The hype for the “Heavyweight Heat” pay-per-view boxing show scheduled for Friday, August 26, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, got off to a rousing start at the event’s first press conference, which was held at The Palm steakhouse in Manhattan on August 8.

Veteran heavyweights Shannon Briggs and Ray Mercer, who will be squaring off against each other, almost came to blows after Briggs launched into a diatribe that questioned not only Mercer’s fighting heart but his ability and even his morality. Many years ago, when both were handled by the same promoter, they lived under the same roof in a New Jersey home.

It was there, said the 33-year-old Briggs, 42-4-1 (36 KOs), that he used to see Mercer, now 44 and a onetime idol of his, consume beers regularly after training.

“He was an Olympic gold medalist and at one time I was in awe of him,” said Briggs. “But I lost all respect for him because there were so many things about his personality that I didn’t like. He didn’t respect me and I don’t respect him. I don’t even think he respects himself.”

Briggs said the trouble started because Mercer, now 34-5-1 (25 KOs), viewed him as a flamboyant, highly compensated upstart who didn’t deserve all the hoopla he was generating early in his career. Although Mercer had served honorably in the United States Army and had won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Briggs believes he saw himself as having to take a tougher road to the top than Briggs. As a result, said Briggs, Mercer grew immensely jealous of him and never ignored any opportunity to disrespect him.

“He’s a jealous, petty pr—,” said Briggs. “And I have a chip on my shoulder. I don’t care if he was a soldier and a gold medalist. There’s gonna be a lot of blood and spit in this fight. He knows about our beef. I’m ready to get it on right now. If he says something wrong, we’ll get it on now.”

At that point, Mercer, who had been strangely silent throughout the entire laboriously long spiel, exploded. “Something wrong!” he proclaimed. Briggs jumped to his feet and appeared ready to swing into action. Mercer muttered a few profanities but was wise enough to leave the premises rather than risk an injury in a testosterone fueled bar brawl. Outside he let unloaded his feelings to the handful of reporters, this one included, who followed him.

“I ain’t been this mad in years,” said Mercer, although he actually looked like he was too old, weary and mature to be engaging in such nonsense. “He talks a lot about me drinking but he was [having sex with] with [young girls]. That guy ain’t never beat anybody. He’s a grown man, so he should act like a grown man. I think he’s just nervous and scared. I respect everybody and expect to be respected back. He’s a punk and he’s gonna pay on August 26.”

Mercer was finally convinced to go back inside to pose for a publicity photo with the newly svelte co-promoter Cedric Kushner serving as their middleman buffer. Whether or not Briggs and Mercer show this much passion on fight night is anyone’s guess. Let’s just hope that Briggs, who has a habit of dropping out of fights, even shows up. He has some fiery words to back up and his outburst should definitely help push PPV sales. But he put himself in a position where he better produce some fireworks.

Also scheduled to appear are former heavyweight title challengers David Tua and Jameel McCline. The 32-year-old Tua, 43-3-1 (38 KOs), looked more fit than he has in years. He will take on hard-punching but unheralded Cisse Salif, 17-4-2 (16 KOs) of New York, while the 35-year-old McCline takes on journeyman Steve Pannell, 34-8 (28 KOs), of Salem, Virginia.

An added attraction will be the classy IBF cruiserweight champion O’Neil Bell, 24-1-1 (22 KOs), of Atlanta, via Dover Delaware and Montego Bay, Jamaica. He will defend the vacant title he just won from Dale Brown against Sebastiaan Rothmann, 18-3-2 (12 KOS), of South Africa.

The 30-year-old Bell is much too cerebral and steady to have taken Briggs’ hijinks seriously. “Everyone motivates themselves in their own way,” he said. “Everything they say about each other might be true, or it might not be true, but it’s nobody’s business. That’s not my style, but I’m not going to judge anyone else’s style.”

In addition, highly regarded junior welterweight bomber Juan “Iron Twins” Urango, 15-0-1 (12 KOs), who hails from Colombia but fights out of Miami, will tangle with New York’s Andre Eason, 15-3- (6 KOs), in a ten-rounder.

The card, which will be distributed and shown live by Showtime Pay-Per-View, will be co-promoted by the Florida-based Warrior Promotions and Cedric Kushner Promotions. The cost will be $29.95.

The Seminole tribe, which owns the host casino, has been instrumental in South Florida’s boxing renaissance. Not so coincidentally, they are the only Native American tribe to have never signed a peace treaty with the United States government.

“We thought that was important to keep ourselves culturally intact,” said a high ranking spokeswoman who was present at the press conference.