ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Many boxing critics mock his World Boxing Organization heavyweight title belt, but Ray Mercer again proved he had the heart of a champion by taking Tommy Morrison's best shots for three rounds before scoring a stunning knockout at 28 seconds of the fifth round at the Convention Hall last night.
Mercer, 30, appeared in danger of being knocked out himself as the previously unbeaten Morrison scored repeatedly with his patented left hook.
The 1988 Olympic gold medalist began his comeback in the fourth and finished Morrison in the fifth with a relentless attack.
Three counter right hands were followed by a left hook that snapped Morrison's head back. Mercer followed with at least six crunching blows before referee Tony Perez through a protective arm around the sagging challenger.
This victory over Morrison was much more decisive and final than three years ago when Mercer whipped the Kansas City boxer in the Olympic Trials in Concord, Calif., by a 4-1 count.
Mercer, who was peeved that his $550,000 purse was only $50,000 more than Morrison's, raised his unblemished record to 18-0, with 13 KOs.
Morrison, now 28-1, with 24 KOs, became the latest "White Hope" to fail in his first serious ring test.
Mercer, who began his boxing career while serving in the army in Germany, compared his latest triumph to a battle of survival.
"I told you before, you go into battle and you either live or die, and I'm still alive."
Because of his advanced age, it was speculated that Mercer needed an impressive victory to keep his career moving forward. Now he has stamped himself as a serious contender for the winner of the just-postponed Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson match for Holyfield's three championship belts.
"I could have fought Holyfield and won tonight," said Mercer, now living in Union, N.J.
Promoter Bob Arum, speaking on behalf of Mercer, said, "If Dan Duva [Holyfield's promoter] and Evander say yes, we're willing to fight him Nov. 8.
"Why not?" Arum added. "We could always adjust the purses."
Holyfield's scheduled Nov. 8 fight against Tyson was postponed indefinitely last night, when it was announced that Tyson had suffered a rib injury in training.
A more realistic scenario has Mercer fighting former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who began his ring comeback last April.
Despite Morrison's furious attack in the opening rounds, Mercer never lost his composure and followed the advice of his corner men.
"We saw Morrison was getting tired in the third round," said trainer Hank Johnson, "so we told Ray to use the jab and go to the body."
On the under card, junior flyweight champion Michael Carbajal (22-0, 13 KOs) of Phoenix gained a unanimous 10-round decision against Jesus Chong (15-4, 12 KOs) of Los Angeles.
Carbajal, 24, won by comfortable margins on all three judges cards, primarily on the strength of knockdowns in the seventh and eighth rounds. Two officials favored Carbajal by 97-92; the third gave him a 97-93 vote.
In another bout, Bert Cooper of Philadelphia scored a fifth-round knockout over Joe "The Boss" Hipp, a Native American from Seattle.