Klitschko wins againIn boxing, a small dose of name recognition can send boxing fans into a state of temporary hallucination. Such was the case when Wladimir Klitschko announced that he would take on Ray Mercer. Because the name "Ray Mercer" was a familiar one, boxing fans conveniently forgot that Mercer was 41 years old. They momentarily neglected the fact that Mercer had fought at a Tyson-esque pace of 6 fights in 5 years against opponents that even Iron Mike would have been too embarrassed to take on. And they ignored the most critical factor: that Ray Mercer was best known for losing. Once under the influence of the name recognition narcotic, some boxing fans even began envisioning a scenario in which Ray Mercer could compete with a young, active, and unusually strong heavyweight contender like Klitschko. Of course, these were nothing more than pipe dreams. The reality was that Mercer's chances of winning went up in smoke as soon as the bell sounded to begin round one.

Against an old, slow, inactive fighter primarily known for his ability to take a punch, someone like Klitschko should look fantastic. Indeed, Klitschko looked sharp as he opened the fight thrusting a serous jab into Mercer's forehead. Klitschko doubled and tripled up with the stick and Mercer was forced backwards as his shorter jab fell short. Klitschko quickly followed with some short straight right hands. The punches quickly zipped through Mercer's guard and found his nose. Merciless Ray raised his gloves tighter around his head and Klitschko aimed his right hand to the body. As a competition, this was nothing more than a heavy bag drill. Unfortunately, this drill used only 10-ounce gloves, and Mercer was feeling the pain early and often. Things got worse when an extremely confident Klitschko began hooking off the jab with startling handspeed. After a few hooks bruised his chin, Mercer didn't know what punch to look for. He had clearly been looking for Klitschko's right, and was startled again at the end of the round when Klitschko lead with a wide hook. The punch bounced off Mercer's temple and straightened his knees. He wobbled back a half step - just enough to avoid the follow-up hook Klitschko was throwing - before collapsing backwards onto the canvas.

In his limited heyday, Mercer was best known for his granite chin. But a comeback fight against tomato can Brian Scott last year revealed that the chin was not what it once was. In that fight, the tubby no-hoper bucked Mercer's knees in the first round with a forgettable punch before losing by kayo in the second. It was that performance that convinced Mike Tyson's handlers that Mercer was bad enough to fight the protected Tyson (that fight was later cancelled to make Lewis-Tyson a reality). If the myth of Mercer's magic whiskers hadn't been deflated in the Scott fight, it was shattered by Klitschko's hook in round one. On the canvas, Mercer at first looked out cold. He didn't move until five, at which point he popped to his feet and stumbled into a corner shaking his head violently to say "no." Mercer was chastising himself. He quickly realized that the ref might interpret his actions as a desire to quit and so he yelled, "Fight. Yes."

Mercer down in the 1stThe ref accepted Mercer's broken English at face value and allowed Klitschko to hammer the aging fighter into the ropes with a series of loud, flush, head-snapping right crosses before a bell finally ended the carnage as well as the first round. Mercer had sustained a heinous beating in the first round, a round that could have been scored 10-8 even if Mercer had not tasted canvas.

Mercer had nothing to offer Klitschko beyond the value of his name, and so he basically stood there in the second round as Klitschko again fired away with short bursting punches in combination. The Ukrainian giant began almost every attack with a beautiful jab. Showing off the most-improved weapon in his arsenal, Klitschko fluidly hooked off his big jab, catching Mercer on the ear or jaw with almost every change-up. Early in the round, Klitschko followed one of these hooks with a forceful straight right hand. The punch tagged Mercer right between the eyes, again rattled his legs, and forced him to falter back into the ropes. Mercer was hurt, but instead of running or clutching, he overtly leaned on the ropes and waved Klitschko in. Klitschko approached Mercer, but then stopped short, unsure of whether Mercer was hurt or playing possum. Klitschko studied Mercer for about 15 seconds and then unleashed three consecutive left hook-right cross combinations. All six punches landed on Mercer's head. Referee Randy Newman moved in to take a very close look at Ray.

Klitschko eventually let Mercer get off the ropes, although he followed him closely for the remainder of the round. Mercer glanced one or two jabs in Klitschko's direction in the final minute of the frame, his only real punches. Klitschko dug in a few body shots and landed several more right hands to close out another 10-8 round, this one without a knockdown.

Wladimir Klitschko's biggest weakness is his stamina. After all, it's hard work moving around all that muscle, especially at the brisk pace Klitschko had set in the first two rounds. His output dipped and his handspeed slowed in the third round, which is not to say that he wasn't still putting an incredible amount of leather onto Mercer's face. The slightly less ferocious beating allowed Mercer to pump his own virile jab out a bit more often, and a few of Mercer's jabs landed on Klitschko's face. With his high cheekbones and deep eye sockets, Klitschko is a natural for skin problems. Indeed after only a few Mercer jabs found their target, Klitschko was sporting a significant mouse under his left eye and a smaller but no less obvious lump under his right. Mercer hadn't even come close to throwing a power punch, let alone landing one, thus making Klitschko's swelling a source of future concern.

Klitschko hammers MercerIf the swelling was bothering Klitschko, it wasn't showing. He methodically went out in the fourth round and continued his sparring session. Klitschko continued to let his pace diminish, but against a Mercer who was doing little more than stand there, it hardly mattered. Klitschko was having no problem scoring points. He could throw three jabs, or three hooks and land. He did both. Halfway through the round, another in the endless parade of one-twos sent a rubber-kneed Mercer into a neutral corner. Klitschko was cautious not to overexert himself, and slowly waded in to land his follow-up right hands. Mercer had his hands up, but could do absolutely nothing to prevent Klitschko's mitts from whipping his head back and forth. It was now Mercer's chance to swell up. Behind closing eyes, Mercer continued to receive unanswered punishment to finish out round four.

Mercer needed to do something to turn the tide. He opened the fifth round with two jabs to Klitschko's face. Klitschko answered with two heavier jabs, stopping Mercer's would-be rally in its tracks. Klitschko started feinting more in this round. His open mouth revealed the onset of fatigue. Still, he managed to slice into Mercer with power punches. Midway through the round, two successive jab-crosses landed flush and wobbled Mercer into the ropes. After a quick breather, Klitschko launched into Mercer with a swinging left hook. The punch landed loud and clean, drawing a gasp from the audience just as a right hand landed behind the hook. Mercer paused to shake his head at Klitschko, telling him he wasn't hurt. Klitschko immediately stuffed Mercer's face with another clean one-two. Mercer dropped his hands after eating this combination and revealed a two-inch cut over his right eye, a cut caused by the lead hook that started the sequence. Mercer backed away from Klitschko to buy some time. Breathing heavily, Klitschko stayed close, landing a few more blistering punches to close out the round.

Klitschko-Mercer was turning into a replay of Lewis-Tyson. Mercer must have been feeling like time was running out, because at the beginning of the sixth round, the unthinkable happened: Ray Mercer threw his right hand. For the first time all night, Mercer launched an overhand right with authority, and wouldn't you know it, the punch landed. While not a concussive blow, the punch landed right on the growing purple ball under Klitschko's left eye. Score a point for Mercer. After tasting the blow, Klitschko face contorted in anger. How dare his set-up opponent hit him! Klitschko had taken a bit off his jab in rounds four and five, but he now pumped it hard into Mercer's face. Klitschko expertly stepped in behind his jab so that his right hand had more leverage, and the punch bloodied Mercer's nose. Wobbled yet again, Mercer fell back into the ropes. This time he did not wave at Klitschko to come in and punch some more, but it happened any way. Klitschko fired a long right hand that snapped Mercer's head straight back, and then turned it to the side with a whipping double left hook. Mercer simply covered up as Klitschko unloaded an uppercut, a short right and another hook. The hook landed right on Mercer's jaw and forced his entire body to shuffle left. Bouncing from one set of ropes to another, Mercer was in dire shape. Randy Newman moved in and allowed Klitschko to land three more unanswered flush power punches before finally stepping in to stop the carnage. Klitschko KO6.

Bloody Ray Mercer gets smashed by Wladimir KlitschkoOrdinarily, we would simply write off this victory as another Klitschko showcase against opposition that was brought in to make the WBO titlist look good. But on this night Klitschko looked better than good... he looked great. While his mammoth jab and big right hand have always been formidable, Klitschko demonstrated a crisp left hook on this night. More importantly, he showed that he knew how to mix in the hook enough to keep his opponent off-balance. In the past, Klitschko's devastating offense suffered from unfaltering predictability. His improved ability to change up his combinations will serve him well down the line.

Still, no matter how good Klitschko looked, and he looked absolutely fantastic, we must remember that he was in against a man who simply stood there and took it. Even Mike Tyson looked great against guys like that. While it's true that most heavyweights wouldn't be able to withstand the type of attack Klitschko launched early in this bout, it's also true that Klitschko might not be able to launch such an attack while under equal fire. The Mercer fight may have been a valuable stepping stone for Klitschko, but it also revealed that Klitschko still has stamina problems that prevent him from fighting at the same pace every round. He also may have a swelling problem that will haunt him in later fights. Still, he appears to be the Next Big Thing in heavyweight boxing. Let's just hope that his next opponent has more talent than name recognition.

.....Chris Bushnell
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