Pat's Reporter Blog

Sports season winding down

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
Patrick Newell

The 2014-2015 scholastic sports season is about ready to close shop with hopes starting anew in late August. Some noteworthy athletes and teams to keep an eye on the next couple of weeks are the Norwich participants in the Section IV tennis state qualifier this weekend, and later, the upcoming Section IV Track and Field state qualifier.
Norwich seniors Zan and Colin Stewart look to punch their ticket – again – to the New York State tennis championships in New York City at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The Stewarts are defending Section IV champions, and actually made some inroads at the state tournament a year ago winning a couple of matches.
For those with an affinity for boys and girls running fast, jumping far, and heaving a weighted instrument great distances, league championships are this week, the Section IV state qualifier is in two weeks, and the state championships are June 12-13 at the University of Albany.

I was moved by an obituary that appeared in our Friday, May 15 edition. Kenneth Earl Holt recently passed away, the obituary said. There was no specific information on the date of death, Ken’s age or the names of his surviving family members. The few short paragraphs used to sum up the man’s life were obviously far too few to document a life well lived. Ken was one of my accounting teachers at SUNY Morrisville, and I found him a pleasant man. He was someone who actually “lived it” rather than simply working in academia all of his adult life with no actual hands-on business experience. After an amazing list of lifelong accomplishments, the writer of the obituary closed with the words, “Through it all, (Ken) remained true to himself. We can all aim to live such a life.” Well said.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook: April 3, 2015

Friday, April 3rd, 2015
Patrick Newell

We don’t have a full accounting of his career record – and all of the wrestlers he has guided to Section IV and New York State titles – but we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize Tim Jenks, Greene’s longtime wrestling coach.
Our coverage of Greene wrestling was primarily in big tournaments, and that’s where Jenks’ charges flourished. Jenks announced his retirement before the start of the 2014-2015 wrestling season, and he leaves with more wins than any local wrestling coach. Although we do not have his career victory total, Jenks passed 300 career dual meet wins a few years ago, and his list of championship-level wrestlers is voluminous. Over the past five years, Jenks guided Christian Dietrich (2014), Kyle Stanton (2012), and Nick Wilcox, Tyler Beckwith (2010) to Division II state titles.
I may have spoke to Jenks perhaps two or three times a wrestling season, but he was always good for an entertaining quote. Good luck to Jenks in retirement, although I can’t see him too far removed from the wrestling mat.

Thursday, April 2 we published the first of what we hope will become a long-standing and yearly edition: The Best of Chenango County Winter Sports. It’s a departure from our usual inserts in that it was almost exclusively a pictorial edition with bullet points of each respective team and athlete. Why was it photo-based? More on that in a moment. On a season-by-season basis, we typically publish dedication/congratulations/good luck pages for teams that achieved at a high level. Last winter, for instance, the Norwich varsity boys’ basketball team was recognized for its third straight Section IV championship. About four weeks ago, there was a staff discussion about which particular teams and athletes had outstanding seasons. We concluded that there were too many who excelled and one dedication page was not enough, so we decided to expand on the theme. Initially, the thought was a 10- or 12-page edition, but advertising support was tremendous, so what you saw in yesterday’s print edition was a 20-pager. About that all-picture concept: We covered all of these teams and athletes in great detail throughout the winter sports season, so the picture concept was designed to create an ultimate scrapbook keepsake. Where else will you find half-page photos of teams and athletes? And in color? Aside from our yearly Progress Chenango editions, this is the most color we have published in any insert with 16 of the 20 pages in full color. The new written copy we did add to the feature was updated quotes from many of the individual athletes who were able to speak in a non-competitive setting and elucidate on their sport.


Before I left for vacation last month (mid-March), I looked at the spring high school sports schedules and noticed that several teams were scheduled to play in late March/early April. I can’t remember if I smiled or laughed out loud, but with about two feet of snow still on the ground, I wondered yet again why the schedulers stubbornly paired teams in late March. Maybe once every four years is a game played in late March, and in those cases, the teams scheduled in those games were fortunate to have actually practiced outside in preparation for opening day. Inevitably, a boatload of games are rescheduled to later dates when, presumably, the weather is less inclement. Last weekend I received an email from the Unadilla Valley coach, who had games scheduled the ensuing week. The coach wrote: “As you might suspect, all events for baseball for UV this coming week have been cancelled.” This coach knew there was no hope any games would be played. Over the past three days, we’ve seen quite a bit of snow melt away, however, the bare spots remain muddy and soft. Major League Baseball’s opening day isn’t until April 6, and that’s the top level of sports. Stands to reason the six-week regular season of baseball/softball should follow suit and not schedule games until the second week of April, thereby reducing some cancellations and postponements. That probably makes too much sense.

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Greene field hockey coach built on a great legacy

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
Patrick Newell

A couple of weeks ago we acknowledged the impending retirements of a pair of winter-season coaches. It took a while, but word on the grapevine finally traveled up Route 12 to these ears – from Greene.
The parent of an outgoing senior field hockey player on the Trojans confirmed that longtime head coach, Sue Carlin, is retiring from teaching at the end of the school year. Does that mean she’s retiring from coaching? Appears so.
Carlin was an outstanding high school player for Hall of Fame coach Nancy Bromley during the formative years of the program. About a quarter century after graduating from her alma mater, Carlin took over a program that was already a well-oiled machine.
During Carlin’s tenure, Greene doubled its field hockey state titles winning three times – the first in 2002 when assistant coach – and likely successor – Christine McCabe was a freshman.
The first game of the 2013 season, Carlin reached a victory milestone – 400 wins – and according to our records, finishes her distinguished coaching career with 418 wins. That includes double-digit Section IV titles, and five overall state titles – two at Maine-Endwell prior to moving back to Greene.
“I’ve just had some great kids, great families, and great assistant coaches over the years,” Carlin said in 2013 after her 400th career victory.
Humble in victory, gracious in defeat, and always giving full credit to her charges, Carlin was a steady influence on the sideline stressing poise and precision under fire. And her kids always performed with class on the field, a reflection of Carlin’s own character.
When I visit Greene for preseason photos and interviews this coming August, it just won’t be the same without Sue Carlin. Best wishes in retirement, Sue, and it was my pleasure to witness how you built on Greene’s long tradition of success.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook: March 6, 2015

Friday, March 6th, 2015
Patrick Newell

We didn’t do any advance promotion, and truthfully, the run dates of our Norwich Sports Hall of Fame inductee articles crept up on me. Today, we publish the first of six articles highlighting the accomplishments of the 2015 class.
First up is 1946 Norwich graduate Don McGraw, written by Norwich graduate and retired NHS teacher, Don Chirlin. Like many young kids of his era, star athletes on the varsity teams were idolized and revered. McGraw was one of the best all-around athletes of the 1940s following closely in the footsteps of previous NHSSHOF inductee, Charles “Doc” Ulrichs.
As revealed in the article, McGraw was a close relative of legendary New York Giants baseball manager, John McGraw. It’s of little surprise that Don McGraw not only starred on the football field and basketball court, but particularly shined on the baseball diamond. An unfortunate injury – likely from his football playing days – cut McGraw’s likely pro baseball career short.


Earlier this week we printed a press release revealing the Section IV Athletics Hall of Fame selections with ties to Chenango County. Gaining induction Saturday will be Jeff Parker (Norwich), Craig Reynolds (Oxford), and Bob Conway (girls’ basketball coach).
Reynolds graduated well before my days here at the paper, in fact, I was a freshman in high school when he completed his playing days. I covered Parker his final two years of high school, and his status in the football program as the school’s all-time leading rusher cemented his credentials in my mind. With Conway, I have worked with him every season of my career, and I see no end in sight.
Conway, 58, is in his 33rd year as a varsity basketball coach, and his accomplishments continue to pile up. He took over a Mt. Upton program, one with no success to speak of – and one of the smallest enrollments in all of Section IV – and took it to the state championship game in his fifth season. When Mt. Upton merged with Gilbertsville, Conway moved on to Bainbridge-Guilford – another girls’ basketball program with no established history of success in the Susquenango Association.
In 22 years at the small Class C school, Conway has had just one losing season, won nine division titles, five league titles, one Section IV title, and multiple Section IV finals appearances. By no means is Bainbridge-Guilford a factory of high-level athletes that affords Conway premium talent to maintain the program’s success. Conway is adept at defining roles for players on his roster, while also loosening the reins for his marquis players.
In 33 years patrolling the sidelines, no area coach in any sport has won more games than Bob Conway. After Thursday night’s victory over Newfield, Conway has 485 career victories. Saturday afternoon at the Floyd L. Maines Memorial Arena will be a big day for Conway: His Bobcats will play for a sectional championship, then he’ll enter Section IV’s Hall of Fame along with the other inductees. Knowing Bob as a I do, his focus will be squarely on his team’s performance. But it would be a weekend to remember if Conway’s team can piggy-back a sectional title on top of the coach’s well-deserved individual honor.

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Two area coaches retiring

Friday, February 27th, 2015
Patrick Newell

RETIREMENTS

I remember my first interaction with Paul DuVall. It was around 1996 or 1997 and DuVall was running the Unadilla Valley peewee wrestling program. He submitted a photo and caption information for publication in our sister paper, The Gazette. A few days after publishing the story, Paul gave me a call. He wasn’t happy with the “creative license” I took with the write-up. After a short conversation, I think I appeased Paul, and encouraged him to keep submitting information about his young wrestlers.
Perhaps it was the following year, Paul took over as head coach of the UV wrestling program. At the time, there were just a few kids on the team, and Jeremy Wetherbee was the lone standout. Wetherbee would advance to the sectional finals multiple times under DuVall’s tutelage. Although Wetherbee did not win a section title, he was the foundation of a wrestling program that grew and improved year after year. I took an inventory each season at the sectional wrestling tournament: Every year, Unadilla Valley had an increasing number of sectional tournament qualifiers, and the program reached its peak when Trevor Franklin won a state title. DuVall resurrected the Unadilla Valley wrestling program that remains solid to this day. A few years after Franklin’s state title, DuVall and his family moved into the Sherburne-Earlville school district – his alma mater – and soon, DuVall was assisting on the coaching staff under head coach Bim Palmer. Palmer has been an old friend of DuVall’s since the two wrestled together for S-E in the pee wee ranks. Palmer said earlier this week that DuVall would be retiring from coaching at the completion of his son’s high school wrestling career. I tip my cap to a dedicated man who has coached dozens and dozens of kids for nearly two decades, and has done it most of the time on a volunteer basis. Palmer said he’s keeping DuVall’s locker in the coaches’ room at the ready. You know, just in case DuVall gets the bug to coach again.

If ever there was a person who has defied time, it’s Bainbridge-Guilford’s Tim Mattingly. He’s one of those ageless wonders now in his mid-50s, and he looks almost exactly the same as when I met him 20 years ago. Mattingly, who has taught and coached at his alma mater for well over 30 years, will retire at the end of the school year.
I came to know Tim my first year on the job as the right-hand man to B-G girls varsity basketball coach Bob Conway. Conway has coached the Bobcats for 22 years, and Mattingly has been his junior varsity and assistant varsity coach every step of the way. Mattingly was also a junior varsity football coach, assistant varsity coach, and the past nine years, the varsity football coach at B-G. In recent years, Mattingly has led the varsity baseball program, and this spring will be his last as a varsity coach.
Tim has been friendly and accommodating from the day I met him, and I was happy to cover the athletic accomplishments of his two daughters Courtney and Ashley – the former perhaps the best local girls’ basketball player I have ever covered. Conway will certainly miss Mattingly’s presence on the bench. “He’s really been a co-coach,” Conway said. “We have the same mentality for the game and our expectations for the kids are the same.
“He’s just a great person, great with kids, and academically, he does a good job of teaching. He’s leaving a big hole to fill.”
Best wishes to Mattingly in retirement.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Feb. 19, 2015

Thursday, February 19th, 2015
Patrick Newell

As much as I would like, I can’t fit every good comment from a coach into a game story. Some coaches waver a little off topic or linger on individual play – or players – that digress too far from a game story. I often hoard these words of wisdom as potential blog material, and I’ve dubbed this fodder “quotable leftovers.”
Following Norwich’s thrilling 44-43 win over Horseheads Wednesday night, head coach Tom Collier, understandably, had a lot to say. (Actually, he always has a lot to say.)
It’s enjoyable to hear Tom regal the play of each guy who contributed to a win, and no player’s contribution is overlooked. Tom preaches a team approach to offense and defense, and in his four years as head coach, no player on his team has averaged better than 14.2 points a game. This season, the state-ranked Tornado do not have a player averaging more than 12 points a game.
Yet, Norwich has consistently remained one of the area’s highest scoring teams. Wednesday night, Collier devoted a lot of time to the efforts of sophomore Tre Bonham and senior Chris Trevisani. If you watched the second half, you saw Bonham bury the game-winning points; however, Trevisani didn’t budge from his seat on the bench except to cheer his teammates on or stand for a timeout.
In the first half, Trevisani did see a few key minutes, this after taking a DNP (did not play) in last Thursday’s loss to Oneonta.
Trevisani was summoned by the Tornado staff in the second quarter when the offense was languishing. Trevisani is a deadly outside shooter, and he ignited the crowd in his two- or three-minute stint. He had an open three that was just off the mark, but on his second shot attempt in he right corner, he swished a jump shot that gave Norwich late first-half momentum.
“The reality is that everyone wants to be a hero, but Chris is a role player for us, and he played that to perfection,” Collier said. “That was a big shot for us because it energized our bench. Chris’ number was called, and he delivered for us. He’s a great team player who is beloved by his teammates. Chris epitomizes what we are as a team.”
As for Bonham, the grind of 5:30 a.m. workouts and making 300 jump shots before school each day paid off. “Tre Bonham made the shot of the game for us,” Collier said. “You know what, there were some people who didn’t think he deserved to be with us (on the varsity). Nobody deserved that shot more than Tre. He’s a dedicated player, and he does what it takes to be a winner.”

Other Collier musings:

* “At one point in the game, we had all sophomores and juniors on the floor (against Horseheads), and they had all seniors on the floor. Our juniors scrapped and got us back in the game.”
* “We gave a speech at halftime about getting bullied in the first half (by Horseheads). What’s the best thing to do against a bully? Bully them back, and we did that in the second half.”
* “After losing to Oneonta last week, there was doubt in my mind whether this team was mentally and physically tough enough. We weren’t sure (as a coaching staff). We challenged the guys all week in practice, and they responded. It was a test of our character, and I couldn’t be more proud of our players.”

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Curtis raised the bar

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
Patrick Newell

The first time I saw John Curtis, I didn’t know his name, but I thought, at the time, he bore a resemblance to one-time PGA Tour member Tom Weiskopf. Curtis was playing in his regular foursome at Canasawacta Country Club with Dave Clarke, Russ Lowe, and Joe Brillinger. Curtis didn’t hit it like Weiskopf, but he was a pretty good stick.
I came to know Curtis in my early years working at the newspaper as he succeeded Tony Abbott as varsity football coach. Abbott had a Hall of Fame career lifting Oxford to the top of the Susquenango Association several times. Curtis, an assistant under Abbott, served as the offensive coordinator for Abbott, and Curtis put his own stamp on the program when he took the reins in 1996.
“John was a little different than me,” Abbott said in a phone interview Monday. “I was a big option guy. Being a former high school quarterback, John liked to throw it more, and he did. That was probably our only difference.”
There was no difference with the results on the field, either. Abbott won 147 games during his 27 seasons, and Curtis tacked on 72 more victories during his tenure to give Oxford 219 football wins from 1970 to 2006. Looking over our records, that is the most wins for a Chenango County football team during that span.
Said Mike Chrystie, who played on three Section IV championship teams under Curtis, and is now head coach at Norwich: “John was definitely a model of consistency that I am striving for as a football coach, and I hope, one day, our program can reach the consistency he had at Oxford.”
When you’re in this business and building relationships within the many small communities, there aren’t many degrees of separation. My “Oracle of Bacon” number with John Curtis was one, and I didn’t even know it the first year I covered his teams.
As I got to know John a little better, I learned more about his family. His wife, Jean, was an elementary school teacher. At some point, I am sure I asked John if his wife ever taught school at St. Paul’s (now named Holy Family). John said she did at the start of her teaching career.
I remembered that my second grade teacher at St. Paul’s was Mrs. (Jean) Curtis, and my mom confirmed the football coach’s wife was an integral part of my childhood education.
I was on friendly terms with John throughout the 11 years we worked together, but I’ve learned more about him in the two days since his passing than I ever did during our professional relationship.
Don Cooper coached along side Curtis for 31 years, and was Curtis’ right-hand man as the defensive coordinator on the 1997, 1999, and 2000 Section IV Class D championship teams.
Cooper worked with a lot of great coaches on the Oxford staff, coached against some of the finest field generals in Section IV, and knew of perhaps every other good coach in Central New York. He pinpointed one characteristic about Curtis that made him unique.
As every coach knows, from time to time you deal with undisciplined and disrespectful athletes, and its well known that many parents can be just as unruly in their treatment of a coach.
“What made John stand out in my mind, and I wrote this in the dedication of the scoreboard (to John), is that he was the most professional guy,” Cooper said. “I spent thousands of hours with him, and never once did he bad-mouth a kid or a parent.”
Cooper said that one time a parent blew cigar smoke in Curtis’ face in an effort to provoke the head coach. Curtis was a robust, athletic man in his prime, and surely could have handled himself in any altercation. However, Curtis diffused the situation by remaining calm and professional.
While Maine-Endwell and Chenango Forks have set the bar in Section IV with their multiple sectional football championships and ensuing state titles, Curtis set the bar high in Chenango County with seven sectional title game appearances and three Section IV titles in four years.
Curtis raised the bar around these parts, and no has come close to reaching it.

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Garcia, Rifanburg in twilight of their great careers

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Patrick Newell

Wednesday, Jan. 28, I reported from Norwich High School. It was a significant day, at least if you’re a wrestling fan as defending state champions Tristan Rifanburg and Frank Garcia were among the four seniors honored before the team’s final home match. (Trey Muserallo and Stephen Kuhn were also recognized with their families.) Every school in every sport that I cover reserves a night near the end of the season to pause and appreciate the outgoing senior class. I miss the majority of those occasions, but I wanted to be on hand for this one if only to be on site for the final home appearance of what is likely the best one-two punch Norwich wrestling has had.
The Purple Tornado have a long and distinguished wrestling history, and one of the first great NHS wrestlers, Don Manley, is part of the 2015 Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame induction class. I don’t have Manley’s biography, but I believe he lost just one match his entire wrestling career.
Rifanburg and Garcia have each lost more than once, but neither one ever lost on the home mat. In fact, Rifanburg never lost a match in a dual meet with all of his defeats coming in tournament competition. I don’t have the same verifiable documentation for Garcia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was undefeated in dual meets. That’s six straight years, folks.
Norwich coach Terry Hagenbuch said it was nice to know that he had those two wrestlers in his pocket for dual meets. With perhaps a scant few exceptions, the phenomenal wrestling duo has wrestled in back-to-back matches in dual meets – one weight class apart – and quite often, in tournament finals. Each young man is in the twilight of his high school wrestling career, but the good news is that they aren’t going far, and they will be easy to track.
Rifanburg and Garcia each received wrestling scholarships to Binghamton University, and I’m sure each will write more exciting chapters to their athletics stories.
Note: I wrote the above piece on Friday, Jan. 30. Rifanburg and Garcia helped lead Norwich to its first STAC team title in 24 years. Rifanburg was also named the most outstanding wrestler after winning his fifth league championship. One more line added to the duo’s long wrestling resume.

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Sports Editor’s playbook, Jan. 8, 2015

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Patrick Newell

Athlete of the Week
Friday, we re-install our Athlete of the Week series for the remainder of the winter sports season. The criteria in selecting an athlete is based on either the prior week’s performance or an accumulation of performances throughout the season. While we take nominations from coaches, the decision is usually a subjective one from yours truly. Hope you enjoy the feature the next seven weeks.

Jones legacy
Jack Jones first gained prominence around the Southern Tier as a state championship-winning basketball coach at Sidney who amassed an incredible winning percentage. He went on to a distinguished career in athletics administration finishing up his tenure at Norwich High School.
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) claimed the life of the Hall of Fame coach and administrator, but his legacy continues on the basketball court. Jones’ grandsons, Sean and Ryan Jones, are key members of this year’s Bainbridge-Guilford varsity basketball team. Earlier this week, Sean Jones had one of his best performances of the season scoring eight points and pulling down 10 rebounds against Sidney. Ryan Jones is among the team’s leading scorers averaging 10.6 points per game for the Bobcats. Ryan Jones also scored a season-high 22 points in a win over Afton last month, and has two other 15-point games this year.

Norwich grad gets new coaching appointment
Joe Casamento, a 1965 Norwich High School graduate, recently accepted a position associate head football coach at St. John’s College High School, a prestigious private school in Washington D.C. Casamento has coached Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy the past 17 seasons compiling a 143-27 mark including a Class AA state championship win in 2004. Casamento was on the sidelines in 1999 when the Brothers beat Casamento’s alma mater, 55-20, in the Class B regional finals, the last time Norwich qualified for the state playoffs.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Dec. 8, 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Sports stories can come at any place, any time. This one isn’t so much a story, but a welcomed experience. Since I was a little kid, I followed boxing closely. Remember the days when boxing’s biggest stars appeared on “cable television?” I do, although it was so long ago, this generation completely missed out on that free experience. This past Saturday night, I traveled down to Oxford to cover the Clyde Cole Wrestling Tournament finals. The schedule said the tournament dedication was slated at 5 p.m., with introductions and matches to follow. Let’s just say, the schedule was off a good 90 minutes or so, but that extra time allowed me to mix with some old friends…and meet one of boxing’s greats from the 1990s.
About 10 minutes after I arrived, Sun staff photographer, Frank Speziale, found me sitting near the head table, and he was smiling ear to ear. He told about a picture he had just taken of Ray “Merciless” Mercer. I thought to myself, you mean “Merciless” Ray Mercer. I didn’t correct Frank, he was beyond excited.
First question I ask Frank: “Why is Ray Mercer in Oxford?” Frank didn’t have all of the details, but he hurried back to his contact person to grab more information. I learned that Mercer was working with Eddy Pezzino (a Greene High grad and former athlete). Pezzino owns American Sports Equity, and part of the company’s message is to deliver the anti-bullying message to schools in the Southern Tier. Oxford was the latest stop, and Mercer was the special guest helping deliver that message.
Pezzino, who was well aware of the Clyde Cole tourney as a former wrestler, had Mercer stay on until Saturday, and Mercer helped present medals to the weight class winners. Mercer was seated matside, and I took the seat right next to him prior to the opening bout. I got to chat with Mercer for a good 30 minutes (during breaks in the wrestling action), and was able to pick his brain a little bit. Mercer is an avid outdoorsman, and particularly enjoys fishing. I talked up the great outdoors opportunities in Chenango County, so maybe we’ll see Mercer back here some day. Mercer hails from Jacksonville, Fla., although I’m not sure he lives there now. He remarked about the quiet, safe atmosphere during his stay in Oxford. “I’ve been here a day and a half, and I haven’t heard a siren,” he said. If I had the right platform, I would have asked him all about his career, one that took off after he won the heavyweight gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Mercer was already in his late 20s when he won the gold medal, so his window was fairly short. He captured a world title in 1991, and during that era, fought nearly all of the great heavyweights during that era including Larry Holmes, Tommy Morrison, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, and many others. Turns out, his career as a fighter lasted until he was 48 years old when he took an MMA fight against former UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia in 200.
Mercer gave away seven inches in height and about 50 pounds, but recorded one of the fastest knockouts ever recorded – a one-punch knockout in nine seconds. That was a great way to end a career, and Mercer agreed. “I knew if I caught him on the chin, I would knock him out,” Mercer said. Mercer’s obligations ended after he handed out the first series of awards up to the 125-pound weight class before slipping out for the evening. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but I was certainly pleased to share some time with a boxing legend.

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