ON THIS DAY, October 18, 1991, Ray Mercer defended his WBO heavyweight title that he won in January from Francesco Damiani, against Tommy “The Duke” Morrison at the Convention Center in Atlantic City.
1. MORRISON was extremely well known in America, not just in boxing circles following his starring role in Rocky V, and this was his first attempt at a world title, although the WBO was not as respected as a sanctioning body as it is today, and was regarded behind the big three of the WBC, WBA and IBF.
2.THE DUKE was the “Great White Hope” – an outdated but still popular term – and entered the fight with a record of 28-0, with 24 knockouts. Morrison found himself poised on the brink of a massive payday due to the colour of his skin, and movie star looks, but he was always up against it with Mercer.
3. THE defending champion was a product of the outstanding US Army team and he won gold at the 1988 Olympics. Professionally, he feasted on a diet of journeymen and washed up contenders. He was expected to win the title with ease against Damiani, but was handed a boxing lesson by the Italian until he produced a stunning one-punch knockout in round nine.
4. MERCER was 17-0 at the time, 12 inside schedule, pulled out of the initial defence against Morrison due to injury, but that only heightened fans enthusiasm for the fight.
5. NIGEL COLLINS predicted for the Boxing News: “Whether it lasts the entire 12 rounds or ends inside the distance could very well hinge on the quality of Morrison’s chin and the depth of his commitment. My guess is that Mercer will force a stoppage, probably in the later rounds.” What we got was an absolute cracker, where Mercer retained his title in the fifth round, but he was forced to come from behind as Morrison put in a superb performance.
6. MORRISON got off to an excellent start and began to fly through the gears, bloodying Mercer in the third. Mercer had an unbelievable granite chin, but the former Army drill sergeant was certainly getting it tested by his opponent.
7. MERCER began to gain a foothold in the fourth, stinging Morrison who bravely came back at him and looked like he was in control as they entered the fifth.
8. IT took 28 seconds to witness one of the most vicious and violent stoppages seen in ring history. Mercer left Morrison out on his feet with two crunching right hooks and a perfectly executed short left, before unleashing a barrage of flush shots that rendered Morrison helpless until referee Tony Perez stepped, belatedly, in to save him as he slumped to the canvas.
9. MERCER retained the belt and continued fighting right up to 2008. He retired with a record of 36-7-1, with 26 inside the distance wins. As for Morrison he retired in 1996 after being diagnosed with HIV – a condition he denied – before attempting controversial comebacks in both 2007 and 2008.
10. TOMMY tragically passed away in September 2013 at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, his life cut short at just 44.