ROCKINGHAM — Former professional boxer and Olympic gold medalist Ray Mercer made an appearance at Dungeon Boxing Club on Tuesday with hopes of spreading some of his knowledge to a hometown Olympic hopeful.
Jamell Brown, a Rockingham native, is a 21-year old boxer who’s headed to Chattanooga, Tennessee this weekend to compete in the USA qualifiers for a chance to make the 2020 Olympic team that will compete in Tokyo.
“I’ve seen great determination and he’s motivated to fight,” Mercer said of Brown. “That’s something that I like and that’s what got me to come and see him.”
With him winning both the United States amateur heavyweight championship and the Olympic gold medal in 1988, Mercer more than qualified to access Brown’s readiness heading into this weekend’s competition.
Mercer won the amateur title while serving in the U.S. Army and then cruised his way through the first four rounds before knocking out Baik Hyun-Man (South Korea) to win the gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I won that heavyweight title, it didn’t feel like that gold medal. The gold medal was everything,” Mercer added. “I enjoyed my amateur career more than I did my professional career.”
Mercer would turn pro the following year and win his first 18 fights before losing to Larry Holmes in 1992.
Throughout his 19-year career, the former boxer had a few notable bouts: a unanimous decision loss to four-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, a majority-decision defeat to three-time world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and fifth-round technical knockout of former WBO heavyweight title-holder Tommy Morrison.
He would finish his boxing years with a 36-7-1 record, with 26 wins by knockout.
“I just try to show fighters everything that I was taught and tell them to just go for it,” he said. “You’ve got to believe in your trainers and the people that’s teaching you. You do that and you’ve got it made.”
With Mercer standing ringside, Brown worked with veteran trainer Al “Smitty” Smith — who helped coach Mercer during his title days — and Dungeon head trainer Mario Olivera Jr on Tuesday. The 21-year-old is coming off of a title-bout victory in Virginia two Saturdays ago, where Smith said he did a good job of following instructions.
“You love, as a coach, when a guy listens,” Smith said. “I’m about at the retirement stage, but when you see a student like this, you’ve got to get back in it. It’s enjoyable to give him that wisdom.”
Smith has been training boxers for more than 40 years and was inducted into the North Carolina Boxing Hall of Fame. He started working with Brown a little more than a month ago and feels confident as the qualifiers near.
This will be the first time that amateur boxers will fight without their head gear at the Olympics, but Smith isn’t worried. He’s confident in Brown’s punching ability, especially since the young boxer will compete in the 141-pound weight class.
The biggest point of emphasis, now, is making sure Brown is physically prepared this “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“For these guys, the amateurs, about 70 percent of the fight is physical and the other 30 percent is mental,” Smith said. “I wish I had more time, but I feel like he’s ready. He probably has a better opportunity to win than a lot of other guys.”
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Former boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist Ray Mercer, left, watches as Rockingham native Jamell Brown, middle, trains with Al "Smitty" Smith at Dungeon Boxing Club on Tuesday. Brown is headed to Tennessee this weekend in hopes of landing a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.