Success to sweeten life for bitter Mercer

Donal Scully

DOWN-BUT-NOT-OUT American heavyweight Ray Mercer says his career should be used as an example to other fighters of how badly things can go wrong.

An Olympian in 1988 and WBO champion in 1991, Mercer is now three days away from a daunting non-title bout with Briton Frank Bruno, yet he confesses to being totally unprepared and a sitting duck for Bruno.

His training has been hampered by a leg injury leaving him 20 pounds over his ideal weight. He delayed his arrival in Hong Kong until two days ago which he admits was totally inadequate for acclimatising after doing all his training in the colder climes of New Jersey.

On top of all that Mercer feels totally deserted by his manager Jack Dell, who is not in the territory with him. And he is generally deflated by the long downhill slide his career has taken since 1991. Last year Mercer, a 33-year-old former army sergeant, was acquitted in court after being accused of trying to bribe Jesse Ferguson during a fight which Mercer lost.

'It all started to go wrong from the morning after I won the world title against Tommy Morrison,' said a morose Mercer in his hotel room yesterday.

'I was champion of the world and it should have been the start of great times for me. Instead, my manager was sacked and things have never been the same since.' Mercer and two other fighters belong to a company called Greater American and it was that company that dispensed with the former manager Mark Roberts the morning after the fight.

Roberts was replaced by Dell who had no experience managing fighters.

'Mark Roberts used to motivate me. If he was my manager right now I could imagine me still being world champion.

'Since I've been with Jack Dell I've started losing. The chemistry is not there between us. When my contract with him ends in two years that's it - I'm out of boxing.

'Now it's all down to me. That's the way my career has ended up. That's what happens when you start losing - everybody disappears.

'If I was to advise young fighters I would say: take care of your own business; don't depend on somebody else to do something that needs to be done; you don't really need a manager at all; if you have a manager all he needs to do is get you good-money fights.' The ring is said to be a lonely place, but it sounds like it will be lonelier for Mercer than for most when he enters the ring with Bruno on Sunday morning.

'I will not be able to move as well as I would like,' said Mercer. 'The leg problem will restrict me a lot. Bruno won't have to chase me. I think this will be a slugging match.' Asked about his less-than-ideal preparations and late arrival in town, Mercer said: 'I just didn't feel like coming. I wanted to spend my time there [in New Jersey]. I didn't feel right. My back was against the wall as it was. But now that I see how hot it is here I would rather have come earlier. In the gym on Wednesday I had to quit because of the heat.' On hearing such downbeat talk from a fighter the first reaction is to suspect 'kidology', an attempt to lure Bruno into becoming complacent. But Mercer knocks that suggestion flat out.

'People who have seen how my career has been going know that I don't try to put people on. They should know I'm telling the truth. If they want me to act tough and tell lies it's easy to do.' But just when he seemed immersed in gloom, the old fighting spirit flickered again.

'For all my troubles, I have as much chance as the next man. Look at Oliver McCall. He's WBC champion now. I will do the best I can. If I can win against the odds on my own and if I can become champ on my own I will be an unbeatable champ.' Reflecting alone in his dimly lit hotel room, Mercer resembled the condemned man in his cell.

But just hours earlier, at a press conference attended by all the fighters on the 'High Noon' bill, Mercer showed some of his old spark.

He had been greeting all his fellow-American fighters to the dais with bellowing roars.