Let the record reflect that this debate is only big because of the collective girth of the combatants involved. Briggs-Mercer holds little relevance in the championship picture of 2005, but it is the best that the division can manage this week. That is not to say that these two former champions will not provide an entertaining fight. If overweight and disinterested fighters past their prime dropping bombs on one another are your bag, then don’t miss it, but even if you wince at the prospect, this fight may still yield something memorable. Therefore, we here at SaddoBoxing.com consider it our charge to present the virtues of this contest. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
Experience: Between them, Briggs and Mercer fought practically everyone in the heavyweight division. At forty-four, why Mercer is even fighting is a mystery whereas the thirty-three-year old Briggs remains as a quandary for most fans of the heavyweight division. Briggs is a classic case of wasted talent; making less of excellent chances than expected and losing out in fights many favored him to win. Both men fought Lennox Lewis; Briggs’ challenge ended in five rounds whereas Mercer forced Lewis all the way and narrowly lost a ten-round decision. Mercer holds the amateur pedigree having won heavyweight gold in 1988, but an eleven-year age differential could well overshadow his underlying ability.
Speed: Forget about it. Speed is barely relevant at the best of times in this division and with these two, virtually the only speed you should concern yourself is how quickly either one of them hits the deck. In his one and only genuine title shot, Briggs troubled Lewis for the first three rounds with superior hand-speed, continually beating Lewis to the punch and landing well in combinations. This could prove a valuable asset against a naturally slower Mercer.
Skill: Both fighters can box but Briggs especially shows a tendency to disappear into himself ala his fight with Jameel McCline. In his day, Mercer had a long, accurate and punishing jab to compete with the more talented fighters in the world. Don’t expect this fight to evolve into a jab-fest or a clinic of sound technique and movement.
Power: At the beginning of the Lewis-Mercer fight, Lewis looked like himself, at the end of the fight, he looked like Riddick Bowe. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Mercer’s power, see his infamous splattering of Tommy Morrison, or “The Nuke of the Duke.” Briggs has legitimate power, but tellingly, he has never knocked out a top-level heavyweight, instead, demonstrating his punching power against less favorable opposition.
Heart: Briggs certainly showed heart in his loss to Lewis. When the champion woke up, he administered a lesson to Briggs, but it took several devastating knockdowns to put an end to Briggs’ challenge, and even at the very end, tired and beaten, referee Frank Cappuccino stopped Briggs after he missed a left hook and collapsed to the canvas. There are no question marks over Mercer’s willingness to mix it up until the end, having taken Lewis, Holyfield and Larry Holmes all the way.
Chin: Wladimir Klitschko stopped Mercer in 2002, and it remains the only time Mercer could not survive until the final bell. Realistically, Mercer would have been the favorite had the fight materialized several years before it did, and would likely have made good on that favoritism. Briggs has no shame in losing to Lewis by stoppage, but a suspicion remains after his earlier stoppage to unheralded Darroll Wilson, a Friday Night Fights level heavyweight.
Career factors: We receive this fight at the end of both of these fighter’s careers and they both have wear and tear that might play heavily into the direction of the action. Understandably, Mercer cannot be favored considering his age and it is doubtful that his poor conditioning will have improved at all. How much beatings in the Mixed Martial Arts world have damaged Mercer also might factor into the equation. Briggs could conceivably make an impact in the division but having often talked of taking over the division, and making little reality of his boasts does not make for a convincing argument that he can do so now. Both have experienced hard fights, and in between, both have knocked out many unknown fighters. I favor Briggs only because of his age advantage. This fight is an attraction because of the past reputations of both. Briggs should win a decision, but if he falls into himself again, Mercer stands a chance.
Contact Jim Cawkwell at firstname.lastname@example.org