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RSR Says Goodbye to Arthur Mercante SR

By Geno McGahee

On March 8, 1971, the “Fight of the Century” would take place between the Heavyweight Champion “Smokin’” Joe Frazier and the returning ex-champ, Muhammad Ali.  Ali was banned from the sport and stripped of the title when he refused induction into the military.  In his absence, Frazier won the title and built up an impressive record of 26-0, 23 KO’s.  The fight was a promoter’s dream.  Ali was famous to some, infamous to others, and the people would watch, either to watch him fulfill a destiny or to finally be shut up.  Frazier was the working man’s fighter, a tough guy that did everything the hard way.  The title was in question, the location was New York City, and the fight proved to be the biggest of all time up to that date. 

The referee for the contest was Arthur Mercante, SR., a man that had been the third man in the ring since 1954, and much like Ali and Frazier are forever linked together, so too is he.  The fight was historical and was as important as a sporting event could be.  Mercante, SR., as always, did a flawless job, ensuring that the end result would not be marred by controversy.  Frazier would walk away with a decision win after fifteen rounds and the two would go on to fight two more times and have even squabbled well into their golden years, a never ending feud.

Mercante, SR., would go on to referee 120 world title fights, retiring from the sport in 2001 at 81 years of age.  In 1988, he would be awarded the James J. Walker Memorial Award and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.  He was the premiere referee of his time, stood out when the referee would typically be forgotten. 

The sad news that the legendary referee had passed away at the age of 90 came in, dying in his home.  He lived a long and full life, and his memory within the boxing community as well as those that grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, when the nation was changing and boxing was changing with it. 

He lives on through his family and especially so through his son Arthur Mercante, JR., a good referee in his own right.  Mercante, SR., will be remembered for his contributions to pugilism, his service to his country in the Navy in World War II, and by his loving family. 

RSR says goodbye to Arthur Mercante, SR., a man I once had the pleasure to speak to and was very courteous and kind, eager to speak to anyone at any time.  He will be missed. We at RSR ring the bell for the honorary brother in boxing that we lost…

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