For fans of a certain age, he’s the soundtrack of a generation.
And even now, long after he sat ringside to call his last fight, Tim Ryan is gaining fans.
As young writer types perform due diligence on would-be inductees to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, they’re stumbling upon his candidacy in the observer category – and getting a long overdue listen to a voice that rode shotgun to some of the 20th century’s biggest names and performances.
How about a look at the resume?
Among the more prominent bullet points of better than 300 title fights are the historic first Ali-Frazier match in 1971, when Ryan was the point man for the only live English language radio broadcast that night from Madison Square Garden.
Ten years later, he was in Las Vegas for the first bout between Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, and the following year he called the first duel between Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor in Miami, followed the next day by the ultimately tragic meeting of Ray Mancini and Duk-Koo Kim.
Sprinkle in Leonard-Hagler, Leonard-Hearns II, Bowe-Holyfield II (featuring “Fan Man”) and others, too, and you’ve got yourself a candidate sure to generate significant bipartisan support.
Still, if you think Ryan – now 82 and living in British Columbia – is obsessing about it, think again.
“There’s certainly some other good guys that deserve to be in there,” he told Boxing Scene, “so I won’t be lying awake nights, but I’ll be pleased if I get there. I’m grateful for it and I’m flattered that people believe I should be in.”
The Hall released 2022 election ballots earlier this month to an international panel of voters who will make selections in categories including modern and “old-timer” men’s fighters, non-participants, observers and modern women fighters. Others joining Ryan on the observer ballot are late broadcaster Nick Charles, columnist Wallace Matthews and historian Bob Yalen.
Born in the central Canadian city of Winnipeg, Ryan went on to spend a significant amount of time in Toronto and was angling toward a post-college career in newspapers there when he landed a job as assistant sports director at the city’s fledging CFTO television station.
His work there forged a broadcasting trail for him in hockey, ultimately leading to relocation to New York – where he called games for the Rangers, was the voice of a brief run for the NHL on NBC and transitioned to the Islanders, for whom he worked for seven years and earned two Stanley Cup rings.
But amid all the other work – comprising no less than 30 different sports, in fact – Ryan began making his name as the blow-by-blow man for a CBS boxing team that included veteran cornerman Gil Clancy and later added Leonard himself after his initial retirement in 1982.
It was, he said, the last golden age of TV boxing before cable and pay-per-view changed the game.
“Part of that was because CBS made a larger commitment and they made it first, pretty much after the ’76 Olympic team turned pro,” he said. “They jumped on the fact that it was time to bring boxing back to network television because the success of these Olympians got a lot of publicity.
“So, I think we did more fights than NBC or ABC, and this was all pre-cable, and we got out in front. I can remember a lot of weekends where we would do fights Saturday and Sunday, especially throughout the summertime. So, we had a chance to be more identified.”
Ryan was in Canastota for Clancy’s IBHOF induction in 1993 and said he and the veteran cornerman and manager, though 16 years apart in age, became very close friends through their time both at work and traveling to and from bouts until Clancy’s death in 2011 at age 88.
“He wanted to see the fight and react to what was important and tell you that,” Ryan said.
“He didn’t feel any need to keep talking about it. And in his normal conversational nature, he wasn’t a guy that would go on and on. He would condense things and give you the important comment. And so, he became a quick fit for television broadcasting of boxing. And the most important thing was that he was so good at it – he saw both fighters at the same time and I’ve made that comment about him many times. A lot of guys I’ve listened to since that time, especially ex-fighters, and it’s totally natural, they tend to focus on one guy. So, they miss the actual combat.
“They talk about one guy and then they may wind up talking about the other guy, but they’re not telling you exactly what’s happening and the trends and flows at the same time. Gil was able to see those things and, in his own pithy way, was able to get the picture across to you immediately.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior lightweight title – Atlanta, Georgia
Jamel Herring (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Shakur Stevenson (interim/No. 12 IWBR)
Herring (23-2, 11 KO): Fourth title defense; Seven-fight win streak since August 2017 (7-0, 2 KO)
Stevenson (16-0, 8 KO): Second title fight (1-0); Won WBO title at 126 in October 2019 (no defenses)
Fitzbitz says: This isn’t a referendum on how good Herring is. He’s good. Tough and talented and completely credible. If you think Stevenson is legit, he wins. I think he is. Stevenson by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Navarrete, Briedis; LOSS: Soto)
2021 picks record: 36-13 (73.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,192-388 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.