Ray Mercer and Tommy Morrison, who had met as amateurs (in 1988, Mercer winning via decision) were on a collision course. The two big punchers helped make the heavyweight division of the 1990s become a special place, with both men engaging in some epic rumbles. Before they met as pros (in October of 1991, with “Merciless” scoring THAT knockout), Mercer and Morrison fought on the same card in January of 1991 (29 years ago today).
Mercer topped the bill, challenging WBO heavyweight champ Francesco Damiani of Italy. Morrison faced faded former world title challenger James Tillis. Both men scored impressive KO’s yet Morrison never had to work anywhere close to as hard as former army sergeant Mercer was surprisingly forced to.
Mercer, unbeaten at 16-0, had awful trouble with the fast hands and the somewhat quirky style of Damiani, who was 27-0 at the time and was making the second defence of the newly minted strap. Outboxed, made to look slow, clumsy even, and falling way behind on points, Mercer was being shown up. As he said years later when recalling the fight, Mercer was never hurt by relative non-puncher Damiani – but he was being embarrassed, exposed even.
Then Mercer turned it around in literally smashing fashion. Having practiced his hybrid left hook/left uppercut punch in the gym, Mercer cracked the defending champ with the shot in the ninth. Damiani collapsed to the mat, in obvious pain, his gloves cupping his face. Initially it was tough to see what had happened exactly. It turns out, Mercer, with his one punch, had shattered Damiani’s nose. The pain must have been incredible.
“I knew when I saw him down, blood all over, that he wasn’t getting up,” Mercer said when looking back on the win that saw him crowned a pro champ. It was a classic out of the blue KO, one that saved Mercer from seemingly certain decision defeat. Next up, Mercer would earn big money by facing movie star/ White Hope Morrison. This time, again being beaten early on, this time beaten up, not merely outboxed, Mercer turned the fight around with another chilling KO. In fact, the savage volley of shots Mercer belted an out of it Morrison with as Tommy was helpless on the ropes in the fifth round sickened many. Hey, “Merciless” wasn’t given his nickname for nothing.
And it had all looked so promising for Morrison. Entering the fight with the no longer “Quick” Tillis, Tommy was perfect at 24-0 and he had been groomed for stardom. Tillis, who had been in with the likes of Mike Weaver, Earnie Shavers, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson to name a few of the big names the Fighting Cowboy had faced, was pretty much fighting from memory at 39-17-1. Morrison blasted right through Tillis like he wasn’t even there, winning inside three-minutes.
But what was Morrison learning from fights such as this, and his later quick wins over Pinklon Thomas and Ladislao Mijangos? Not enough, it turned out, for Tommy to be able to deal with the tougher, far more seasoned Mercer.
Fans love a heavyweight puncher, and with Mercer and Morrison they had two of them. But there was only one winner when they fought. Even now, all these years later, have we seen a nastier, uglier KO than the one Mercer scored over Morrison?