|A 'Ray' of Hope for Mercer Supporters: "Merciless" Ray Mercer is Ready to Fight!
INTERVIEW By Sean Newman (Jan 29, 2007) Doghouse Boxing
At age 45, former WBO heavyweight champion is currently training like his life depended on it to do something only George Foreman has ever accomplished: Win the heavyweight title past the age of 40. A February 22 clash with Hasim Rahman was recently scrapped due to a reported Rahman injury, and Mercer has been left looking for a high profile opponent. Mercer is hoping that a win over that opponent, whoever he may be, will propel him into a title fight and bigger fights down the road.
For those too young to remember, Mercer began his professional career in early 1989, having won the gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea while fighting for the United States Army boxing team. From there, he would win 16 straight fights, including brutal but one-sided wars with Kimmuel Odum and Bert Cooper, both capable journeymen at the time. In his 17th fight, down on all cards, he landed a sweeping left uppercut on reigning WBO heavyweight champion Francesco Damiani, sending the Italian down on his face with a
broken nose. He would not beat the ten count.
His most famous fight was number 18, against undefeated Rocky V co-star Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison. Morrison would tee off on Mercer for three rounds, landing vicious right uppercuts and hooks to both the body and head. This, however, was part of Mercer’s plan to let Morrison punch himself out, and punch himself out Morrison did. After taking a beating in the 4th round, Morrison had little left early in the 5th and was caught by Mercer in a corner. A left hook essentially knocked Morrison out, and that was followed by eight more flush punches as Morrison sagged helplessly against the ropes before finally falling. The knockout remains one of the most brutal in the history of boxing.
Mercer then suffered a setback against comebacking Larry Holmes, who was then 42 years old. Two wins followed, and then a loss to Jesse Ferguson in a fight that was supposed to set up a May 1993 bout against heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. In that fight, Mercer was accused of making a bribe to Ferguson to go down in exchange for $100,000, charges Mercer was later exonerated of for lack of evidence.
An awful night against Marion Wilson followed in which Mercer was lucky to get a draw, and a very competitive fight with Evander Holyfield after that. Holyfield became the first man ever to knock Mercer down, and he did it with his trademark left hook, causing Mercer to voluntarily take a knee. Then came the fight against Lennox Lewis, which turned out to be a barnburner that most who watched it believe Mercer won.
A series of wins over journeymen led Mercer to a fight with Wladimir Klitschko, and ‘Merciless’ Ray was knocked down and ultimately stopped in the sixth round. In his most recent fight, Mercer was knocked out in seven rounds by former linear and current WBO champion Shannon Briggs. It was a very close fight, and the knockout did not come without controversy, as Briggs seemed to spin Mercer into the ropes and delivered what could be called an intentional rabbit punch.
Mercer has now been away from the ring for a year and a half, and says he is training like never before. His sponsor Bob Farrell says Ray is in excellent shape and looking to make one last serious run at the heavyweight championship of the world. Mercer has always been a warrior and a tough fight for anyone he has stepped into the ring with, although at times his conditioning has been suspect. Even at his advanced age, if he is in shape both mentally and physically, his chances cannot be discounted in today’s heavyweight division.
Recently, Mercer spoke with Doghouse Boxing after an intense training session to share his thoughts on a myriad of topics. Read on to see what he had to say.
Sean Newman: Hi, Ray, how are you doing?
Ray Mercer: I’m doing great, thanks.
SN: Do you know exactly why Hasim Rahman pulled out of your scheduled fight with him on February 22?
RM: I really don’t know, personally. I heard he claimed he was injured, and I hear he never signed the contract in the first place. It’s just boxing, man.
SN: Is the whole thing a total wash for you, or is a replacement opponent being sought?
RM: We’re ready to fight, we’re just going to put it out there, “hey, just call on Ray Mercer.”
SN: Joe Mesi is still supposed to fight on that card. Do you think there is any chance his people would be willing to take a fight with you at this stage, and how would you feel about that fight?
RM: I’ve been chasing that dude and there’s been word for a couple of years now of me fighting Joe Mesi. They were talking about it at one time, but I think he punked out. I don’t think they want to fight a guy like Ray Mercer. They’re looking for easy fights.
SN: It has been rumored that Tommy Morrison wants to fight on that card, provided he can get licensed. Would you be willing to fight him in a rematch down the road?
RM: Ahhh! (Laughs) Of course. Without a doubt I’d fight him.
SN: Speaking of Morrison, you are perhaps best known for your brutal knockout of him in 1991. Did you know he was out after a few punches, or were you just punching with the intention of keeping him down?
RM: The guy was hitting me so hard, I figured when I got him hurt, I was going to make sure he was hurt. I didn’t want him to hit me again so I just kept punching.
SN: Were you concerned at all afterward that he might be seriously hurt?
RM: I was glad he was okay, he was boxing on his stool like the fight was still going on. I got worried about him a little right then. It’s boxing.
SN: Let’s back up. What brought you to the United States Army?
RM: My father did 20 years and we traveled to Europe and different places, and I figured getting into the military was a good opportunity for me to see the world.
SN: Had you ever boxed previously before boxing in the Army?
RM: Never. I was in the Army two years before I even put a pair of gloves on. I was stationed in Germany, and I had the biggest mouth in the motor pool, and I was kind of big, so the boxing coach asked me if I wanted to spar his heavyweight, and I told him I would do it after we got out of the field. We were getting ready to go to a big 30 day exercise. He said if you say yes, you won’t have to go to the field, and that meant I’d have three hots and a cot. I’d have been warm, so I said yeah. Next thing you know, I was in the gym getting the sh*t beat out of me. I got the sh*t beat out of me for like two months, but I was warm, I was eating hot meals, so I was happy. Then I finally got tired of getting my ass whipped, so I asked the trainer to just show me how to defend myself. Next thing you know, in another month and a half, I made the guy who was beating up on me quit. So I was a man, and I went on to win 13 fights without losing that first year.
SN: What was a greater thrill for you: Winning the Olympic gold medal, or winning the WBO heavyweight championship?
RM: By far, winning the Olympic gold medal. The Olympics was the biggest thing I ever did in my life. That stays with you forever. I supported my whole country, and that beats out everything.
SN: In 1993 you were set for a showdown with Riddick Bowe, but you were upset by Jesse Ferguson in a fight in which you were accused of offering him a $100,000 bribe during the course of the action. Was there any truth to those accusations, and if not, why do you think he would say such a thing?
RM: That’s ridiculous. That almost turned me off to boxing. It just makes you keep your mouth shut in the ring. In every sport there is, you can talk to your opponent and try to intimidate them any kind of way you want to do, and that’s all I was doing. I didn’t offer any money, there was no bribe, and I don’t know where it came from. It went to court and was almost laughed out of court. It was ridiculous, it cost me two hundred thousand dollars to get a lawyer for that. Jesse said something to his manager, and Marc Roberts is the one who pushed it along with a German woman reporter named Mary. I don’t even know how the commission allowed that to go on. I should have sued the state of New York for that, I really should have. I wish I would have, that was definitely pitiful. I shouldn’t have been in court for anything like that, facing seven years jail time. What would I do something like that for? I’m a tough fighter, I can take an ass whooping. I’m not going to try to bribe anyone. Who’s going to go down, anyway? I wouldn’t. I think Jesse Ferguson was a punk to even try to say something like that. I’m pretty sure he lost some friends behind that. It’s ridiculous.
SN: You were always known for having a rock solid chin. Who hit you the hardest in your professional career?
RM: Tommy Morrison. Morrison hit me so hard to the body with those hooks that I was actually farting in the ring. (Laughs) You have to act like…you can’t let the guy see that you’re hurt, but I’m pretty sure he heard and smelled a couple of things. (Laughs) But he hit me harder than I was ever hit in boxing.
SN: You had an absolute war with Lennox Lewis. You were used to those types of wars, but Lewis had never really engaged in a fight like that. What are your recollections of that fight?
RM: I hit Lennox Lewis with a lot of jabs and a lot of right hands. I thought I won the fight and everybody else across America thought I won the fight too. It hurt me a little bit because he’s a gold medalist for his country and I’m a gold medalist for my country, and he’s fighting me in my country and I had the edge in the fight, and they still gave it to him. That sort of hurt me a little bit.
SN: How do you feel that fight affected each of you respectively in how your careers went afterwards?
RM: I think it made Lewis realize that he could be beaten, which he already knew. It gave me great motivation to try even harder the next time fighting these name guys. I barely trained for that fight, and I think I beat him. I don’t know what they think they saw that nobody else saw, but as I have said before, that’s just boxing.
SN: Lewis was really turning it up then, with Emanuel Steward in his corner.
RM: Emanuel is the one who should be fighting, he’s the greatest trainer in the world. He and Mike Hall.
SN: You fought some of the biggest names in a great era of heavyweights. If you could name one fighter that you really wanted to fight but never got the chance to, who would it be and why?
RM: Mike Tyson. I signed a contract to fight him, and you know Mike doesn’t sign a contract until like a week before the fight, in case he wants to pull out or what not. That’s not what happened with me; Lennox Lewis took it to court because he wanted to fight him first. The judge ruled that he had to fight Lewis first, and that’s the worst thing that could have happened to me.
SN: Obviously that would have been a big money fight for you, but was it more about the money or the name “Mike Tyson” to you?
RM: It was the name, and I had the reputation of being a tough guy. I actually wanted to be the first one to knock Mike Tyson out. I think it would have made for a great fight. That was my goal, to knock Tyson out, and when he got knocked out I cried.
SN: In your last fight, you were knocked out in the seventh round by Shannon Briggs. He seemed to spin you and hit you toward the back of the head in a fight that I thought you were winning.
RM: Exactly. I took everything he had right there in the middle of the ring, and I go through the ropes and the guy climbs on my back and starts rabbit punching me in the temple and in the head.
SN: Do you think he should have been disqualified?
RM: He definitely should have been disqualified. I don’t know what’s wrong with boxing. They’ve got rules, but down there on the Indian reservation, they don’t follow the rules. That’s the bad thing about boxing. You go down there and fight with the Indians, they can do anything, they can rob you, screw you, everything. That one really hurt, because I didn’t like Shannon and I really wanted to beat him. For him to do something like that after I had taken everything he had…everybody in the world should have seen that was a foul and he should have been disqualified. Then the guy promised me a rematch and there’s been nothing else said about it. I deserve a rematch. He can have the belt, I just want to whip his ass, that’s all.
SN: Your sponsor Bob Farrell says you are in excellent shape. You are 45 years old, the same age George Foreman was when he regained the title. What made you decide to rededicate yourself to boxing?
RM: I’m in better shape than I’ve been in for the last 7 or 8 years. My boxing career hasn’t gone well in the last couple of years, so that’s motivates me. My kids are getting older and I want to share some of this with them. I want to keep going, I want to give it one more shot. I’d say one more fight and I’m ready. One good fight and I’m ready for a shot. I’m older now and most of the things I did when I was younger, I don’t do anymore. You get more mature. You know what it takes to really get out there and get in shape, and that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
SN: Of the four champions now, which would you like to fight most?
RM: It would be Briggs just because I don’t like the guy, but for people to consider you the real champion, it would have to be Wladimir Klitschko. I think he’s recognized as the number one champion. I’ve had the WBO belt, and every time people would talk about the WBO, it’s always last behind the other three.
SN: It was recently announced that Vitali Klitschko is coming out of retirement to fight Oleg Maskaev for the WBC title, stepping over Samuel Peter. Peter is pretty pissed off about the situation, rightfully so. What are your thoughts?
RM: It’s bad the way boxing is. They need to have one commission that all the contracts go to, and once they get there the commission can monitor what goes on. People can’t pull out of fights just to take another fight. Once something’s signed, it should be done. That’s what happened with me and Rahman just now. I signed the contract, they gave me training expenses and everything. You don’t do that unless the fight is on, unless he had signed the contract too. The promoters have too much power, a lot of them are abusing that power. The fighters are the one that gets screwed. I am free. I have no promoter.
SN: Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
RM: All I want to say is keep supporting our troops and all my fans keep supporting me, and we’ll get it done. I would like to say one more thing. Bobby Farrell is a standup guy and he’s part of the reason I’m doing so well. He’s been supporting me financially and mentally, and he’s a coach. He really knows what he’s talking about and he gets in my head and he’s got me on the right track. And I just want to let him know that I really appreciate it. If boxing had more guys like him, it would be a better sport.
SN: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, Ray. It’s been an honor.
RM: You’re welcome.
Writer’s note: I would like to express my thanks to Bob Farrell for his assistance in arranging this interview. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with anyone who worked so quickly and kept such an open line of communication in setting up an interview, and for that, I am very appreciative. Thanks also to ‘Merciless’ Ray Mercer, both for his time and graciousness, as well as for all the memorable wars he has provided for boxing fans in the past. Best of luck to you, Ray!
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