Holmes calls himself 'Hammer,' but Mercer will be doing nailing


News from the Cauliflower patch: Larry Holmes has taken to calling himself "The Hammer," which will win him no awards for originality. Right, M.C. and Fred Williamson?

The former heavyweight champion, just a few fights into a comeback at age 42, says he's going to take that hammer, alias his left jab, and do a number on Ray Mercer at the Convention Center in Atlantic City a week from tomorrow.

He says the unbeaten former Olympic gold medalist virtually has no shot against him, "because Mercer has no speed and lacks experience.

"I'm a better fighter now. I sit back and listen and watch. My reflexes aren't gone. I'm not a [Bert] Cooper, a [Francesco] Damiani or a [Tommy] Morrison, all guys who gave Mercer fits. I'm gonna knock his head off with the left hand."

Ah boxing, the sport of self-delusion.

"Yeah, I'm surprised he took this fight," counters Mercer. "I think he should have fought a couple of tough guys. I think it's too soon for him to fight me."

But, as Holmes points out, "One thing I don't have is time. And I'm not a patient man. I don't want to wait three years to get a shot against guys I know I can whip. My goal is a title shot by the end of the year. If it doesn't happen, I'll probably hang it up. I don't want to be fighting when I'm 43."

Holmes discounts the notion he's fighting for the money, which flies against the way he has spoken since first gaining a measure of notoriety as one of Muhammad Ali's sparring partners back in the late '60s.

"I never got the money I should have fighting, but that's been forgotten," he says. However, he still remembers the low points, losing two controversial decisions and his title to Michael Spinks, and losing to Mike Tyson in an ill-fated comeback four years ago.

"I didn't like the way I went out," he said. "I didn't like being beat up by Mike Tyson."

Conversely, Mercer says: "I'm going where the money is; anything else would be stupid. I know when I get to be 40 years old, I'll be fishing. I don't want to run into a young Mercer when I'm that age."

Mercer is giving up his nebulous WBO title to engage in this match, explaining, "I had to go with Holmes because he's a household name. Who's Michael Moorer?"

Moorer is the guy the organization ordered Mercer to fight under a mandatory defense agreement.

In a short series of comeback bouts, Holmes has looked very soft around the edges and very hittable. "I wouldn't be sur

prised if I came into the ring at 228 to 233 pounds," he says while admitting he hasn't weighed himself in three weeks. "But I'm not concerned about weight."

Not his own anyway -- just George Foreman's. He decries Big George's comeback, which is well into its fourth year and got him a title shot against Evander Holyfield. But Holmes says he would like to test Foreman if a fight against the champ isn't forthcoming. "The money would be good," he says, forgetting momentarily that he's not in it for the dough.

Same goes for Mercer: "I'd love to fight Foreman."

What both fighters are praying for right now is that talk of a proposed Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe match in May disintegrates and the champion opts to take on the winner of their match.

Holmes says when he fought Tyson, "I didn't think I could beat him, not after being out for 2 1/2 years and training for just two months. I hoped I could get lucky."

Whether Holmes knows it or not, much the same situation exists here and now with Mercer. Sure, Foreman went through a legion of stiffs on his way back, but there were a lot of them and he got into the training and fighting regimen. Holmes dusted off a few guys and figures he's back to something near his former self. He thinks just wanting a title shot is enough.

"I'm trying to follow in his footsteps," Mercer says of Holmes. "I have to beat him, though, and I don't think about the other guy when we're in the ring. If he comes out and tries to slug with me, it will show me how much he's lost [mentally] in the time he's been out."

* The Vincent Pettway-Gilbert Baptist fight at the Pikesville Armory Feb. 19 should be quite a show for a couple of reasons: First, the vacant USBA junior middleweight title goes to the victor; second, WITH-AM Radio will carry the bout with Kenny Albert on blow-by-blow and Charlie Eckman on comic relief.

"No way I'm a rookie doing fights," says Eckman. "Me and Lee Case did a couple of cards when Eli Hanover used to run shows

down at Steelworkers Hall. That must be 25 years ago."

After being offered a spot on the Maryland State Athletic Commission, "The Coach" explains why he turned it down: "The offer is like throwing a dog a bone. I'm not in the State Hall of Fame, they know I want it and this is their way of buying me off.

"Everybody agrees I should be in there -- after all, how many games would get played if there were no coaches and referees? -- but nobody wants to do anything about changing the silly rules. They say they can't do anything about the rules, but I ask why? They're the guys in charge, aren't they?"

* Ring activity is picking up in Las Vegas, but the bouts are about as unappealing as they can get. Don King's "Night of the Young Heavyweights" Saturday is down to Michael Moorer taking on Mike "The Giant" White, 6 feet 10 with two left feet and no right hand, and Lennox Lewis going against Levi Billups, who had to be talked out of retirement to fill in.

Even worse is the Razor Ruddock vs. Greg Page thing Feb. 15. Page isn't even a good sparring partner anymore and, some say, could be a punch or two away from resembling the old Red Skelton character, Cauliflower McPugg.

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