Ed Derian, one of boxing’s best-known ring announcers, passed away Sept. 26, 2014 at the age of 77. Promoter J Russell Peltz, International Boxing Hall of Fame class of 2004, recalls his days with “this fine young gentleman.”
Tyrone Everett had just finished cleaning Alfredo Escalera’s clock for most of the 15 rounds they fought and ring announcer Ed Derian grabbed the microphone to read the scores. It was Nov. 30, 1976, at The Spectrum in Philadelphia and Escalera’s WBC junior lightweight title belt was mere seconds from being transferred to Everett’s waist.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the scoring as follows: Judge Lou Tress has scored it 145 Escalera, 143 Everett.” Boos rained down from every corner of the building.
I stood there at the ring, my hands on the canvas, and I couldn’t believe that Eddie had just embarrassed himself in front of 16,019 fans, the largest crowd ever to watch a fight indoors in Pennsylvania. How in the world, I thought, could he possibly have read the score backward, especially from a judge from Philadelphia?
When Eddie went on to say that “Judge Ismael Fernandez, of Puerto Rico, has scored it Escalera 146, Everett 143,” I knew then what I know to this day—boxing’s dirty laundry had been hung out to dry and I felt like someone had pulled down my pants in public.
The point of this story is not to rehash one of the worst decisions in boxing history, but to point out that by killing the suspense right off the bat, Eddie had saved hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the building. Had he announced Mexican referee Ray Solis’ score of 148-146 for Everett in between the two scores for Escalera, I believe the built-up suspense would have created such bad vibes that the pro-Everett crowd would have destroyed the Spectrum.
I thought about that night when I got the news Saturday (Sept.27) from former Philadelphia Daily News boxing writer Bernard Fernandez that Eddie had passed away the day before at the age of 77.
“Action? You better believe it!” That was Eddie’s favorite line from his early days in the mid-1970s when he was the on-air announcer for the Roller Games, when female stars like Judy Arnold, Judy Sowinski and Yvonne Riggins and the Philadelphia Warriors battled it out with the visitors at the old Arena at 46th & Market Streets in West Philadelphia.
Rose Patterson worked the box office for the Roller Games at the Arena and when she later went to work for Frank Gelb in the boxing business, she suggested Eddie look into ring announcing and that’s how he got his start.
In those days, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission appointed the ring announcer and Eddie soon became the best of the lot. The Everett-Escalera fight gained him worldwide notoriety. By the mid-1980s, I had convinced the commission to let the promoter choose the announcer.
When Top Rank broke into Atlantic City with ESPN Boxing in 1980, Gelb got Eddie the slot and he was a fixture for a few years until Michael Buffer displaced him. Eddie never got over that; he always wore his heart on his sleeve.
Someone once reminded me that there is no such thing as 99 percent loyalty and Eddie, so long as he was healthy and available, was always my announcer, either in Philadelphia or Atlantic City.
Despite our relationship, I always tried to get him to eliminate his shtick.
“Eddie,” I’d say, “a fighter doesn’t tip the scales at 143 pounds; he simply weighs 143 pounds. And he doesn’t come all the way from San Diego, California; he is from San Diego, California. And he is not a fine young pugilist.”
For a show or two, I actually got Eddie to play it straight, but then he went back to his ways and I guess that’s what made him so endearing to the fans.
Everybody was honorable!
“The honorable Jersey Joe Walcott, commissioner,” he would intone. Then it became “the honorable Robert W. Lee, commissioner,” or “the honorable Howard E. McCall, commissioner,” in Pennsylvania. We’d start joking about introducing people in the crowd, the honorable this or the honorable that.
I loved it when he’d introduce a fighter and repeat the name, such as Bennie Briscoe…Briscoe. He picked that up from Johnny Addie, who did the cards at Madison Square Garden from the late 1940s through the early 1970s.
He was a fixture at USA Network’s Tuesday Night Fights from the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. And although I cannot remember whether it was my idea or his, he began opening those shows by saying “live, from the Legendary Blue Horizon in the boxing capital of the East Coast, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania….” He was as much a part of the Blue Horizon’s legacy as the fighters he introduced.
Eddie’s real name was Setrak Ejdaharian. He would have had fun introducing that one. He was Armenian and proud of it and his day job was selling automobile parts. He and his wife Roxie and me and my wife Linda enjoyed good times at a variety of Middle East restaurants in the Philadelphia area. He was a celebrity in every one of them. When Roxie passed away two years ago, she took a piece of Eddie with her.
He remains one of the finest ring announcers of all-time and his induction into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame in 2010 was long overdue. I’m not going to turn this column sour by saying he belongs on the ballot at Canastota, NY, so I’ll leave that alone.
His passing is another reminder of the days when boxing was still an integral part of the Philadelphia and Atlantic City sports scene. I miss that and I’ll miss him more.