ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Heavyweight Tommy "The Duke" Morrison, an aspiring actor who starred in "Rocky V," forgot the script Friday night.
Morrison was knocked off his horse by Ol' Sarge Ray Mercer, who retained his World Boxing Organization heavyweight title with a sensational knockout at 1 minute, 1 second of the fifth round.
Mercer emerged from this slugfest as a legitimate challenger to the winner of the just-postponed Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson fight for Holyfield's IBF, WBA and WBC titles. A rib injury to Tyson has caused the delay of the scheduled Nov. 8 match in Las Vegas.
"I'll fight Holyfield tomorrow if I have to," Mercer said.
More likely is a late fall date with former heavyweight king Larry Holmes, who has been anything but impressive in winning three bouts since mounting a ring comeback last April.
But Mercer seemed willing to take on all challengers after proving to the critics that he could not only withstand a solid chop on the whiskers, but also can punch like a classic heavyweight.
"I'm glad I finished Morrison like I did, so people knew he was really out," he said. "I know I could knock Holyfield out as well."
The 1988 Olympic gold medalist who learned to box while serving with the army in Germany, likens his fights to combat.
"You go into battle and either live or die," Mercer said, "and I'm still alive."
But there were some scary moments for the champion. Mercer lost all the skirmishes with Morrison in the first three rounds, when the Kansas City fighter repeatedly landed his booming left hook.
But by the fourth round, the previously unbeaten Morrison, who had never gone more than eight rounds, was clearly tiring.
Mercer, 30, began the fifth round by trapping Morrison in a corner and unleashing a non-stop barrage that left the young heavyweight stretched helplessly over the ropes. If anything, referee Tony Perez waited too long to stop it.
Perez, who has refereed 75 championship bouts, was not only slow in reacting, but failed to hold Mercer back when it was evident to the Convention Hall crowd of 8,000 that Morrison had lost consciousness.
"Morrison was out after the first couple of shots, and my heart was beating," said New Jersey athletic commissioner Larry Hazzard, a former referee. "But the punches were coming with machine-gun speed, so I can't fault Perez.
"Mercer knew Morrison was finished, but he kept throwing punches," said Hazzard. "He knew it was his big chance to win, and he had to be aware he was behind in the fight. But, damn, I didn't know Mercer could throw shots like that."
It was a thought echoed by Morrison's shocked handlers.
"Mercer is bigger, tougher and a harder hitter than we thought," said Morrison's advisor, Bill Cayton, the estranged manager of Tyson.
"Tommy took an awful lot of solid shots in the fifth," said trainer Tommy Virgets. "I wish the referee had been in a position to stop it two or three punches earlier."