Joe Mesi On Rocky Road

04.12.03 - By TIM SMITH - NEW YORK DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER: Joe Mesi stood next to the cardboard cutout of Rocky Marciano, the only great heavyweight champion with a zero in the second column of his record. Right now the zero in the right column of their records is the only thing that Marciano and Mesi (27-0, 25 KOs) share. But Mesi is hoping that one day boxing fans will speak of him with as much awe as they do Marciano.

"I've been an avid Marciano fan for my whole career," Mesi said at press luncheon at Vincent's in Little Italy yesterday. "I have a lot of videotapes and books about him. He was a good man inside and outside of the ring. I'm trying to emulate that."

Marciano's brothers, Lou and Peter, and his nephew, Lou Jr., bestowed their blessings on Mesi before he steps into the ring against Monte Barrett at the Garden on Saturday night. It is the co-feature to the WBC title eliminator between Vitali Klitschko and Kirk Johnson.

But they can't do anything about make him Marciano's heir apparent. He will have to earn that in the ring.

"I don't see a comparison yet," said Lou, who owns Marciano's Gym in Jersey City. "Joe has his own style. And from what I can see so far, Joe doesn't fight exactly like Rocky. Rocky fought out of a crouch and Joe doesn't."

That didn't stop Peter Marciano from heaping a little more pressure on Mesi, a ticket-selling sensation in his hometown of Buffalo.

"If there's ever a guy who we want to break the record of 49-0, it's you," Peter Marciano said to Mesi.

It would be more than a stretch to suggest that Mesi can touch Marciano right now.

"They're both Italian," said Lou Duva, Rocky Marciano's friend, when asked for a quick comparison.

Mesi soaked up the adulation, but made no pretense about being the next Marciano.

"When I was less experienced, I tried to emulate his style," he said. "I was rough and rugged. From time to time that Marciano style can come out if I get angry enough."

Mesi, who turned 30 last week, is certainly more Rocky Marciano than Rocky Balboa. He is a well-spoken, clean-cut young boxer with ring skills and charisma. Everyone is waiting to see if he is more machismo than marketing. HBO has inked him to a three-fight deal, beginning with the Barrett bout.

Mesi, who is managed by his father Jack, knows the match against Barrett is a step up in class and the fact that it is at the Garden provides a special opportunity for him to catch lightning in a bottle.

"It's another step, like every fight is another step," Mesi said. "But it's also a career-defining fight. It will say a lot about where I am with my ability."

Like Marciano, who played baseball before turning to boxing, Mesi is a good athlete. As a boxer he is a late bloomer, turning pro at 21.

"He played all the rugged positions in sports in high school - nose tackle on the football team, catcher in baseball - any sport where there was a chance you'd get busted up," said Jack Mesi, a former policeman.

But after he left high school, Mesi attended a local college, D'Youville, where there were no organized athletics. He became a weekend athlete, when he wasn't tending bar, and gained 50 pounds.

Mesi wasn't feeling too good about himself physically, so he convinced his older brother, Tom, to accompany him to the PAL Gym in their hometown of Tonawanda just to hit the bag.

"Then we applied for amateur licenses," Mesi said. "The next thing I know we're 10-0, 15-0, then 20-0."

Article posted on 04.12.2003

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