Flip to ESPN2 on a Tuesday or Friday night, and you'll immediately hear him, rattling off the names of long-forgotten boxers in his New York accent and sounding for all the world like a sweat-stained veteran of the fight game. However, get a glimpse of Max Kellerman, die network's voluble boxing analyst, and you'll do a double take. No more than a light heavyweight, the baby-faced, 28-year-old Kellerman looks as if he should be hopping turnstiles in the subway, not trying to establish himself as the signature voice of the sweet science.
Despite appearances, Kellerman has been a hard-core fight fan since he read a biography of Muhammad Ali when he was eight. By 16 he was spouting opinions on his own New York cable-TV public access show, Max on Boxing. In May 1998 Kellerman graduated from Columbia with a degree in history; he joined ESPN that October. "I love my job," he says. "Every time I have something to say, all I have to do is wait a few days, turn to the camera and say it."
Make no mistake about it, Kellerman has plenty to say. During his ESPN2 tenure (he has been stationed at ringside and in the studio), Kellerman has often suggested that a boxer was carrying his opponent; has turned to the camera and asked, "Stupid or corrupt?" in reference to a judge; and has been unsparing in his criticism of countless boxers. He also has been an unabashed booster of the sport (he thinks a major corporation should underwrite and market a boxing league) and was recently the subject of a New Yorker item describing his behavior during the June 26 bout in New York City in which light heavyweight Beethavean Scottland sustained brain injuries that led to his death six days later. ("That's it!" Kellerman said on-air during the sixth round. "This is how guys get seriously hurt.") "I didn't have the courage at the time," Kellerman says, "but if I could have done it again, I would have turned to the athletic commission and told them they had to stop the fight or they'd get skewered on TV, and believe me, I can do a hatchet job like nobody else."
Such sentiments have led critics to label Kellerman a blowhard, but he's helping bring a larger audience to boxing. Tuesday Night Fights and Friday Night Fights are the two top-rated shows on ESPN2. Fans appreciate his passion for a sport that he thinks still has a future on network TV. "Boxing has a lot more going for it than golf," says Kellerman. "I mean, golf! C'mon, if you saw a guy putting on the street and then you saw two guys in a fight, which would you watch?"