Along with his movie-star label, Morrison had been tagged as the latest Great White Hope. It was one characterization he didn't want. "First, it's racist," said Morrison before the bout. "Second, most White Hopes never make it."
In the first three rounds against Mercer, Morrison, Rocky-ripped at 221� pounds, looked as if he might make it. He was dominating the champion by setting a fast pace and landing precise, whistling combinations. Seemingly befuddled, Mercer did little punching. "He hit me harder than I've ever been hit," said Mercer, who appeared to be overweight at 225 pounds.
By Round 4, though, Mercer began to assert himself, and Morrison—who even when he was connecting looked to be tense and anxious—began to tire dramatically. A minute into the round, Mercer landed a solid right and a series of hooks. By the two-minute mark, Morrison was hanging on and gasping.
"You're pressing," said Tommy Virgets, Morrison's trainer, in the corner after the fourth. "Relax. You're too tight."
Mercer opened Round 5 on his toes, circling backward as Morrison, far from recovered and still far from relaxed, pursued and tried to punch. Then came the counter right and the attack that separated Morrison from his senses and his future. Despite promoter Bob Arum's post-fight statement that Mercer is ready to step in for Tyson against Holyfield on Nov. 8, Mercer's next bout will most likely be on Feb. 7 against 41-year-old former champ Larry Holmes, who has won four bouts in his recent comeback. Mercer stands to earn more than $1 million for that fight.
After being examined by three doctors in his dressing room, Morrison was pronounced fine. Indeed, he even hit the Boardwalk later that night with a group of his Kansas City buddies. Meanwhile, Brown promised that his fighter would be back, better than ever. "We'll go back to the gym," said Brown. "There will be a rebuilding process to give Tommy back his confidence."
Morrison may be back, but after Friday night he will never be the same. Neither will Mercer.