Ex-Olympian Mercer thinks little title could go long way

Phil Jackan

January 03, 1991|By Phil Jackman

News from the Cauliflower Patch:

RAY MERCER has a big fight coming up in eight days, looking to take the WBO heavyweight title away from Francesco Damiani in Atlantic City. The former Olympic gold medalist says, "I don't concern myself with what's going on in the division; I'm just thinking about this fight."

That soon out of the way, however, Mercer predicts, "This fight is going to set things off. Once I have the WBO title, it will quicken things for me."

He could be right, but it's not likely. It depends upon how you define quick. First, there's Evander Holyfield and George Foreman in April after Mike Tyson has taken on Razor Ruddock. Then there's the match between the winners in the fall and, suddenly, another year has passed.

Already 28 years old, although a pro for just two years, Mercer says, "I'll be patient because I know I've got a lot to learn."

Besides, a very interesting round-robin tournament appears **TC possibility among several promising young heavies as they position themselves for a shot at the big dough and the title.

Underneath the Damiani-Mercer bout is Tommy Morrison, of "Rocky V" fame, being tested by James "Quick" Tillis. Also, Bruce Seldon takes on Jose Ribalta. OK, Tillis and Ribalta were pretty well spent a couple of years ago, but they can still provide some good experience for up-and-coming types.

Right now, Mercer is probably the most saleable so-called hope. He's No. 10 in the rankings and a victory over Damiani would probably see him move up to No. 7 or so. With typical fighter bravado, he anticipates no problem with the Italian:

"Damiani doesn't hit hard. He's always in tremendous shape, but he's perfect for me in that he doesn't move that well. That's my kind of guy. I don't like to chase people."

Damiani, who lost the super-heavyweight gold medal at the 1984 Olympics to Tyrell Biggs on a questionable decision, has won 27 as a pro, 23 by KO. That's a terrific slugging percentage for a guy who "doesn't hit hard."

"To me, 23 knockouts in 27 fights doesn't mean that much," said Mercer, perhaps whistling his way past the cemetery. "I look at the guys he's beaten and I never heard of any of them."

Damiani might peruse Mercer's 16-0 slate and say the same thing.

The show is a pay-per-view venture and, whether it proves a night of excitement or not, it is a forerunner of what we can expect from the heavyweight division down the road. As ring historian Bert Sugar put it, "For the first time we are talking about the future of the division instead of the past."

Bill Cayton, Tyson's manager in contract and paycheck only, reminds, "These are the fighters of the '90s. Within two years one of them will be fighting for the title." For better or for worse.

* FUTURE PROMISE: Andrew Maynard, who heads promoter Stu Satosky's Painters Mill card Jan. 24, is promising to put on a pleasing show against experienced Robert Curry (23-13) of West Virginia.

Recall, the former Olympic champion from Laurel breezed past his first dozen opponents in the pros before the veteran Bobby Czyz taught him a lesson over seven rounds last summer. Part of the problem then and in a subsequent victory is Maynard is in the process of changing his style.

As an amateur, he simply flailed his arms for three rounds looking to deliver at least a hundred punches per three minutes of action. It worked beautifully then, but not in the pros. Andrew says learning defense is tougher than he thought, but it's coming.

Other fighters on the card include Les Johnson, Cecil Sims, Gary Walker, Pony Matador and a lad with one of the great names in boxing history, Ken Whack.

* EASY COME, EASY GO: During Tyson's latest trip to court -- this one on a charge of fondling a woman in a Big Apple disco two years ago -- a financial statement set Mike's worth at $15 million. His purses over the years have exceeded $100 million, including the $2 million Don King still owes him for the Buster Douglas shocker in Tokyo last February.

* RISK FREE: One of the truly great stories in boxing is how Foreman, mostly through the strength of his personality, has gone from $10,000 purses to $1 million paydays to a shot at Holyfield's heavyweight title April 19 at virtually no risk of losing over the last four years. Big George is Elmer Gantry incarnate.

* NAME BOUTS: Jan. 11: Ray Mercer vs. Francesco Damiani, Tommy Morrison vs. Quick Tillis, Bruce Seldon vs. Jose Ribalta (PPV). Jan. 19: Aaron Davis vs. Meldrick Taylor. Feb. 9: Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Terry Norris. March 18: Mike Tyson vs. Razor Ruddock. April 19: Evander Holyfield vs. George Foreman.

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