The Question Is Mesi

09.02.05 - By Matthew Hurley: It's a troubling question, but one this corner finds an answer to at every verbal stumbling block presented by those who disagree. Should heavyweight contender Joe Mesi be allowed to fight again? It's a question the Nevada State Athletic Commission has so far responded to with a resounding "No!" And if you are suspended as a fighter in Nevada you simply can't get licensed anywhere in the United States. Under federal law, as long as a fighter's suspension in Nevada is ongoing all other states are required to uphold that suspension. It must be honored, which should indicate the severity of the reasons involved for such a heavy penalty. Joe Mesi and his father have decided otherwise. They want the Nevada ban lifted so they can fight elsewhere. They steadfastly believe that Joe should be allowed to continue his pursuit of the heavyweight championship. It's a belief many, indeed most, contest..

On March 13, 2004 Joe Mesi fought former cruiserweight champion Vasilly Jirov in a brutal ten round match up. It was a wonderful bout between two tough guys with no quit in their hearts. Joe was running away with the fight until the ninth round when Jirov finally caught up with him.

Mesi hit the canvas but made it out of the round. Then, he fell twice more in the tenth round. Somehow, with a fighter's resilience, he survived and won a close decision victory. He hasn't fought since. Too much has happened since then.

Post-medical exams for both fighters indicated that all was well. At least that was what everyone was led to believe. When Mesi returned to his native Buffalo he was apparently still suffering from headaches. Another MRI was performed, the results of which, understandably, were kept private. But Joe Mesi isn't a private individual not because of his personality but because of his violent, very public profession. The reports were leaked to the press and that's when all hell broke loose.

The simple fact is that Joe Mesi's second post-fight MRI, which was sent to the New York State Athletic Commission (which it should not have been) revealed, in the simplest terms, that his brain had bled. The fact that the report should have been sacrosanct to the family is beside the point now. The results of the MRI are frightening, so frightening that in a sport that is now on the cusp of respectability from the mainstream media the Nevada State Athletic Commission didn't simply panic, as it might have years ago when ring tragedies were seen as anomalies, it responded stridently and banned Mesi from fighting altogether. When confronted with a diagnosis of a "brain bleed" one would assume that a wise man, a simple man or even a stupid man would step back and say, "My God, I could die if I get hit again."

But fighters aren't simple folk. Fighters don't like to be called boxers, unless you're describing they're style. They all want to be known as fighters. And that word implies toughness, determination and most of all, courage. But how courageous is it to risk your life when you've been presented with evidence that one more blow could, conceivably, kill you? It's not courageous at all. It's stupid.

Boxing is a beautiful but brutal sport. It requires its participants to be brutal in order to discover or reveal the beauty they embody deep within themselves. Every fighter embodies that beautiful nature but when it's beaten out of them someone should stop them from having that beauty desecrated. At that point life and living comes into the balance. There is nothing over the top in the words I have written, though some might read them as a writer losing himself with words and emotion. Boxing is beautiful, but fighters need to be protected from themselves and the Nevada State Athletic Commission should be commended for its ruling on Joe Mesi's career. It is a brave stance.

It is also a ruling that Mesi and his handlers have every right to contest. Joe's father Jack recently said, "I don't know what they're talking about. Joe had an MRI and there was nothing more serious than a concussion." Well, Mr. Mesi, professional quarterbacks from Roger Staubach to Joe Montana to Troy Aikmen have retired from football because of concussions. A subdural hematoma is something far more serious. And yet even the most concerned among us knows that Jack Mesi loves his son and perhaps isn't seeing the entire picture. Neither is Joe, who doesn't dispute the results of the medical findings but insists that he is fine and ready to fight.

No you're not Joe. It's over. Not because the medical examiner says so and not because you can get tested again and that examiner might say you're all set to take punches to the head again. It's over because it happened once. Don't become another name on the list of boxing tragedies. Don't do that to boxing and, in particular, don't do it to yourself and your family. It's not worth it.

In the end, you might be right. There might be nothing wrong with you and you might win a championship. You might be right. But what if you're wrong? There is nothing courageous in being carried out of the ring on a stretcher with an oxygen mask strapped to your face. But a quiet dignity could be found in simply walking away.

Article posted on 09.02.2005

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