Joe Mesi said he wasn't nervous. His mannerisms betrayed that notion.
He was discussing Monday's appearance before the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board in Las Vegas, the hearing at which he and his doctor will make the case that Mesi's previous brain injuries were insignificant and he should be allowed to box again.
The words coming out of the heavyweight's mouth were assuring, exactly what one would expect from a local celebrity who has answered his fans' questions a bazillion times since he was hurt 13 months ago.
But Mesi's body language loudly suggested anxiety. He shifted in his seat, pursed his lips and took many a deep breath while contemplating how the hearing might unfold.
The medical advisory board's recommendation, whether positive or negative, will carry substantial weight when the athletic commission renders its verdict on Mesi's professional fate at a follow-up hearing, likely May 5.
The commission has never gone against a medical advisory board recommendation since the state legislature created the board in 1983. The five-physician panel was implemented to assist the commission following Deuk-Koo Kim's infamous death from brain injuries suffered at the fists of lightweight champion Ray Mancini at Caesars Palace.
"Monday is everything," Mesi said before leaving for Las Vegas this afternoon. "The decision will come from whatever happens on Monday. I would think the commission would have to go with what the doctors say. This is a win-or-lose situation.
"We're going to have to go in there prepared and confident and strong, and look them in the eye and assure them my health is good and I'm at no greater risk than any other fighter and show them that this isn't a decision we just decided on a whim. We have to let them know that we've done our research and we're very serious about my health and my safety and that we've taken that into consideration."
UCLA findings could be key
Nevada suspended the Sweet Home High grad after he suffered brain bleeding in his March 2003 victory over Vassiliy Jirov at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Jirov bludgeoned Mesi in the closing minutes, knocking him down three times in the final two rounds.
MRI reports conducted by Mesi's local doctors indicated he suffered at least three subdural hematomas, or bleeding on the surface of the brain from torn vessels.
Mesi, however, has another doctor with a more favorable opinion. Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurologist from Concord, Mass., sees only one minor brain bleed in Mesi's brain scans and is expected to testify at the hearing that Mesi is at no increased danger to experience the same injury again.
Because of the disparity in interpretations of Mesi's brain scans, the UCLA neuroradiology department conducted an independent review of Mesi's brain scans. Mesi said he has no indication of UCLA's findings, which will be revealed at the hearing.
Nevada law prohibits a boxer from being licensed to fight if he has experienced any brain bleeding. Federal law forces all states to honor the medical suspension of another jurisdiction.
The boxing community will be watching Monday's proceedings closely. The 31-year-old Town of Tonawandan had become an important factor in the heavyweight division. He was on the verge of a lucrative match with Mike Tyson and was a consensus top-10 contender. The World Boxing Council rated Mesi its No. 1 contender before dropping him from the rankings altogether. He is 29-0 with 25 knockouts.
"The commission and our team are both kind of between a rock and a hard place here," Mesi said. "We're trying to accommodate one another without them bending or breaking their rules, but they might have to."
Results immediate at hearing
Mesi's representation at the hearing will be Cantu and attorney Stuart Campbell of Tulsa, Okla. Also traveling to Las Vegas from the Mesi camp were father and manager Jack Mesi, trainer Juan DeLeon and spokesman Tony Farina.
The public hearing will begin at 4:30 p.m. and could last less than a half-hour. Mesi will know the recommendation before he leaves the room.
Mesi will have a tough audience. Neurologist Margaret Goodman, who has a reputation for being conservative with boxing injuries, particularly brain bleeds, heads the medical advisory board. The other doctors on the board are neurosurgeon Al Capanna, cardiovascular surgeon Todd Chapman, retinal specialist Jeffrey Parker and family physician Anthony Pollard.
"This is extremely important because you'll have five very experienced physicians assisting the ultimate decision makers," said Keith Kizer, Nevada chief deputy attorney general. "They'll look at all aspects of his fitness, and that's one of the purposes the board was created, to assist the commission in these matters. But ultimately the final decision lies in the hands of the commission."
Mesi's hearing will begin with a general review of his medical records. He and his representatives then will be allowed to present their case.
The board will follow with questions or comments before deliberating. The doctors will openly discuss Mesi's request to fight again. Each doctor will publicly announce his or her vote, and a majority will carry the formal recommendation to be passed along to the commission.
Not boxing 'inconceivable'
At the next hearing, the five commissioners will decide one of the following for Mesi:
Uphold the suspension, which in effect would end his career in the United States;
Deny him a license to fight in Nevada but lift the suspension, thereby granting him the ability to seek a license on a state-by-state basis;
Grant him full clearance to resume his career anywhere, including Nevada.
"The way my team and I see it right now as we get closer and closer to the hearing is that it would be inconceivable to not let me box," Mesi said. "That's why I have the confidence I have.
"I'm actually more excited than anything. After more than a year sidelined, I'm just excited that this is going to come to a close. I'm excited because I'm confident that things are going to go our way and we're going to get the decision we're expecting. I'm pretty excited to realize that I'm going to be back doing what I love very, very soon."
Yet in the back of Mesi's mind, he knows he could leave the hearing disgusted. His fate, in this case, is out of his hands.
"One of the things I've learned over the past year is you can't beat yourself up," Mesi said. "If things don't go the way we want them to on Monday I'm just going to keep my head up high, keep my chin up and still hope for the best."