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CONFIDENT MESI SET FOR NEVADA HEARING

This time, the venue won't be swanky. The beautiful people won't be milling around the casino floor in chic fashions. There won't be electricity in the air or a fight night crowd eager for the opening bell.

Thirteen months ago, the atmosphere was glamorous when Joe Mesi made his Las Vegas debut at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Today the undefeated heavyweight will be far away from the glitz, his latest fight taking place in a government building.

Mesi will sit before the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board at 4:30 p.m. in the Grant Sawyer Building. It's on the other end of Las Vegas Boulevard from the posh resorts, north of seedy downtown, past the Ukulele Lounge, the gutted Casa Palms flophouse, the plywood-shuttered La Paloma Motel and Biomat USA, a place where the down-and-out can sell their plasma for $20.

In the same gritty neighborhood as thrift stores and pawnshops, Mesi will challenge Nevada legislation and try to convince five doctors he should be allowed to box again.

"We've done our part," Mesi said of preparations for his long-awaited hearing. "I'm confident, but not overconfident."

Nevada suspended Mesi after Vassiliy Jirov knocked him down three times in the last two rounds of their March 2004 bout. Medical reports indicated Mesi suffered three brain bleeds, but the 31-year-old Town of Tonawanda native insists he had only one little bleed.

Nevada law prohibits fighters who have experienced brain bleeding, also known as a subdural hematoma, from gaining a license here. Subdural hematomas are the leading cause of boxing-related deaths.

By federal law, any state's medical suspension must be honored throughout the country. For Mesi to receive a favorable decision and be cleared to box again in the U.S. he will need Nevada to disregard its own policy, or at least look the other way and lift the suspension, letting him seek licensure on a state-by-state basis.

Mesi's case could be a precedent-setter, whether it happens now or down the road in court on appeal.

"I think it might possibly change policy and should change policy," Mesi said. "The point we want to get across is this injury should be handled case by case. We know the seriousness of it. Maybe some fighters shouldn't fight if they have this injury, but the fact is that I can. I'm OK."

Mesi's neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu of Concord, Mass., is expected to testify Mesi's injuries were insignificant and Mesi's career shouldn't be struck down by a rule their camp claims is too strict.

"I think it's a very, very important case," said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. "There's not any literature or medical findings about what happens to someone with this injury. That's where the decision-making has to come in. I find it interesting as a layman, listening to it all, because I can see different sides of the argument. I feel the doctors as well as the commissioners are coming in with open minds.

"This is uncharted territory really. It's going to be very interesting and compelling."

The hearing's length mostly will depend on the presentation made by Mesi, Cantu and attorney Stuart Campbell. The session could be as brief as a half-hour, but Mesi spokesman Tony Farina estimated it could take closer to an hour just to lay out their case. That will be followed by questions and comments from the medical advisory board before the doctors publicly vote on their recommendation.

The five-member athletic commission will base its decision largely on the recommendation the medical advisory board makes this afternoon. The commission will vote at a hearing tentatively scheduled for May 5.

Nevada's commission has never gone against a medical advisory board recommendation since it was created in 1983.

"I just hope there's a clear-cut answer, yes or no, and that'd be it," said Greg Sirb, head of Pennsylvania's athletic commission and a former president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. "When they come down with their decision if they detail it X, Y and Z with hard facts, you will have to respect that."
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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