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MESI SAGA REVERBERATES FOR HIS EX-PROMOTER

A half-hour later, Tony Holden's eyes were glassy still. A stunned look remained on his face.

Joe Mesi's former boxing promoter watched from the back of a conference room in Las Vegas last week as the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board unanimously recommended the undefeated heavyweight's suspension be upheld because of previous brain bleeds.

Holden was shaken, but probably not by the verdict as much as the testimony he heard and the painful memories of another fighter he used to promote.

Randie Carver, a super middleweight Mesi trained with when they were amateurs, died from brain bleeding two days after a 1999 prize fight against Kabary Salem.

Carver was 24 years old, unbeaten in 24 fights and didn't have a history of head injuries. Yet he collapsed in the ring and never recovered.

"I had a personal tragedy with a fighter," Holden said. "I lost a kid in the ring. I resigned from boxing for 10 months. If there's any chance, I can't . . . how do I put it into words?"

Holden was asked after the hearing if he thought Mesi should retire. Holden paused several seconds before replying.

"That's a family question," he said. "I really don't want to go there because that's going to be between him and his father. I have to deal with my convictions."

Holden promoted Mesi's last five fights and helped the Town of Tonawandan secure a lucrative deal with HBO, including a $450,000 payday against Vassiliy Jirov in March 2004. Mesi maintained his unblemished record, but he was knocked down three times in the final four minutes and suffered multiple brain bleeds.

As word of the injuries got out last spring, Joe and father Jack Mesi angrily denied the reports. Holden believed his client and released a statement admonishing the media for presenting lies.

Holden resigned as Mesi's promoter in August, shortly before Mesi admitted one brain bleed.

Holden learned even more disconcerting information at last week's hearing.

Mesi's sports neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu, acknowledged a second bleed. Documents also indicated one of the bleeds reopened and increased in size a month after the Jirov fight, apparently when Mesi lifted a large dresser while moving into his Williamsville home.

Holden still speaks of his affection for Mesi and has offered to help him make the transition from boxer to promoter, an invitation he wishes he could extend to Carver.

Mesi used to stay with Carver and his mother at their Kansas City, Mo., home when the fighters were knocking around the amateurs.

"We were on the U.S. team together," Mesi said in an interview before the hearing. "I trained with him for weeks at a time in Kansas City. He was one of the nicest kids.

"When any fighter dies, whether you know him or not, it certainly makes you think. It's scary. You never think of something like that happening to you. That's just something every fighter goes in the ring knowing, that it's a possibility. I know that now more than ever.

"There have been several fighters that have died. It's part of the game. There have been times in the past year I've thought about Randie. But it keeps bringing me back to the idea of what my doctors say, that I'm at no greater risk. It certainly gives you a lot to think about."

Holden, however, has little to contemplate.

"Joe will make his decision to do what he's going to do," Holden said. "I made mine months ago."
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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