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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