Keeping Up With Ray Mercer
By Anthony Cammalleri: October 1988, Ray Mercer, a 27-year-old sergeant in the U.S. Army, stood on a podium in Seoul, South Korea, and accepted his gold medal for knocking out all four of his opponents in the 1988 Olympic games.
Mercer became a gold medal Olympic boxer only five years after his initial decision to put on a pair of boxing gloves for the first time while stationed in East Germany. An Infantryman from his unit challenged him to a sparring match, Mercer claimed. Mercer said he first decided to spar with a heavyweight when he learned that he would be excused from his unit’s next field exercise.
“Way back when this guy in our unit came up to me and asked if I wanted to be his sparring partner for the heavyweight post championship. He told me if I did this, I wouldn’t have to go to the field problem. We were sleeping in the snow on those field problems, and I wanted to sleep in a warm cot,” Mercer said.
Although Mercer found a warm place to sleep, he had never boxed before and lost match after match until he began training. After that, Mercer went on a winning streak in heavyweight army boxing, winning his next 13 fights without a single loss.
“I just forgot about the boxing problem: I didn’t know how to box, didn’t even have my own pair of gloves. I got the s*** beat out of me for like two months,” Mercer said. “I asked the trainer to show me how to defend myself, and then I went on to win 13 fights without losing. I beat that first guy too,” Mercer said.
It was during his time stationed in West Germany that Mercer set his mind on the Olympics.
“I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics maybe a year after I put on those gloves. […] It took me five years from the time I started wearing gloves to win a gold medal,” Mercer said.
Mercer still reflects upon his victory in Seoul every day. Despite his successful careers in professional boxing and MMA, along with a brief attempt at kickboxing, Mercer said becoming an American gold medal Olympian was the highlight of his life.
“I was standing on the podium in 1988 in Seoul, Korea, getting that medal, and putting it around my neck representing the United States of America and being in the military also. […] I think about it all the time, and I get chills. I still get chills, like it was yesterday,” Mercer said.
“ It’s hard to describe; it’s like the best thing that could ever happen to you because that’s what you prayed for and worked so hard for five years.”
That day in Seoul opened a door for Mercer to build a successful career doing what he loves, but since his last knockout in 2009, Mercer has stopped fighting. Today, Mercer is trying to be a mentor for young amateur boxers.
“I try to give back. You know, someone once helped me out. I had a guy named Charles Mooney, who won a silver medal in the Olympics, and he came and talked to us, and that meant a lot to me […] it impacted me, it touched me. He helped me out, so now it’s my turn to do the same. That’s how it works; you pay it forward. I give to someone else what somebody once gave to me,” Mercer said.
Mercer said he would pick up the phone, day or night, to talk about boxing with a rookie fighter. To him, being a good boxer is about three things: protecting your head, physical discipline, and strong dreams.
“You get brain damage when you get hit in the head, so take it all seriously, take everything really serious. Listen to your trainers, and get yourself a really good trainer who you can listen to […] the dream thing comes true, and that you can go as far as you want to go. A true fighter could go as far as he wants, as far as his mind and body are willing to take him,” Mercer said.
Lifelong Professional Boxing Promoter Al Valenti, who has known and worked with Mercer throughout his career, sees Mercer as a champion and an icon incomparable to any other.
“Ray Mercer is that rare jewel you find in a unique person,” Valenti said. “Serving his country, representing his country, and now giving back to his country. In my book, Ray Mercer is a once in a lifetime kind of guy.”
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