THE owner of one of the most recognisable voices in boxing history, Colonel Bob Sheridan, has passed away at the age of 79.
Known for calling some of the biggest fights the sport has seen, perhaps most famously 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle featuring Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman, Sheridan was a larger-than-life character who is thought to have called over 10,000 fights on television and radio.
It has been reported that the first title fight he provided commentary for was the bout for the vacant WBA heavyweight title between Jimmy Ellis and Jerry Quarry in 1968. Six years later, his commentary decorated the famous Ali-Foreman showdown. By then, Sheridan – who had earned a position with burgeoning promoter Don King – was a well-known voice to fight fans.
Talking to Boxing News last year, Sheridan remembered that famous night. “We were going on the air at three o’clock in the morning in Zaire time,” Sheridan said. “I first arrived at the arena an hour before that, at two o’clock. I had two machine gun guards, these were army guys, so I felt like Lord Muck arriving at the arena. The night before we’d had the weigh-in, so I thought I had a pretty good idea about what to expect. But as I arrive, I see the place begin to swell with people. It was not lit like normal arenas, the colours were all bright, it was an unbelievable scene.”
Yet the sheer size of the event made it a difficult assignment for the Colonel. Placed further away from the ring than he was used to and with the broadcaster insisting on multiple analysts – including David Frost, Jim Brown, Jimmy Ellis and Joe Frazier – Sheridan was out of his comfort zone.
“I had another situation that I wasn’t used to and that was for the camera angles and the amount of television talent we had, they sat our table back away from the apron of the ring, about five or six feet, so they could get cameras in there to get pictures of us. That makes a big difference because I can’t hear the referee, the timekeepers. So when the knockdown came, I couldn’t hear the count. The sound from the crowd was deafening. And I had all these people with me; I don’t need anybody doing colour commentary with me, I’d trained for this my whole life. It was a total distraction.”
If Ali-Foreman wasn’t the highlight of his career, what was? “It’s a question I get a lot and it’s the same answer all the time,” Sheridan said. “Larry Holmes versus Kenny Norton for the WBC heavyweight championship of the world. It was dead even going into the 15th round and Larry somehow eked it out, it was such a close round. That fight stands out in mind.”
Sheridan would be ringside for Ali-Frazier III, he was there throughout Mike Tyson’s career, he described Sugar Ray Leonard on some of his greatest nights and continued working well into the next century. He simply adored life but Sheridan – who graduated from Lexington High School and later went to the University of Miami – suffered several heart attacks. In 2010 it was reported that he’d survived four. One of which came on the eve of the infamous Evander Holyfield-Tyson rematch in 1997 when he insisted upon getting behind the mic, with a doctor by his side, regardless.
“It was nothing to do with me being brave or bold,” Sheridan reflected with a chuckle. “If I didn’t broadcast that fight then I wasn’t going to get paid. I already knew I was going to get a lot of money for that fight and I wasn’t going to miss it over a small heart attack. They’d cleaned out my pipes following the heart attack too, so I could breathe again. It was almost like I was on a euphoric high.
“That night they wanted to get me out of there as soon as possible so my producer Marty Cohen said we should record the close early, so once the fight was over, I could get out of there and go back to hospital – because I had to have another operation that night.
“So, my close had to be generic. I said, ‘Well, how about that for a night of boxing. You know when Mike Tyson’s involved, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be unusual and this lived up to everything that we did expect and what we didn’t expect. Good night everybody!’”
If you’ve ever heard the commentary of Colonel Bob Sheridan it’s not difficult to remember his voice. Cartoonish in its enthusiasm, with an Irish twang that’s a nod to his roots, Sheridan saw his role solely as a positive one. He was there, he often said, to showcase the sport in a good light. Consequently, he never found it difficult to get work from promoters who only ever want the blue sky to be reported.
“I am a bit of liar, you know,” said Sheridan. “I can take a dull fight and turn it into one of the greatest fights you’ve ever heard in your life. After all, I’m not a journalist, I’m a sports entertainer, I don’t want people shutting off the TV set or the radio. As long as you get the gist of the fight right, it never hurts to make people who are watching or listening a bit excited.”
Sheridan was perpetually excited, it seemed.
“We drank, we had fun, we lived, we laughed, we gambled, we worked hard, we lived every day like it was our last,” he said last year, somewhat poignantly. “I thank God every day for living the life I have lived.”