Ray Mercer was born on April 4, 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida. He joined the Army and learned to box there, compiling a record of 64-4 while winning the 1988 US Amateur Heavyweight Championship and a Gold at the Seoul Olympics.
When he turned pro in February 1989, Mercer was already almost 25 years old. It’s a few years later than the normal age for starting a pro boxing career, so he worked hard and kept busy to make up for lost time. By the end of 1989, he was in the ring with his first fringe contender. 33 year old, 26-6-1 Puerto Rican Ossie Ocassio had seen better days. In the late 1970s he had been a small heavyweight contender, turned cruiserweight, and then back to heavyweight. For Mercer he weighed in at a flabby 226lbs. But he was an experienced veteran, and that made him a dangerous opponent for a man who had only been a pro for 10 months and had an 11-0 record. Mercer eked out a Split Decision win.
In August 1990, Mercer stepped up his opposition when he met the trialhorse and puncher “Smokin'” Bert Cooper. By now Mercer had improved his game markedly, and he decisively out-pointed Cooper. In January 1991 he fought undefeated Francesco Daimani, and with an uppercut in the 9th, Mercer smashed his nose so badly that Daimani could not continue. In that fight, he won the then-lightly regarded WBO Heavyweight Title.
Mercer stood 6’1″ with a 77″ reach, and a fit, prime Mercer typically weighed 225lbs. He was a strong man and a solid puncher, packing a wallop with both hands, and he came with the boxing skills one would expect from a former US and Olympic champion. However, what people most remember about Mercer is the way he could take a punch. Every so often, a heavyweight comes along with an anvil-like jaw. He can take the biggest shots from the biggest punchers in the biggest division squarely, and not be fazed. “Merciless” Ray Mercer was that kind of guy.
Flummoxed at the Top
17-0 with 11 knockouts, Mercer was now matched against Tommy “the Duke” Morrison in October 1991. Morrison was a big, strong heavyweight who packed a mean left hook, and was widely thought to be the new “Great White Hope.” He was 28-0 with 23 knockouts. Morrison was handily outboxing Mercer going into the 5th Round when Mercer caught him, hurt him, and beat him down with a barrage of a dozen and a half unanswered bombs. The referee stopped the fight, and Mercer was suddenly a recognized world contender.
Mercer relinquished the WBO title to fight a 1992 elimination bout with a comebacking Larry Holmes. The winner would receive a shot at Undisputed World Champion Evander Holyfield. The old “Easton Assassin” took Mercer to school, controlling him with his jab and scoring with aggressive, short and sharp combinations. Holmes handed Mercer his first loss, and took away his shot at Holyfield.
Getting back to work, Mercer had soon earned another shot at the world heavyweight champion, who was now Riddick Bowe. This time it was an elimination bout with journeyman Jessie “The Boogeyman” Fergusson, and with such sub par opposition, Mercer didn’t bother to train. Allegedly, he offered Fergusson $100,000 to take a dive, but Fergusson didn’t and outboxed Mercer. Fergusson got the fight with Riddick Bowe.
Trying to stay in the game, Mercer avenged his loss to Fergusson in 1993, and was then offered a fight with Evander Holyfield in 1995. There was no title at stake, but it was nonetheless the biggest bout to date of Mercer’s career, being broadcast on Pay Per View. It was a classic bout between two of the best heavyweights of the 1990s, with Mercer showing up at a trim and ready 224lbs. He cut Holyfield over the right eye in the 7th, but Holyfield achieved the nearly impossible by dropping Mercer to the canvas in the 8th with a left hook to the body. It was the first time Mercer had ever been down. Holyfield carried a Unanimous Decision victory, but on one of the scorecards, Mercer had been down by only one point. It showed how dangerous “Merciless” Ray Mercer could be when he was motivated.
The result of that exciting fight was that the next year, Mercer found himself matched against 28-1 former champion Lennox Lewis on HBO’s World Championship Boxing. In another absolute barn burner, Mercer absorbed the best right hands of the biggest right hand bomber in the division, and came back with bombs of his own. The result was a close Majority Decision for Lewis, with scores of 96-94, 95-96, and 95-95. If Mercer had won just one more round, he would have pulled out a Draw. He had given Lennox Lewis the hardest fight of his career, and the words “rematch” were on everyone’s lips. He closed out the year by winning a decision in a very close fight against Tim Witherspoon.
Break from Boxing
Mercer was forced to take 1997 off in order to recover from contracting Hepatitis B. It was also rumored at the time that Mercer had undergone neck surgery. He got busy again in 1998, but by now Lennox Lewis was the champion, and he had zero interest in giving a rematch to Ray Mercer. He was not offered another big fight until June 2002, and by then he was 38 years old and clearly past his best. Although he was in good shape at 228lbs, Wladimir Klitschko stopped him in the 6th Round. Ray Mercer’s days as an immovable object were clearly over.
Yet Mercer struggled on. A 2005 win over journeyman Darrol “Doin’ Damage” Wilson got him a fight with fringe contender Shannon Briggs. Briggs knocked Mercer out cold with a trio of right hooks to the head in the 7th.
Looking to jump start his flagging career, Mercer tried an ill-starred move into kickboxing in 2004. After being knocked out by Briggs, he spent more time in kickboxing, until he (Mercer’s words) “got the shit kicked out of [him].” He returned to boxing, but unable to attract much attention, Mercer went into Mixed Martial Arts in 2007, and was defeated easily by Kimbo Slice. Mercer’s experiences in kickboxing and MMA were humiliating, as rival sports attempted to use the formidable past of a now washed-up heavyweight to make a claim they were a better sport than boxing.
“Merciless” Ray Mercer is still boxing, with his last bout being a win in Sweden in September 2008.
Sources: boxrec.com; live fight footage; FOX SportsNet, The Ring