This Isn't Just About Joe Mesi

28.04.05 - By Gail Carelli: If you're reading this article, then you probably already know that the Nevada State Boxing Commission revoked Joe Mesi's license after his fight with Vassily Jirov. Mesi won the fight, but at a high cost: he suffered from at least two subdural hematomas. Defined in simple terms, a subdural hematoma is bleeding in the brain caused by severe blunt force trauma to the head. It is quite often fatal, and is the leading cause of ring fatalities. [see the Journal of Combat Sport, online at ].

What is confounding is that even though it was reported that a month after the fight, one of the bleeds reopened and increased in size when Mesi was moving furniture, doctors who support Mesi still say there's no proof that he's more likely than any other fighter to suffer the same injuries if he gets back into the ring. So what we're left with is that neither side of the debate can prove that he is or isn't at a higher risk.

Still, the Commission's doctors decided unanimously to recommend upholding his suspension. The Commission almost never goes against the recommendations of the medical board, so the next step will likely entail Joe and his lawyers filing a lawsuit that he has a good chance of winning. If he does win the right to fight again, the Commission can and very likely will wash their hands of the matter, and lay the blame on the courts if (heaven forbid) anything bad happens. But the damage to the sport will be done.

Professional sports are how many people make a living. To say it's "just a game" or "just a sport" isn't fair to the men and women who earn their livelihood at it. Take, for example, the difference between a boxer and an Alaskan crab fisherman. Crab fishermen have the highest occupational death rate in the world, period. That's not even taking into account the serious injuries that occur to nearly 100% of crab fisherman. But we let them go out there year after year and risk their lives so we can eat crab. Do we really need to eat crab? Probably about as much as we need to watch boxing. Both boxer and fisherman alike are trying to earn a living. That they've chosen a ridiculously dangerous way to do it is their choice. As long as we keep shelling out money to watch boxing on pay-per-view, and paying upwards of $25 a pound for Alaskan King Crab legs, they will keep risking their lives to give us what we want and, if their luck holds out, live to get paid handsomely for it.

Everyone knows that boxing can be a dangerous sport. But it's not the only one. Football happens to be very dangerous too. Steve Young, the legendary San Francisco 49er QB, was warned by doctors time and time again to quit. Countless times every week, at least half a dozen Mack-truck sized men tried their best to cream him. He suffered countless concussions, but played on. NASCAR drivers risk death and serious injury every time they get behind the wheel. When Dale Earnhart crashed his car and died, NASCAR fans cheered all the more for Dale Junior. Still, despite the risks, injuries, and deaths, no one ever called for an end to pro football, or to racecar driving.

Boxing is different. Boxing is already criticized as being a barbaric and unworthy sport. Most people outside of the boxing world probably have no idea how often ring deaths occur. But now, with all the media attention focused on Mesi, a lot of people will be watching. The last time the world witnessed a fighter dying in the ring it almost killed the sport. When Benny Paret died after his bout with Emile Griffith, the public outcry nearly got boxing abolished. Advertisers pulled their
sponsorships, and boxing wasn't seen on television for almost a decade.

The Commission knows it has an obligation to protect the sport as much as they do the boxers. Not only that, they're on notice. It doesn't matter if doctors can't assess Mesi's risk in the ring based on past injuries. In the court of public opinion, if anything bad happens to him, people will point an accusing finger at the Commission and all of boxing and declare, "you should have known."

While sports writers and fans debate the issue, boxing professionals remain largely quiet. So far, Vassily Jirov is the only other boxing professional outside of Team Mesi who has weighed in on the issue. For the record, Jirov has stated that he doesn't think Mesi should fight again. No one asked him if he'd take a rematch with Mesi if he could.

On his web site, Mesi makes mention of Dominick Guinn, Hasim Rahman, Vitali Klitschko and Mike Tyson and their "support and kind thoughts." What about those thoughts? There are a lot of people involved when two men lace up the gloves and go at it. First, there's Mesi's opponent. Will any of these guys who've been so supportive of Mesi actually be willing to get in the ring with him? What about the sport's referees? Tony Weeks, Joe Cortez, Jay Nady, Kenny Bayless - would any of them want to be put in a position of possibly being another Ruby Goldstein? What about ringside judges? The doctors?

Joe is under a lot of pressure to fight again. His family, friends, members of "Team Mesi," the Italian-American community desperate for another Rocky Marciano, and pretty much the entire city of Buffalo, is counting on him. The questionable range of talent in the Heavyweight division coupled with the prospect of a championship belt must sing quite a siren song.

When all is said and done, the lawyer and the libertarian in me supports Mesi's right to earn a living. But the boxing fan in me has to beg him not to fight again. Not only for his own good, but for the good of the sport.

Gail Carelli is an attorney, freelance writer, and boxing fan living somewhere in the Midwestern USA. Carelli's boxing blog can be found online at

Article posted on 28.04.2005

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