On May 10 back in 1996, a heavyweight slugfest took place that reaffirmed the granite of one fighter’s chin and proved there was some real steel in the chin of the other fighter. Lennox Lewis met Ray Mercer at Madison Square Garden in New York and the bombs flew from both sides. Neither former champion fell over the course of the ten thrilling rounds.
Officially, former WBC heavyweight champ Lewis prevailed via majority decision. Yet there are plenty of fans who feel Mercer won the fight, or that it was in actuality a draw; as the third judge had it scored that night.
Lewis was two wins removed from his upset KO defeat at the hands of Oliver McCall; the 1994 loss seeing Lewis lose the WBC title and, in the opinion of plenty, the right to say he had a good chin. Mercer was having his first fight in a year, since dropping a decision to Evander Holyfield. “Merciless” had won just five bouts since losing the WBO heavyweight belt to Larry Holmes in 1992. Both Lewis and Mercer simply had to win if they were going to have any chance of ruling the world a second time.
The passion, the determination, the desperation was evident from both sides on this night almost a quarter of a century ago.
Standing right in front of one another, electing to trade, trade, trade, the two former Olympic gold medal winners banged away. There was no let-up, no willingness to yield. Just two excellent fighters, both in top condition, testing each other’s mettle to the fullest. Lewis was shocked by Mercer’s quick start. Mercer had to be stunned by the manner in which his “chinny” foe took his best, full-bloodied blows to the head and jaw without going anywhere.
The action reached fever-pitch in round four, the two men taking turns to knock lumps out of each other. Lewis tagged Mercer with an impressive combination, before the older man by four years came back and whacked Lewis with a 16-punch combo. It was great action. The war raged on, the pace remaining a fast one. By the end, both guys had swollen eyes and heaving lungs. The two warriors had given their all. But who deserved the decision?
For his part, Lewis today says Mercer gave him the toughest fight of his career. For his part, Mercer has never stopped insisting he won the fight. A rematch would have been most welcome but it didn’t happen. Instead, Lewis went on to become undisputed heavyweight king in 1999; his greatness secured. Mercer went on to pick up a good win over Tim Witherspoon but his career had peaked. Mercer was stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in 2002 and Ray never again threatened at world level.
Lewis and Mercer had totally different careers, different levels of success, yet in the night of May 10 in ’96, these two fighters were all even. The correct and fair result of their epic may well have been a draw. Five rounds each in a classic slugfest. There was no loser.