Was “Baby” Joe Mesi’s Career Sabotaged?
By: Ken Hissner
It’s been going on ten years since unbeaten heavyweight “Baby” Joe Mesi who was called one of Buffalo’s three franchises. He was 36-0 with 29 knockouts from 1997 to 2007. There were more than a handful of these victories he wasn’t supposed to win but did. Names like “Smokin” Bert Cooper who had 30 KO’s in his 35 wins was dropped twice and turned his back on Mesi in the seventh to end it. Followed by David Izon, 27-4, DaVarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson, 18-1, Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett, 29-2, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, 31-6, Keith McKnight, 41-3 and former IBF cruiser weight champion Vassiliy “The Tiger” Jirov, 33-1, are some that come to mind. The big Cuban Gonzalez in the amateurs defeated Riddick Bowe and split in two bouts with Lennox Lewis.
After Mesi’s victory over Jirov he went home and a few days later he had headaches and went to a neurologist. He was diagnosed with a head injury. He would eventually be banned from such states as Nevada and his home state of New York where he had fought fourteen times. He was winning the fight and got hit while in a crouch behind the head and knocked down in the ninth round with seconds to go. It was an unintentional foul. Referee Jay Nady could have called a halt at that time and go to the scorecards but he didn’t even take a point from him. In the tenth round Mesi was obviously still hurt and got knocked down with two minutes to go in the round and once more before the fight ended. HBO judge Harold Lederman had Mesi ahead by one point as did all three judges 94-93. He was then inactive for twenty-five months after the Jirov fight. He was the No. 1 contender in the WBC and WBA rankings.
An MRI showed Mesi to have at least one Subdural Hematoma’s. Mesi presented evidence that he never actually sustained any internal brain bleeding to the Nevada Commission, but they ignored it and suspended him. The suspension effectively blacklisted him from boxing anywhere in the US under the premise of the full faith and credit clause. He launched several very expensive ineffective lawsuits against parties they claimed that ‘leaked’ news of his health, while also appealing to Nevada representatives that he should be allowed to box. The suspension was officially lifted when Mesi’s Nevada boxing license was expired at the end of 2005.
The NYSAC doctor Barry Jordan disregarded HIPPA regulations and leaked this to commentator Teddy Atlas who started the whole thing over the air saying that Mesi was damaged and accused the management, Spagnola and Jack Messi wanting to cash him out one last time saying “Senator McCain don’t let them kill him”. Writer Tom Hauser wrote it up that way. Neither had any right to do so without all the facts. Atlas even referred to Mesi as a “some say rated heavyweight”. There was no questioning Mesi after the fight.
Several days later he was suffering from headaches and went to a neurologist who looked for advice and contacted the NYSAC doctor Barry Jordan who years earlier sat through the fight that Beethaeven Scottland had been beaten to death. That was in a bout with George Khalid Jones on June 26th, 2001, and died on July 1st, 2001.
Spagnola had this to say: We didn’t even have a diagnosis and they were burying us for not releasing info, demanded all our Medicaid and we resisted, trying to get a handle on the medical ramifications before sharing our plight with the world. The publicity was damming, no one would give us a chance with NYC media all over us. We were very lucky to contact Dr. Robert Cantu, a real neurosurgeon, not a fraud like the NYAC doctor who would have people looking and ink splashes or hitting them in the knee to test coordination and reaction. Cantu was a world renowned surgeon who operated on brains, cracked open skulls to heal people and he had a CV over 12 pages long He was a brilliant physician specializing in sports related brain injuries. Cantu is stationed in Concord, MASS, and he is a senior advisor to the NFL Head, Neck and Spinal Committee.
The first MRI we got showed a very slight Subdural Hematoma, the second one they couldn’t even find it. In the third the slight had moved below its original spot which they claimed was another Subdural but Dr. Cantu explained the first spot had moved slightly as it was in the process of disintegrating, they claimed it was a second bleed. Dr. Cantu stated at our hearing in Las Vegas that Joe Mesi’s injury was on a scale of 1-100, meaning it was ½ of 1, which would self-heal like any other bruise type injury in a matter of weeks, no operation, no surgery just rest and natural healing within his body. But Nevada honcho Keith Kizer would have none of it. Mesi presented several world renowned neurosurgeons who were very convincing on his behalf. Nevada countered with two doctors on their board, Doctors Edwin “Flip” Homansky and Margret Goodman.
After the testimony which interestingly pointed out Mesi’s injury was in the middle of the back of his head, total proof that the blow that felled Mesi was to the back of his head, obvious on the TV replay but referee Jay Nady, rather than going to the score cards as a result of the unintentional foul by Jirov demanded Mesi go out for the final round, obviously concussed to be beaten all over the ring, nearly helpless. Mesi had dominated the world class Jirov so badly over the first 8 2/3 rounds that even the beating and knockdowns as a result of the foul could not overcome the margin and Mesi won the unanimous decision. Nady told Spagnola, “Joe twisted into the punch and I said guys twist and turn all the time if their heads clashed and one was badly busted up that is an unintentional foul, case closed.” The Nevada doctors checked Mesi after the bout and cleared him with no special follow-up. They never took responsibility for misdiagnosing him. Field Marshall Keith Kizer never accepted any responsibility for any of their shortcomings or mistakes just dug into the company line.
After a hearing with the Nevada Commissioners they asked Mesi point blank, saying they had only one question for Mesi before they voted. I think his name was Miller, he said “Joe you have presented an incredible array of high end medical talent at this hearing to speak on your behalf, my question is how many of these doctors have asked you to sign a disclaimer, hold harmless agreement with them in case you are allowed to fight again?” Mesi answered brilliantly and honestly “that’s a great question sir as we know doctors and lawyers must be the two most non-committal professions, but in answer to your question, not a single one.” Pennsylvania Boxing Director then President of the ABC Commission, presented a training secession at an ABC annual conference, “what to do if Joe Mesi tries to come to your state”.
However, Mesi was unable to renew his license in Nevada due to concerns of the Nevada Boxing officials. Mesi was licensed by the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission in February 2006, the Louisiana State Boxing Commission in June of 2006, the Arkansas Boxing Commission in August of 2006, the Michigan State Boxing Commission in September, 2006, the West Virginia State Boxing Commission in February of 2007, and the Rhode Island State Boxing Commission in October of 2007.
Mesi returned to the ring on April Fool’s Day in 2006. The bout was in Guaynabo, PR, where he won an eight round decision over Ronald Bellamy, 14-4-4. He next fought in June in Canada winning a six round decision. In August he scored a second round stoppage in Russellville, ARK. In September he won a four round decision in Manistee, MI. In February and April of 2007 he scored first round stoppages in Chester, WV and back again to ARK. In WV he knocked George Linberger, 29-8-1 down twice before referee called a halt. Linberger never fought again.
His final bout was in October of 2007 in Lincoln, RI, scoring his third consecutive first round stoppage over Shannon Miller, 15-3, dropping him twice winning the USNBC title. Miller was on the canvas for over five minutes. That’s seven straight wins after being suspended in New York. The only other title he won was the NABF title when he stopped Robert Davis, 28-5, in Buffalo in June of 2003.
Mesi’s having seven boxing matches after taking off to rest for twenty-five months should prove he could fight again but couldn’t get re-instated in major states.
Mesi didn’t start boxing until he was 19. In 1996 he want all the way to the finals of the Olympic Trials before losing to Lawrence Clay-Bey. On November 11th, 1997 he turned professional at the Apollo Theater in New York City scoring a first round knockout over Dwane Cason Allen, 1-1. He had three wins in 1997 followed by seven in 1998, five in 1999, down to just two in 2000, three each in 2001 and 2002, four in 2003, and only the Jirov fight in 2004.
On February 14th, 2008 Mesi publicly expressed he wanted to run for the NY state senate. He attempted to fill the seat of the 61st District vacated by Mary Lou Rath. He won the Democratic primary for the seat on September 9th, 2008. He lost the general election to Republican Michael Ranzenhofer.
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