Ray Mercer ended up having a great 1991, but his year sure didn’t start off too good. At least, the first eight rounds of his first fight of 1991 didn’t turn out too good for Mercer.
It was in January of ’91 when “Merciless,” a 1988 Olympic gold medal winner, challenged largely unknown Italian (largely unknown outside of his home country) Francesco Damiani for the WBO heavyweight strap.
Mercer was unbeaten at 16-0, but in a couple of his fights, the 29-year-old had looked less frightening than his nickname would suggest – his split decision win over Ossie Ocasio, for example. Mercer, though, was coming off a thrilling win over a determined Bert Cooper, the 12 round slugfest, a modern day classic.
Damiani was also unbeaten, the 32-year-old sporting a 27-0 record. Yet Damiani’s biggest wins – his WBO title win over Johnny du Plooy, along with his first defence against Daniel Eduardo Neto and an earlier revenge win over Tyrell Biggs – had taken place in Italy.
Plenty of fans in the Trump Taj Mahal knew little about Damiani. But soon enough, these fans found out how well the visiting fighter could box.
Like Mercer, Damiani had represented his country at the Olympics, this in 1984, Damiani winning a silver medal (losing to eventual gold winner Biggs).
Against Mercer, Damiani was putting on a clinic. Mercer was made to look somewhat clumsy as Damiani used his fast hands, his fine boxing brain, and his effective game-plan to pile up points. Mercer might never have grown discouraged, yet he did look it at times. Damiani was enjoying his ‘coming out party.’
For a while.
But Mercer, one helluva tough fighting man, pulled off a stunning comeback KO in the ninth round. In the gym, Mercer had been practicing his left hook/left uppercut, and against Damiani, the shot worked a treat.
Mercer uncorked his hybrid shot, and the tip of Damiani’s nose took the full force of it. The Italian went down in a heap, both gloves cupping his face.
There was blood splashed on the canvas. It turned out the punch had shattered Damiani’s nose. The pain must have been excruciating.
Mercer had turned things around, in so doing keeping himself in line for some bigger fights down the road. At the time of the nose-splintering KO Mercer was behind on all three judges’ cards.
“Merciless,” a hardened former army sergeant, showed his fellow fighters how to keep going, how to never give up.
Later that year, in his only other fight of 1991, Mercer scored an even more brutal and savage knockout – this one over an unbeaten Tommy Morrison. Mercer began the year with a bang, and he ended it with a vicious explosion.
As for Damiani, his career was sadly all but over, the Italian having just four further bouts.