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How did Ray Mercer manage to squeeze into the heavyweight picture?

BY Rick Folstad ON January 23, 2002
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Who opened the door and let the old man sneak in and sit down, find a seat in the front? High standards were supposed to be maintained, competition was to be of the highest degree.  Not everyone is welcome. So how’d Mercer get in?
Diligence, maybe. Diligence and a chin harder than a Brooklyn sidewalk. He’s never been stopped in 35 fights, which - for a heavyweight with his past record - is like saying you never shot over par, or you never missed a free throw.
And it’s not like Mercer’s been booking rounds with the pretenders of the fight game.  He went 12 rounds with Larry Holmes back when Holmes still counted for something. And he went ten - the distance - with both Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, a lot of guys saying he even beat Lewis.

He’s won his last six fights by knockout in a total of 13 rounds. So at 41, it’s not like Merciless Ray is back from the retirement home, and that’s something Wladimir Klitschko needs to keep in mind when he stares across the ring at the old man Saturday night at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Wladimir is big (6-foot-7), young (26), impressive (38-1, 35 KO’s) and from the Ukraine, which to most of us is like being from the planet Pluto.  He’s also the biggest secret in the heavyweight division, a guy from a place we couldn’t find on a map, now living in Germany with a name we can't spell. He might as well be in the witness protection program.

Ignoring the comical rankings of the three major sanctioning bodies - WBA, WBC and IBF - Wladimir is among the top two or three heavyweights in the world, though the guy working the sports desk at the Podunk Tribune has never heard of him. But that’s all right.  Apparently, no one at the WBA, the WBC or the IBF have heard of him either. Wladimir won’t be ranked - much less even mentioned - by the other world boxing rankings because he’s the WBO champion, and you know how that works.They don’t recognize someone else’s champion, even though he may be the best fighter in the world. Scary, isn’t it. So Wladimir holding the WBO belt only adds to the mystery. The WBO doesn’t play big in Vegas. Want to disappear for awhile? Become a WBO champ. But it is a title and that demands a certain amount of respect. . That brings us back to Mercer, who also held the WBO title, though that was 11 Super Bowls and three presidents ago.
Mercer proved that if you hang around long enough - if you don’t make too big a fool of yourself and you knock out a few young prospects along the way - good things will happen. Wake up one morning and you just might find yourself in line to fight for a world title. For Klitschko, Saturday night means just about everything. He’s fought here before, but never under this kind of spotlight. He gets to fight on HBO in front of a national TV audience, he goes up against a heavyweight we all know, and he gets the chance to prove to the world that he belongs in the same room with the best heavyweights in the world. Mercer? He’s just happy someone finally opened the door and let him in.

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