SBJ/20100816/This Week's News

Larkin recalled as one of boxing’s good guys

When boxing promoter Gary Shaw desperately needed a premium cable date to make the finances work on a fight deal he was negotiating, he often would call his friend, Jay Larkin, senior vice president of sports and events at Showtime.

“I really need a date in September, Jay,” Shaw would stress.

“OK, you got it,” Larkin would say.

A week or two later, while haggling deal terms with another promoter, he’d find that Larkin had ceded the same calendar slot to the both of them. This happened more than once.

“Sometimes he’d promise the same date to three different people,” Shaw said last week, chuckling at the recollection. “Jay had trouble saying no. Then when you found out, he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll get you a different date.’

“He was just such a gentle, nice guy. He could laugh it off and you’d laugh with him.”

Jay Larkin died at West Nyack Hospital in Nyack, N.Y., on Aug. 9, succumbing after a lengthy bout with brain cancer. He was 59. He left a wife, Lisa, and two sons, Ryan and Gabriel. Friends who visited the week before he died reported that he remained cognizant, trading stories and laughs.

Jay Larkin (right) helped set up Mike Tyson’s
blockbuster fight with Lennox Lewis.

Larkin started as a publicist at Showtime, where he worked for 22 years before exiting during a round of staff cuts by parent company Viacom in 2005. He later served as COO and then CEO of an ill-fated MMA property, the International Fight League.

While at Showtime, Larkin built a boxing division that carved out a strong identity, even while working with a budget dwarfed by that of HBO. It was Larkin who negotiated doggedly to bring together what was then the most lucrative fight in history, Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis, when Lewis was exclusive to HBO and Tyson was married to Showtime.

“One of the most enjoyable relationships I had in business, I had with a competitor,” said fight promoter Lou DiBella, who headed boxing for HBO when Larkin was at Showtime. “We became friends. He was an interesting cat who loved the arts. I like that stuff, too. We’d chat a lot of times about stuff that had nothing to do with boxing.”

A theater major at C.W. Post University who also studied at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, Larkin often spoke of the unlikely way in which he came to boxing. He was at the first fight Showtime aired, Marvin Hagler vs. John Mugabi in 1986, when the network’s head of programming asked whether he recognized an old fighter standing nearby. Larkin correctly identified Billy Conn. From that moment forward, he was in charge of boxing. Larkin recognized Conn only because someone had pointed him out earlier in the day.

“He was a good friend, a good mentor, somebody I really looked up to and learned so much from,” said Ken Hershman, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, who worked closely with Larkin and eventually succeeded him. “I’m sad for his family and for everybody else, but mostly I’m sad for him. He had so much to look forward to. His boys growing and going off to college. He’s never going to get to see that.

“He was a very committed father. To me that’s the most devastating part of this. But it’s life. I can’t say he didn’t live a full and amazingly rich life. He did.”

Hershman laughed when reminded of Larkin’s habit of offering dates to multiple promoters. When Larkin left Showtime, many called Hershman trying to lock in slots they said were promised.

“If you added it all up, about four years of programming was committed,” Hershman said. “He always found a way to work people in. He was a man of his word and tried to do right by the company and by the people. He was not a schemer. Not a manipulator. Wasn’t Machiavellian in his approach. You saw all that permeate the relationships he had.”

Nearly two decades later, Larkin still jabbed Shaw about the angst spawned during negotiations for the Tyson-Lewis fight, recalling tensions that he often defused with a quip. A few days after the fight, Larkin invited Shaw to his office for a wrap-up meeting. When he got there, Larkin queued a tape that showed Shaw getting knocked off his feet three times during the post-fight chaos, put to music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”

“Jay was probably one of the few that will leave boxing with most people talking nicely about him,” Shaw said. “I think that’s his legacy. When I look back I don’t think Showtime or great fights or what musical acts he did. I think his legacy, and what his children should remember, is that he was in a sport of pariahs and left with everybody talking kindly of him and having fond memories that are heartfelt.

“If I were to do his tombstone, it would just say a gentle, funny, nice guy.”

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