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Ray Mercer, Boxing On the River & H.O.F. Talk

Arizona Boxing News & Notes with Don Smith:

Boxing Fans, Former WBO Heavyweight Champion and 1988 Olympic Gold Medal winner Ray Mercer stopped in Phoenix recently to take care of a business matter and visit his former 1988 Olympic team mate and friend, 6 time world champion Michael Carbajal who took home Silver in Seoul and would   go on to establish himself as one of the greatest fighters ever to enter the boxing arena. Ray ( career mark of 36-7-1) was no slouch and his upset knockout (overhand right to the temple) of Tommy Morrison in 1991 earned him the WBO Heavyweight crown.

The originalplan was for me to meet Ray Mercer at a designated time and place in Phoenix. He arrived in town just prior to the Celebrity Fight Night (3/18) celebration and we were to sit down and spend at least an hour together. The backup plan was to corner him at fight night and squeeze in some Q & A time during his walk on the Red carpet and before he entered the ballroom to honor Muhammad Ali.  At least, that was the agenda I was relying on and I was very appreciative to Michael and his publicist Laura Hall for thinking of me and offering to set up the contact that resulted in our eventual interview.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reach the former champion, via phone,   until he was preparing to leave Phoenix and fly to Monroe, Louisiana for a business meeting. He didn’t attend the Celebrity Fight Night affair because he couldn’t secure a ticket. I suggested we cancel the proposed interview and he said no and gave me a time to call him the next day and the next day became the next day and so forth. I knew before we met on the phone that celebrities can be late n a regular basis due to a hectic schedule.

In fairness, Mercer is a very busy family and business man who sits on the board of two 501 C-3 nonprofitorganizations, Kickin’ it” and “Find a Dream.” Find a Dream is based in South Carolina while Kickin” It, an anti-bullying school operating out of New Jersey. Both organizations target young adults of diverse socio-economic backgrounds.Ray knows the importance of discipline and uses sports as a tool to help develop kids into productive adults. His celebrity status helps him invite some of his sports buddies to speak to the kids who need role models to look up to. He describes his efforts as a way of giving back.

If I had the option, I would rather do a face to face interview with my subject but due to circumstances, I conducted our interviewee by phone with a tiny recorder wedged between my chin and ear; not the most comfortable way to converse.

I began our conversation by telling him that we had at least two things in common, we shared birth signs (Aries) and we both served in the Army. Ray served as an infantryman (11-B) and I bid my time in America’s Army as a military policeman (95 B 40). Ray’s father was a career Army man while his son defended his country for 10 years while wearing the uniform.  My father fought in World War 11 while serving in the Navy. Ray didn’t hesitate to tell me he enjoyed his service time and he would always defend his country at the drop of the hand. These similarities didn’t make us cousins, but I was comfortable with him.

I mentioned to him that his 2 daughters had recently joined the Army Reserves and he said he was very proud of them for doing so; but, he wished they had joined the regular army. He laughed and blamed their mother for their final decision and said the main reason they joined was for education benefits. “I don’t want them to go to war but if our country needed them, they would stand up and defend, just like me”.  He then mentioned 911 and I asked where he was at the time and said at home in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Ray was born in Florida and now lives in North Carolina which led me to believe that he was rooting for the Tar Heels or Gators since both college teams made their way into the final 8 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  He wasn’t happy with my conclusion and the 56 year old Hall of Fame boxer told me in a matter of fact tone that he doesn’t do basketball, football is his sport.

He went to high school in Germany where he played two years of JV ball and 2 years of varsity football. His varsity team went undefeated for two years, a fact he is very proud of. Mercer, ahuge Pittsburg Steeler fan partly because his school colors were black and gold as was his army colors went wild for a moment when he thought I said James Harrison, Steelers linebacker, was at the Ali tribute when I actually told him that Harrison Ford was at the event. Man, he yelled, I couldn’t get a ticket, I would like to meet him and then reality set in and I apologized for not speaking clearly.

His dream was to become a professional football player and he saw himself as a Mike Singletary (Chicago Bears) type player, very intense. Ray played linebacker and nose guard. The dream died when he played his last game in high school and had to take off the uniform and move on with his life.

After high school, the former high school linebacker joined the Army (1980) and became an 11 bravo (Infantryman). He said there was a big difference in being a soldier and a boxer. He went on to explain that boxing is an individual sport whereas being in the military requires team effort to accomplish the mission of defending our country.  During our interview, I got the impression; I was talking to a very patriotic man.

As a boxer, he quickly impressed and surprised everyone by making the 1988 Olympic team. A bigger surprise came when SGT. Ray Mercer won the Gold Medal in the Seoul, Korea Olympics after less than six years as a boxing prodigy.

In 1989, he decided to turn professional and signed with Bob Arum (Top Rank CEO) who immediately took his Olympic Gold Medal Winner to the front of the world stage and challenged world champion Mike Tyson for his heavyweight crown. The media had a field day. One columnist asked ifthere was Olympic boxer to take on Mike Tyson? The response was in what, tennis?

Ray was serious with his challenge so what happened-why didn’t Ray “Merciless” Mercy meet Iron Mike Tyson? You know what happened;said Ray through a restrained laugh: “Buster Douglas, that’s what happened, he knocked an over confident Mike Tyson out”.

The Olympian reeled off wins in his first 18 fights including a knockout win over undefeated Tommy Morrison (28-0) to capture the WBO World heavyweight championship.  Mercer would lose the title the following year to another Hall of Famer, Larry Holmes.

His opinion of current heavyweights is less than flattening. I asked him what he thought of the ranking heavyweights and he replied “are they ranked”, I proceeded to point out that the current crop of contenders are  much bigger in size  than the “Old School Group” and asked if they wouldn’t have an advantage over fighters from his era who were much smaller. He scoffed at the notion and told me the bigger they are means more “space to hit them”.

I asked Ray if he knew Ali and he said they met a couple times. He admits to having a poster of Ali wearing his famous black and white trunks hanging on a door and was proud to call him his “Idol” but  the straight shooting former Army Sergeant said they were of a different generation and wasn’t about to lie about their relationship.

At this point I knew time was of the essence because he told me when we began that he didn’t have much time and I knew I had exceeded my allotted time. None the less, I proceeded with three more questions. Did he think any USA Olympic Boxing Team in the near future would be able to match his 1988 team’s astonishing medal count of 8; 3 Gold-3 Silver and 2 Bronze?” I certainly hope so; but, I don’t see our future teams doing it soon.” Why are our Olympic boxing teams doing so poorly?  “A number of reason, the rules have changed, Americans don’t know the rules and Americans don’t train hard enough”!

I knew he was eager to leave; so, I quickly asked one more  one last question as he was headed for the elevator:“ You were accused by Jesse Ferguson of asking him to basically take a dive  during your 1st of 2 fights with him, how did that happen. In his testimony, he said you claimed you were having a bad night  in the ring and you needed a win to set up a championship fight and you would pay him to take a dive”? Response: “how did I know you very going to ask that question, I knew you were going to ask that question? I was exonerated, acquitted by the court. He was lying”, Then immediately after he responded; our line of communication was severed. What happened, I don’t know? I began frantically dialing him again and again. On the fifth try, I reached him. I assured him that I didn’t hang up on him and he said he stepped on the elevator and that’s what did it. I asked him if he was upset that I asked the question and he said “no, I was acquitted”. I thought him that even if he was found innocent; it had to cost him something, money, reputation, pride? He paused for 10 seconds and said “yes, $200,000.00. Before we said goodbye, I apologized for not being able to meet him somewhere comfortable in person to conduct our interview, perhaps over lunch. And I told him, I wished there would be a next time and he said there would be. Hall of Fame Talk: boxing announcer Ralph Velez Jr is investigating the possibility of creating a Boxing Hall of Fame in the state of Arizona. He has solicited help from boxing activists and friends Albert Alvarez and boxing writer/blogger Ron Valderrama. Arizona has an existing sports hall of fame; but, officially I don’t believe there is a Hall of Fame solely dedicated to chronicling the history of boxing in Arizona.

Some critics might think the Arizona boxing history resume   pales in comparison to other states; but, the Grand Canyon state has produced two world champions; Michael Carbajal and Louie Espinoza. Also, top five ranked Super Middleweight contender David Benavidez (17-0-16 knockouts) was born here and Trevor McCumby the forgotten but highly skilled light heavyweight lives in Glendale, Arizona. And Arizona has a new group of fighters ready to emerge on the boxing scene within a year or two. The boxing pool here isn’t deep with talent; but, there are some gems about to emerge-mentioning their names might cause them to go Hollywood.

In lieu of a lack of an official boxing hall of fame, there is the Phoenix Madison Square Garden Museum, 7th Avenue & Adams in Phoenix that was created after the famous venue was torn down and replace by a high rise complex almost a decade ago. Built in 1929, PMSG was a popular venue that hosted boxing, wrestling and entertainment events.

By the 1970’s, Phoenix boxing and wrestling fans stopped coming downtown and the facility was sold to an auto parts manufacturer. After the demise of the business, the city bought the property and eventually sold it to a commercial conglomerate that demonized the facility and constructed a high rise complex at the 7th Avenue and Adams location in Phoenix.

Fans with fond memories of the facility staged memorable rallies in an attempt to stop the implosion of the famous venue; but, the Phoenix City Council overruled their wish and voted to proceed with the Proposal to rebuild by a narrow vote. The protesters did win a concession; but, in hindsight, ABNN considers the concession a slap in the face to fight fans.

The buyer of the property agreed to save space in the complex for construction of the Phoenix Square Garden Museum. I call it a postage stamp tribute to boxing and wrestling because of its’ miniature size. It isn’t open on a daily basis and to see the exhibits, fans have to callahead and make an appointment to view the museum. There are some interesting pictures artifacts to behold and I encourage the Arizona boxing community to visit the facility.  Please, limit the size of your group when and if you go.

I talked to Ron and he told me there is no timetable in place and according to him, Ralph is checking with the state to see if the name(Arizona Hall of Fame) is available for registration.  Their plan is in the early stages and fans are encouraged to contact them through social media and help bring the dream to fruition if they decide to undertake the project. Good luck men and may the force be with you.

Boxing On the River: Charles and April Duckey, owners and operators of Duckey Boxing, invited me to come to Parker Arizona on Saturday, April 15 to watch and write about their “Showdown On the River” amateur boxing show in Parker, Arizona about a three hour drive from Central Phoenix. I took them up on their offer and hitched a ride with Chief of USA Boxing Arizona Officials Richard Soto and three of his lieutenants. In total, 10 USA Boxing Arizona volunteers were on hand to work 26 bouts. The venue was provided by the Pirates Den, a river front pirate themed resort eatery offering casual eats & cocktails plus an open air beach bar.

The ring was set up outdoors under a canopy. It was a calm, very little wind, but warm Saturday with the temperature rising to an estimated 92, 2 hours after the 1st bout commenced at 1:30 PM. Sonny’s Gym, Goodyear Arizona won the team trophy by posting 9 wins while losing just one bout.  1st place finishers on team Sonny were: Jesus Olmedo, Erik Gomez, Jesse Camacho, Ruben Perez, Marcos Camacho, In-Chel Barrera, Heleini Vasquez, Danny Barrios and Eddie Velaquuez.

In bout 7, Simeon Duckey (Duckey Boxing) upset a more experience Angel Vasquez (Sonny’s Gym) in a spirited battle with a split decision awarded to Duckey from the Blue Corner.

There were two female battles on the card. 14 year old Jennifer Peralta, San Luis Pal) was supposed to fight; but she couldn’t draw a match; so she came along to help her team. I sat near her in the audience and she told me that she enjoyed boxing; however, for her life’s work she hopes to become a veterinarian. She came to this conclusion after her dog (Mia)died from a rare disease she identified as Morquio, a bacterial infection that affects animals and humans. It is known to breakdown the immune system. Good luck to Jennifer and her pursuits.

The two female fights were stellar in quality and readers know I don’t hand out superlatives easily. In bout 17, Charli Duckey (Duckey Boxing) entered the ring ill (flu like symptoms) and yet she refused to surrender in her 3 round battle with Ix-Chel Barrera (Sonny’s Gym). Barrera won the 1st place belt while Ms. Duckey took home the second place trophy. Judges were so impressed with the women’s performance that their fight was acknowledged as the best female bout of the day and both performers received more hardware for their exciting performance. 1st place winner Barrera was great; however for Charli to suck it up and fight under physical duress is remarkable. The 15 year old Native American was taken to a nearby hospital (by her parents) after the fight as a precautionary measure and was told to rest for three days.  ABNN wishes her a speedy recovery and thanks ladies for a great performance.

In bout 18, Heleini Vasquez Sonny’s Gym) and Victoria Gayton (Salvation Army)  fought toe to toe for three rounds with Vasquez winning the 1st place belt while Victoria walked out of the ring proudly with the  second place trophy. It was a fight to remember.

Hammer Gym (Coach George Garcia) left the venue with 3 belts and one trophy and teammate Jacob Girardot turned in a stellar performance against Victor Ruiz (New Corner Boxing) to earn best bout honors with Ruiz. The honor could have gone to his talented 13 year old teammate Elijah Garcia who bested Angel Munoz (Sparta Boxing). Garcia is a bright kid and honor roll student at Collier Elementary in Phoenix. He is a third generation boxer and it would be wise to watch him as he continues to improve.

Jose Vargas  (Hammer Boxing) was victorious in his battle with amateur standout Thomas Valerio (Martillo Boxing).I talked to his trainer (Vargas Sr,) and he reminded me that his kid doesn’t have a lot of fights under his belt; but, he works hard and has the heart and skills of a champion. Alejandro Martinez, Hammer Boxing, lost a  close fight to Danny Barrios of Sonny’s Gym.

Myron Bridges, a good professional prospect, was one of three members of the New Corner boxing teams to win 1st place belts. Bridges, a personal favorite, is quick,charismatic and promising. Teammate Isiah Henry, diamond in the rough, won and once he learns to be more patient; look out. His fight with Marcus Bruce (Duckey Boxing) was very entertaining.  Dejan Miacks, third member of New Corner team, defeated Joaquin Guzman of Fuentes Boxing in winning his belt.

I was very impressed with the performance of smooth moving Julian Lopez who trains with Jose Benavidez Sr. in California and with his dad at the Da Garage in Phoenix. Lopez is vastly improved from the time I saw him last. JL is much more mature in the ring and he is more economical with his punches. He has the potential to be a very good boxer.

Other 1st place finishers at the event included Jose Cordero (San Luis Pal), Adrian Rodrigues (Unattached), Jose Diaz (Madison Boxing), and Jermaine Nez (Punch Boxing). In addition, Fernando Lujan (Salvation Army), Devon De La Hoya (Indio Boys & Girls Club) very impressive  with a win in only his second fight. Fabian Montez (Da Garage) used his size advantage to score an impressive victory over a game Grant Flores; representing Indio Boys and Girls Club.  Much improved Mario Ruiz turned in a strong performance with a victory over Daniel Balderas from New Corner Boxing. Da Garage and New Corner are boxing clubs on the move in my opinion.

I apologize to the young man from LaGente Boxing (fight #11). His first name is legible (Lucio) but we were unsure about the surname because it was handwritten and questionable? Lucio defeated Jerome Jones Jr. in a fight that left Jones disappointed with himself even though he performed well. Also,Sebastian Mitry looked rather gloom after finishing second to Ruben Perez, representing Sonny’s Boxing. If it is any consolation, I thought you won in a very competitive contest.

In summation, the sport of boxing was served well on Saturday, April 15. I was impressed with cooperation of everyone especially the work done by the USA Boxing Arizona volunteers. And the Black Pearl Steakhouse at the Pirates offers mouthwatering food, aye mate!

Special Mention: The championship belts awarded to the fighters were top notch and the Pirates Den should take a bow for donating them and the venue. CRIT  a special Diabetes program and the Duckey Boys and Girls Club deserves credit for taking care of the trophies, hoodies, spirits, rooms and meals for officials. David Plunkett covered the sanction fee for the event. Overall, it was a good show of cooperation and team work. A special thanks to Charles and April Duckey.

Boxing News: We promised to follow up on the spitting incident that occurred at a MMA show held in Phoenix at the Celebrity Theatre and we now have the official results from an investigation conducted by the Arizona Boxing/MMA commission. The commission faulted a fighter (name withheld) and 2 seconds (corner personnel) for questionable conduct during the altercation. However, after careful deliberation and review of existing rules, the commission discovered it didn’t have the authority to administer any measure of punishment such as suspension or fines.  The person who was spit on could have filed a complaint with local authorities, but he didn’t.  So, the message is don’t spit again.

The matter is closed but the incident has motivated the commission to consider submitting a proposal that will address similar misbehavior, at Boxing /MMA events sanctioned by the Commission, should it happen again. Any change or addition to current statues will need the approval of the governor. ABNN was in contact with the commission over the incident and we are shocked to discover that there isn’t a mechanism in place to deter bad actors from endangering members of the public…..Phoenix super lightweight Alfredo Escarcega Jr. (1-0) launched his professional career against a more experienced Mario Aguirre (2-8) at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario California and won a unanimous decision, congratulations..……122 lb. former world champion Juan Castro-Palacios was at the commission meeting on 4/19 to apply for a license to fight Carlos Castro (17-0) at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix on 4/22. Palacios told me through hisinterpreter that Carlos Castro was overrated and he planned an upset over the favored Phoenix fighter. Talk is cheap and the Nicaragua born fighter, now residing in Mexico, has lost his last three fights; so he may have to rub a rabbit’s foot to win.

Learned at the Commisswion Meeting:The Arizona Boxing Commission is on the lookout for boxing clubs, gyms and night clubs that are presenting unsanctioned boxing shows by passing them off as sparring sessions or exhibitions and in some cases; giving the participants trophies while charging a cover charge. We reported this concern last year after USA Boxing Arizona telegraphed us about a similar problem in amateur boxing and with the cooperation of citizen whistleblowers and boxing officials, the number of illegal events and personal injuries was reduced; however not eliminated.

Boxing fans are encouraged to give authorities a heads up; if they become aware of such shows. One whistleblower told ABNN that she was asked to pretend to be a doctor at an unsanctioned show and the woman accepted the offer because she needed the money. She gave up her role as pretend doctor when one of the boxers took a hard right to the mouth that produced profuse bleeding.

During that same conversation with the Gaming Department employee, the subject of “Foxy Boxing” at strip clubs came up and he said adult clubs in the Valley of the Sun are presenting unsanctioned shows; however, the gaming department and Arizona liquor licensing and control department don’t have the authority to stop adult clubs from hosting such events unless there is gambling involved. The spokesperson for the liquor licensing departed quoted a statue and suggested I read it. Frankly, I find most statues poorly written, repetitive, condescending and boring.

Last year,  the Pink Rhino, on Van Buren in Phoenix,  brought former world boxing champion Danny Garcia to their club to referee “Foxy Boxing “ bouts and advertised the visit on social media. Since that event, the Pink Rhino has fallen on hard times and is rarely open according to our sources. Our call to the club produced a recording that informed us the strip club wasn’t receiving incoming calls. We now understand the Phoenix Police Department visited the club frequently and it wasn’t to get a discounted lap dance.

Mail Bag: Anna Guerra of New Mexico wants to know when the2017 IBF Hall Of Fame Ceremony will be held and where?  Answer: on Sunday (2:30 PM EST), June 11, in Canastota, New York, aka “Boxing’s Hometown” on the grounds of the IBF Museum following the traditional parade.  This year’s inductee’s include Boxers Evander Holyfield, Johnny Tapia and Marco Antonio Barrera.

Anna, you might want to attend all of the events leading up to Sunday’s induction ceremony. Here is the itinerary sent to us: Opening bell rings on the museum grounds at 1 PM followed by Ringside lectures at the museum. Friday’s events include more ring lectures, Celebrity fist casting and a 7 PM Fiesta at the Rusty Rail Party House.

On Saturday is a full day starting with a golf tournament 7 AM-3 PM), 5 K run at 8:30 Am, Ringside lectures at 9:30 AM – 3 PM, Boxing Autograph Card Show ($10.00 fee) and later in the evening, a VIP cocktail reception followed by an 8 PM Banquet of Champions. Each event is priced separately and tickets are selling fast. ABNN recommends the parade and autograph card show. Signers float in an out and it’s hard to predict who will be available at precisely what time.

On Sunday, June 11, the parade of champions in the downtown district and the induction starts at 1 PM at 2:30 PM on the Museum Grounds. For those who plan to go; we suggest calling 315-697-7095 and reserving your place at your preferred events. You can pay by phone and don’t delay.

Iron Boy 38 Update: The official Iron Boy 38 Weigh-In site is Crescent Crown Distributing located at 1640 W. Broadway Road in Mesa Arizona at 5 PM on Friday April 21. Super welterweight Eben Vargas (3-0-2) has been added to the card and Joel Cano will fight Edgar Ortiz on the under card. Former world champion Juan Castro Palacios  (29-7-2-22 knockouts) will fight undefeated Carlos Castro ((17-0) in the main event and I talked to the former champ and he, not in a shy way, predicted a win over Castro who is recovering from an injury sustained in his last fight.  Castro, according to Palacios, is overrated and he will prove it on Saturday, 4/22; talk is cheap. Ryan Riddell (2-0) remains on the card; but, ABNN was unable to retrieve the name of his latest opponent. The undercard has some fresh talent: undefeated local standouts Louie Espinoza (5-0), Alexis Zazueta (9-0), Andre Servin (3-0) and hard punching Jaime Bojado. And for star power , 6 time world champion Michael Carbajal will be honored with a 3 minute video and welcomed by special guests. First fight at 6 PM and doors open at 5 PM.  There were remaining tickets available at the Box-Office when I checked; see you there!

One More Email: We emailed super middleweight contender Trevor McCumby (24-0-19 knockouts) to see what he has been up to since his knockout victory last year over Donovan George and responded with the followingmessage: Hey ABNN, “I’m considering some options. I want to go to school to get my associate degree which will give me more opportunities to make a living. I may fight for a minor title later this year. My hunger is still there and for now I am enjoying life with my family and girlfriend”. ABNN Response: The 24 year old McCumby is a ranked fighter who doesn’t get the respect he deserves in our opinion.  We hope that his manager (Cameron Dunkin) and Promoter (Top Rank) will be more active in finding him meaningful fights so he can test his skills against championship caliber opponents. . In our opinion, Mr. McCumby deserves a shot at a top ten ranked super middleweight and if he wins, the Illinois born pugilist should be considered for a world title shot, not a NABF level title bout… In all fairness, Top Rank and Mr. Dunkin need to sit down with their fighter and explain their plans for him; it isn’t fair to keep him hanging in limbo. …..Until Next Time!

 





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