To hear Ray Mercer tell it, the secret to a successful boxing career isn’t especially complicated. The Sweet Science may be the art of hitting and not being hit; but, he says, the second part simply isn’t an achievable goal and the sooner a boxer accepts that, the better.
“I didn’t consider myself an excellent boxer, so I went into fights knowing that I’m going to get hit, I was going to get clocked,” the 1988 Olympic champion and former WBO heavyweight beltholder told ProBoxTV at the International Boxing Hall of Fame recently. “And if I was training anybody right now, I’d tell them, ‘You can’t go into a fight not expecting to get hit.’ Half the fight is won when you know you’re going to get clocked.”
Anyone stepping into the ring with Mercer over the course of his 19-year professional career may have felt confident that they’d land a few blows, but they certainly knew that Mercer, who compiled a career record of 36-7-1 (26 KOs), was going to get his licks in, too. There were disappointments – his first career defeat, to 42-year-old Larry Holmes; his upset loss to Jesse Ferguson (which saw him charged with, and cleared of, attempting to bribe Ferguson to take a fall); weighing in more than 20 pounds over his best weight and being held to a draw by Marion Wilson – but there were plenty of successes, too. The brutal knockout of Tommy Morrison, which seems likely to retain viral fame for as long as there’s an Internet. The close battle with Lennox Lewis, which plenty felt he deserved to win. The wars with Evander Holyfield and Bert Cooper; the wins over Tim Witherspoon and Francesco Damiani.
Asked to select the top five outings of his career, Mercer shows no hesitation in picking the Morrison knockout as his number one.
“I know the ref could have stepped in, man,” he says. “I counted 17 straight punches, and the referee was nowhere in sight. Being the fighters that we are, we’re told not to stop for nothing. You keep throwing punches until the referee pulls you off. And that’s what I did, I did what I had to do.”
Bert Cooper (UD 12, August 5, 1990) “He was my sparring partner for three years before we fought. And after that fight I had to spend two days in the hospital because I was dehydrated. I had a fever and everything. We were throwing punches in that fight. That was fight of the Year. I’m just glad I won. We were both in the emergency room in Atlantic City getting stitched up after that one. He was on this gurney, and I was on that gurney.”
Tim Sylvia (KO1, June 13, 2009, MMA bout) “I knocked Tim Sylvia out in nine seconds. That was one of my favorites right there.”
Evander Holyfield (L UD10, May 20, 1995) “I actually thought I won that fight. I was winning until the seventh round, when he clocked me, and I took a knee. I got up and I started moving backwards, and he gained the momentum and that was it. He won the last few rounds.”
Brian Scott (KO2, October 13, 2001) “I was almost 50 years old, [actually 41] and I went over there [to Denmark] and I beat that man, I outjabbed him and everything. That was a good fight.”
In fine fettle and looking fitter and fresher than his 62 years, Mercer still pays close attention to the boxing scene, and expresses particular admiration for fellow heavyweight Tyson Fury.
“I like Tyson Fury, man. I think that guy is a great guy,” he says. “I think he’s a great human being. He gives to the homeless, he’s a gypsy, he’s a great guy, and I think he’s going to be on top for a minute. He can box, he’s got power. I love the guy. I don’t think anybody’s going to beat him. He’s at the right time of his life to be at his peak for boxing. He can take a punch too. He’s tough. When he got up [against Deontay Wilder], I couldn’t believe it. He’s a tough dude, and he’s good.”
As for Fury’s retired countryman, he is in no doubt about who should have had his hand raised on May 10, 1996.
“I did win that fight,” he asserts, matter-of-factly. “I told Lennox Lewis, and he told me he knows I won that fight. But what are you going to do? I’ve been ripped off a couple of times. I’m pretty sure he’s been ripped off. It is what it is. It happened. The important thing is the people know who won. They come up to me and they say, ‘Hey Ray, you won that Lennox Lewis fight.’ He knows it too. I told him to send me half the check.”
“Whenever I see him, I tell him, ‘I’m still waiting.’”