked and developed his reputation.

"It was just a mediocre card, nothing huge, but I wanted to see the fights there," Tyson said. "I was just a young kid, 20 years old, and this was hallowed ground to me. I got there and there was this frenzy, but I saw Jimmy and I wanted to go say hello. I couldn't believe I was going to meet him.

"He grabbed me and hugged me and said, 'Oh, Mike, it would be my honor if I could introduce you tonight to the crowd here. Would it be OK?' And my ego just got out of control. I said to myself, 'You've got to be [expletive] kidding me. This guy who introduced Andre the Giant and Tolos and Freddie Blassie, all those great Spanish wrestlers, man, he wants to introduce me?' I said yes and I felt like I was in heaven."

Lennon Jr. picked up much of his father's mannerisms. He looked like him, sounded like him and seemed to be able to mimic his father's movements.

It wasn't intentional, Lennon Jr. said, but his father was the only announcer he'd watched.

He prepared diligently for the fights, just as his father had. He knew how to pronounce even the most difficult of names, the multi-syllabic names rolling gently off his tongue.

He was a play-by-play announcer's dream. He was always ready when he was supposed to be, he could handle errors on the fly without anyone being any the wiser and he made things seem perfectly in sync, even when they were not.

Steve Albert worked with Lennon for 24 years as the play-by-play voice of Showtime boxing. Now the announcer for the NBA's Phoenix Suns, it was Albert who dubbed him, "The Classy" Jimmy Lennon Jr.

No nickname was more apt for a man.

"The neat thing about Jimmy is, as gifted professionally as he is, it's hard, if not impossible, to find a more unpretentious and humble person and that's what makes him who he is," Albert said.

A mistake by the ring announcer on one edition of USA Network's "Tuesday Night Fights" proves the value of someone like Lennon, who consistently got things right, Albert said.

The TNT producers had decided that instead of opening the telecast with the play-by-play announcer and his analyst talking, they'd start with the ring announcer introducing the fighters first and get the action started immediately.

The first time it was tried, the card emanated from the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. When the show opened, the ring announcer was facing the wrong way. He introduced the fighters as the viewers got a great look at his back.

"Jimmy was the consummate professional. He was organized, prepared and he just never made a mistake. In all of the fights I did with him, I don't think I ever, not once, saw him rattled. He was just smooth and professional all the time."

Lennon Jr. will miss Saturday's doubleheader in Carson, Calif., featuring Marcos Maidana against Josesito Lopez. Joe A. Martinez, who himself is becoming one of the sport's elite ring announcers, will replace him.

Lennon will be in Canastota, preparing for his induction the next day. And though words come easily to him, he admits it will be hard to know what to say.

"Never once did I ever think I'd even be considered for the Hall of Fame, let alone actually to be elected," he said. "It's a terrific honored and I mean it when I say I'm humbled. I've always tried to make it not about me, but about the fights and the fighters.

"So it's a great honor. But it's going to be tough, because I'm standing up there and I'm going to have [a bust] in there, but Dad won't. If anyone in this job deserves that honor, it's Dad."

Tyson said he couldn't agree more. He said he loved being introduced by Lennon Jr. and said one of the regrets of his career was that Lennon Sr. didn't do one of his fights.

"He's the best," Tyson said of Lennon Sr. "I loved him. I can still hear his voice. Who was there before him? Who? I'll tell you: There was no one. He created that [position] and he perfected it. And if Jimmy [Lennon Sr.] is not a true Hall of Famer, I'm not sure who is."

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