Melvina Lathan, Chairperson
New York State Athletic Commission
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In the sport of boxing, you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-combatant as well-liked and respected as New York’s own Harold Lederman. Lederman, the former renowned boxing judge and current boxing analyst and commentator for HBO, commands a certain reverence at ringside of any card he attends or works. Few involved in the sport possess his boxing acumen and he can explain the finer points of the sweet science like no one else.
Lederman was born in the Pelham Park section of The Bronx and his interest in the sport began at an early age when his father would take him to watch his favorite fighters, like Sandy Saddler, Roland LaStarza and Norman Rubio, to name just a few. It sparked a passion that would lead to a more than 30-year career in the fight game.
He began as a boxing judge in 1967 and eventually joined the cast of HBO World Championship Boxing in 1986, where he continues to provide his expertise of the sweet science to spectators around the world. Over that time, Lederman has scored more than 100 world championship bouts and has scored more than five hundred fights on television, allowing fans to follow along with one of the keenest minds in boxing.
But before Lederman became the icon he is today, he graduated from Columbia University and became a registered New York pharmacist, following in the family business, a profession he still practices from time to time to this day. All the while, his passion for boxing began to flourish, and he ingratiated himself further into the sport, but not in the way most would expect. When asked if he ever thought about entering the circle square himself, Lederman responded “Heck no... My own sister could kick the crap out of me.”
Instead, Lederman decided to become a judge and began as an amateur official. This was the golden era of amateur boxing, with approximately twenty to twenty-five bouts a night, and this gave him the proper concentration and exposure he needed to become a well-rounded judge. He learned how to analyze a boxer, how to determine which fighter was more aggressive, who was better defensively, and which pugilist was a better strategist.
After two years of exposure in the amateur judging ranks, Lederman decided to go professional and applied for a license with the New York State Athletic Commission, and eventually, other states throughout the country. According to Lederman, his most memorable fight as a professional judge was the WBC/WBA heavyweight championship (and the rubber match in one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history) between champion Muhammad Ali and challenger Ken Norton on September 28, 1976 at Yankee Stadium. In one of the closest fights in the history of the sport, Ali won a -decision after earning the last round from the judges.
In 1986, after a phone call from HBO Boxing Executive Producer Ross Greenburg to discuss the future of televised boxing commentary, Lederman expressed to him that the network needed to find commentators that understand the sport and explain it to a general audience in a more efficient and accurate manner. Greenburg was persuaded and thus began Lederman’s transition from professional boxing judge to HBO’s unofficial boxing judge analyst. Consequently, in March of 1986, Lederman was given the opportunity to provide commentary on the WBC Heavyweight Title bout between Pinklon Thomas and Trevor Berbick for HBO. He developed a new passion for this responsibility, but continued to serve as a judge until 1999 while working for the network.
One of Lederman biggest joys in life is to see his daughter, Julie Lederman, (pictured with her father to the right) follow in his footsteps and become a successful judge in her own right. As his father had done with him, he took her to bouts throughout the world which provided her exposure to the sport which ignited the same passion in her. He was proud of her interest in the sweet science and it shows in the work ethic she brings to ringside.
As genteel as he is, Lederman is also opinionated and understands the challenges the sport faces. He feels that the multiple governing bodies make it hard for the public to determine who the real champion is in any given division. Unlike other high visibility sports, boxing usually has more than one champion in each division, much to the dismay of many fans.
Although he is apprehensive to name any favorite pugilists due to his ethical neutrality as a judge and commentator, he harkens back to the likes of “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as competitors and examples of fighters he liked to watch. For this current generation, he points out the remarkable skills of Floyd Mayweather, perhaps due to the fact that he watched him so many times during his work for HBO.
Lederman’s advice to individuals who want to enter the sport as an official is to first get involved in the amateur ranks and slowly develop the skills needed to become effective judges.
Apart from being an award-winning judge, Lederman is also a published author on the sweet, receiving many accolades throughout his career on his participation in boxing. Lederman was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles on the 30th anniversary of his appointment as a boxing judge. In addition, he received the Marvin Goldberg Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in boxing from the Max Kase Sports Lodge of B'nai B'rith, and was honored in 2006 in Las Vegas with the Boxing Writers of America Association's "Good Guy" Award.
When asked what he has left to accomplish, Lederman states he wants to continue his quest to watch the perfect fight. For many of us, the quest to find the perfect boxing judge and commentator ends with one Harold Lederman.