Former Heavyweight Champion Ray “Merciless” Mercer Speaks Out - Doghouse Interview
By Ken Hissner, Dog House Boxing (Sept 24, 2015)
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In 1988 Mercer won the Olympic heavyweight Gold Medal at the Seoul Olympics scoring stoppages in all 4 bouts including for the Gold against South Korea’s Baik Hyun-Man. In the Olympic trials he defeated a pair of future WBO heavyweight champions in Tommy Morrison and Bentt. His final record was 64-6. Kennedy McKinney and Andrew Maynard also won Gold on the USA team while Riddick Bowe lost in the finals to Lennox Lewis in settling for a Silver medal. “I was in the amateurs with Ray and I was there when he won the US National Championships in 1988 with very impressive showings all week. Then he beat Mike Bent in the Olympic Trials which at the time was a huge upset. Most probably don’t realize that now but he was a 3-time National champion and was one of the best amateurs of recent years and Ray beat him to make the Olympic team,” said The Iceman John Scully.
Mercer would turn professional in February of 1989. He won his first 10 bouts by knockout before winning decisions over Jerry Jones, 7-1, and former WBA cruiserweight champion Ossie Ocasio, 22-6-1. In his next fight he stopped his now and still good friend Wesley Watson, 15-2, out of Wilmington, DE, whom he served with in the Army having lost in their only fight as amateurs.
In August of 1990 in a WAR over 12 rounds Mercer won the NABF title defeating “Smokin” Bert Cooper, 22-5, having Cooper on the canvas in the first round. This win earned him the WBO title fight.
In January of 1991 Mercer defeated Italy’s Olympian Francesco Damiani, 27-0, who was the first WBO champion taking his WBO heavyweight title with a vicious uppercut that broke the nose of the champion in 9 rounds at the Trump Tai Maj Mahal, in Atlantic City. In a rematch from the Olympic trials in his first defense he stopped Tommy Morrison, 28-0, in 5 rounds at the Convention Center in Atlantic City.
At this point in his career Mercer was 18-0 with 14 knockouts. It was decided to vacate the title in order to fight former world champion Larry “Easton Assassin” Holmes, 53-3, in February of 1992. Mercer lost a 12 round decision to Holmes which was considered a minor upset. Holmes was on a 5 fight win streak since losing to Mike Tyson. He would get a shot at Evander Holyfield’s 3 titles. The referee of the fight with Holmes was recent inducted IBHOF member Steve “Double SS” Smoger who had this to say about Mercer, “I had the pleasure of working several of Ray’s bouts. He was an excellent tough fighter who fought within the rules. He never caused a problem and never complained. I spent quality time with Ray at several fight venues in Europe. Great guy in and out of the ring.”
Mercer came back with a pair of knockouts over Mike Dixon, 11-6 and Jerry Halstead, 78-9-1. In February of 1993 Mercer was promised a shot at Riddick Bowe if he defeated Jesse “Thunder” Ferguson, 20-10, at Madison Square Garden. He lost for the second time via decision. He won a pair of fights before getting a rematch with Ferguson in November winning a split decision over 10 rounds in Atlantic City. In his next fight he was held to a draw by Marion “Jackhammer” Wilson, 7-9-2. Wilson finished his career with 57 fights and was never stopped.
Next up would be against former champion Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, 30-2, who was coming off losing his title to Michael Moorer. Mercer would lose a decision to Holyfield and spend the next year inactive. He came back with a tough task he fighting Olympic Gold medalist Lennox Lewis, 28-1, and former WBC champion losing by majority decision He would only fight one more time in 1996 defeating former WBA and WBC champion “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 45-4, stopping the latter’s 8 fight win streak.
Mercer would win 6 fights all by knockout after the Witherspoon fight including Don “The Man of Steel” Steele, 44-2, who had 44 knockouts on his record. This earned him a WBO title bout with Wladimir “Dr. Steelhammer”, who is still holding 3 titles some 7 years later. It would be over a year before Mercer would fight again coming back with 3 knockouts including Steve Pannell, 33-7, followed by a decision over Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson, 27-7-2.
This lead Mercer to a fight with future WBO champion Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs, 42-4-1, in August of 2005, losing by stoppage in 7 rounds, in Hollywood, FL. Briggs is still fighting today at age 43 and still a contender. It would be just over 2 years when Mercer decided to give it one more try stopping Mikzael Lindblad, 24-5, in the first round in Sweden. In January of 2008 Mercer traveled to Macao, China, fighting for 3 nominal titles losing to Derric “The Shaolin Fist” Rossy, 17-1, over 12 rounds. In September of 2008 Mercer would fight his last fight defeating Richel “The Dutch Sonny Liston” Hersisia, 30-2, by majority decision in Sweden. His final record was 36-7-1 with 26 knockouts.
On January 19, 2002 Mercer was scheduled to fight Mike Tyson who pulled out in order to fight Lennox Lewis. “Too bad he couldn’t have met Tyson when both were in their primes. He wouldn’t have been scared,” said Jeff Jowett (writer for Seconds Out).
Mercer tried K-1 kick boxing and lost both matches in 2004 and 2005. In 2009 he had his first and only MMA bout and defeated former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia.
“I spent a good period of time with Ray in the 90’s when I was with DKP. He fought for us a number of times and I always liked him. He was very personable and fought them all,” said Bobby Goodman (Matchmaker for MSG) Former IBF cruiserweight champion Al “Ice” Cole: I first met Ray in 1988 at an All Army training camp. He had been boxing in Germany and knew no one and barely made the team. He took two standing counts in the championship fight but dished out three of his own. Ray knocked out almost all of his opponents. He was a great athlete as an amateur out running the 106 pound boxers in a race.
Former Army teammate and professional opponent Wesley Watson: I met Ray around 1984 at the All Army Camp in Ft. Bragg, NC. We hit it off real good. He realized when he came to the US from Germany just how big boxing in the military was. We sparred a lot in the Army. We never fought due to me being a super heavyweight. He was the best. He was something and pleasing to be around. If he didn’t know something he would ask. We always had a good relationship. I was visiting in Durham, NC, recently and couldn’t reach him. When he got me he said “you mean you are in NC and not visiting me. I took that 2 ½ hour drive to see him and his wife. They have a real nice house near Ft. Bragg.
Mercer agreed to sit down and answer some questions about his overall career boxing in the Army including in Germany and the Olympics along with his professional career.
KEN HISSNER: I understand you are living in North Carolina near Ft. Bragg. Is that right?
RAY MERCER: Yes
KEN HISSNER: You talked about serving with the Army and fighting over in Germany. What was that experience like?
RAY MERCER: I was 23 when I started boxing in the Army after being in there for 2 years.
KEN HISSNER: You didn’t turn pro until age 27. How long did you serve in the Army and who were some of your teammates and trainer?
RAY MERCER: 9 1/2
KEN HISSNER: In turning professional who did you sign up with as manager and promoter?
RAY MERCER: Marc Roberts was manager, Top Rank, Hank Johnson.
KEN HISSNER: You won your first 12 fights and met your good friend and mine Wesley Watson.
RAY MERCER: I didn’t want to fight him. My trainers said fight him and knock him out quick.
KEN HISSNER: In your sixteenth fight you fought one of the biggest wars against “Smokin” Bert Cooper. A win would get you a shot at WBO champion Francesco Damiani of Italy. Tell us about the fight with Cooper who you had down in the first round.
RAY MERCER: Bert Cooper was top sparring partners for a long time and we knew everything about each other.
KEN HISSNER: Though it was back in January of 1991 I can still remember you delivering that knockout blow to win the WBO title over Damiani in breaking his nose with a vicious uppercut. Describe that fight if you will.
RAY MERCER: I was losing the fight and hit him with that uppercut.
KEN HISSNER: It would be 9 months before defending your title and again in a rematch from the Olympic trials against Tommy “The Duke” Morrison in your first and only WBO title defense. It’s still being shown on highlight films. Tell us about your opponent and how the fight ended.
RAY MERCER: Tommy Morrison came out strong and said make him go 5 rounds and he will be out of gas. He started leaning on me so I knew he was tired so I opened up.
KEN HISSNER: It was decided to relinquish your WBO belt shortly after the Morrison fight. Whose decision was that and for what purpose was it that put you in with former champion Larry Holmes next?
RAY MERCER: I didn’t realize I would lose the belt by not fighting Moorer who was a southpaw and I knew he would take away my jab.
KEN HISSNER: Were you surprised Holmes still had something left after 56 fights (53-3)?
RAY MERCER: I was shocked how I gave the fight to him. I got siked out with him.
KEN HISSNER: In your first of two fights with Jesse Ferguson you were promised a shot at Riddick Bowe your Olympic teammate. Was that an incentive or a lot of pressure put on you in losing to Ferguson?
RAY MERCER: I should have trained harder and a former sparring partner.
KEN HISSNER: After losing to Ferguson you defeat him 9 months later. What were the differences in these two fights?
RAY MERCER: I was in much better shape and not doing any talking.
KEN HISSNER: On a card televised in July of 1994 Morrison and you in separate fights end up in draws. You fought someone that I interviewed last year due to his concrete jaw never being stopped in some 57 fights named Marion Wilson. On that card was a friend of mine named “Big” Joe Thomas who lost for the first time in 23 fights. How good of a punch did Wilson take as if I don’t know but in his 57 fights he fought Frans Botha, Tyrell Biggs, Andrew Golota, James Thunder, David Izon, Ike Ibeabuchi, Carl Williams, Greg Page, Oleg Maskaev, Larry Donald, Hasim Rahman, Tony Thompson, Samuel Peter, Oliver McCall and Tim Witherspoon and was never stopped.
RAY MERCER: He could take a punch.
KEN HISSNER: You were off for 10 months and came back to fight Evander Holyfield losing by decision. He had lost his titles to Michael Moorer in his previous fights. How good was Holyfield?
RAY MERCER: He fights to the level of the competition until I took a knee in the seventh round from a punch I didn’t see coming. I started backing up and still thought I won the fight.
KEN HISSNER: You are off for a year and come back against Lennox Lewis who defeated Bowe in the 1988 Olympics. You lose a majority decision. Tell us about that fight and why such a tough opponent and being off a year?
RAY MERCER: I always thought I could beat Lennox from the Olympics. I think I won the fight.
KEN HISSNER: By the end of 1996 you have one more fight in defeating Tim Witherspoon. I consider him a friend today and it was a needed win not having won in your last 3 fights. How good was that feeling getting the win over the former champ?
RAY MERCER: It felt good and I thought the fight was closer than they had given me a gift for the Lewis loss.
KEN HISSNER: On St. Patricks Day in 2001 you fight Don Steele whom we know had 44 knockouts in his 44 wins against only 2 losses. We know he fought a lot of mediocre opponents being from Alabama and you fight him in Mississippi. Tell us about that fight which was televisied.
RAY MERCER: First fight I won with one jab and hardly ever got hit. It was one of my easier fights.
KEN HISSNER: You have won 7 straight fights and are matched with WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2002 who is champion today some 13 years later. You are 41 years of age. How would you have liked to be 10 years younger for that one and tell us about fighting him.
RAY MERCER: I ran to get in shape but didn’t recognize how big he was when I met him. I hadn’t thought he was as good as he turned out to be. I was lifting weights, fishing after running.
KEN HISSNER: You win 4 straight and are matched with Shannon Briggs in 2005 and today at 43 is still fighting and wants to fight Wladimir. It had been 8 years since his controversial win ending George Foreman’s career. It was only the second time you were stopped besides Klitschko. Tell us about that fight.
RAY MERCER: I was trying to get not hit with a right hand like I was in sparring. He hit hard and hit me in the eye and detached my retina. I threw a right hand and thru the ropes. He hit me in the back of the head. I thought I would win by DQ and was afraid of my eye injury.
KEN HISSNER: It would be over 2 years since you fought and I bet it was our good friend Don Elbaum who called you and said “I have a fight for you in Sweden and since they only allow 6 round fights it should be an easy one for you or something like that. The fight against the Swede Linblad took 1:50 when you knocked him out. Was the trip worth it?
RAY MERCER: Of course. I love Elbaum.
KEN HISSNER: You next travel to China losing over 12 rounds to Derric Rossy in 2008. He’s headlining in a week in Vegas. You lose by decision. Would you figure it was your last fight or did Elbaum still have your phone number?
RAY MERCER: He just ran and was in good shape.
KEN HISSNER: Elbaum offers you to come back for a fight in Sweden in September of 2008 which would be your career ending fight against “The Dutch Sonny Liston” Richel Hersisia who was 30-2. Was your opponent anything like his nick name and tell us how your final fight turned out.
RAY MERCER: He was trying to bomb me and I was in pretty good shape. He was tough. I just jabbed him and outworked him.
KEN HISSNER: You were just down in FL with numerous former world heavyweight champions. Who ran and funded it?
RAY MERCER: I don’t know. Maybe the Indian tribe.
KEN HISSNER: You’ve fought and seen a lot of good fighters over the years since retiring some 7 years ago. Are you surprised Wladimir is still champion and what chance does American Olympian and WBC champion Wilder have against him if they fought today?
RAY MERCER: I don’t think Wilder’s people want this fight. I can’t see him beating Klitschko.
KEN HISSNER: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer so many questions. You always gave us fans our monies worth. I was just told by the librarian I have talked too long and have to get off the phone. Thanks for all the answers you gave me.
RAY MERCER: Wow! OK.
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com
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