Share this article

print logo


Joe Mesi accused it of "playing God."

One day after the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board unequivocally recommended he never fight again, Mesi still was bitterly surprised over the morose admonitions he received.

All four doctors in attendance at Monday afternoon's hearing voted against Mesi's request to have his suspension rescinded. The former No. 1 heavyweight contender has been prevented from competing for 13 months because of brain bleeds, and the doctors are concerned he could die if he ever fights again.

"It's all assumptions," Mesi said Tuesday from his suburban Las Vegas hotel. "They're playing God. They don't know the outcome of what those fights will be."

The hearing was disastrous for Mesi. He had been highly confident the five-member commission -- at a separate hearing May 5 -- would lift the suspension it instituted after his March 2004 bout with Vassiliy Jirov at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

"I thought for certain that I would get some of the people on our side," Mesi said. "Throughout the course of the hearing I realized what way they were leaning, but I was a bit shocked that it was so lopsided.

"It was a fair hearing, but I'm pretty certain they had their votes decided before they walked in the room."

Now even Mesi is predicting the commission will turn down his request after the medical advisory board rendered such a clear-cut opinion.

As Mesi took a red-eye flight home Tuesday night, he wasn't ready to say what his next move would be, but the Town of Tonawandan announced he would proceed with what he considers a doomed request.

He said he would decide whether to retire or fight on -- whether it's in a ring or a courtroom -- after the May 5 hearing. As long as he's under medical suspension in Nevada, federal law bars him from fighting anywhere in the U.S.

"We've got several options, but we haven't made any decisions," Mesi said. "We're still pondering all that's happened. There could be an appeal process. We could go to court. Fighting overseas is an option, or we could altogether retire from the sport and go into other things. It's too soon to say."

Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist and chairwoman of Nevada's medical advisory board, gasped at the thought of Mesi even contemplating a return to the ring. She said Mesi, even if he never boxes again, could experience seizures years down the road because of the brain bleeds medically called subdural hematomas.

"I would be terribly afraid for his safety," Goodman said. "I'm afraid for him to be in the gym. I'm concerned about him being in the gym even with headgear on.

"He needs to stay away from getting hit in the head or any other endeavor that will produce further punishment to his brain."

After 1 hour and 40 minutes of testimony and inquiry, Mesi and his sports neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu, didn't come close to winning over the medical advisory board. They cited the fact there are no authoritative studies that conclude similar injuries are likely to recur. The board was quick to respond there aren't any studies to suggest Mesi would be safe, either.

Mesi has admitted to a pair of brain bleeds from the Jirov bout. It was also disclosed at the hearing that Dr. Robert Plunkett of University at Buffalo Neurosurgery had noted one of the bleeds apparently reopened about a month after the fight.

Mesi said the strain of lifting a large dresser while moving into his new home might have torn open the injury.

"Autopsies of fighters show bleeds that have happened over periods of time, which shows there must be some sort of susceptibility in those fighters," Goodman said. "This wasn't a fluke. This wasn't some rare, little vessel that broke off and started to bleed.

"The bottom line is it was their burden to prove he was fit to box. We were waiting with an open mind, and they never gave us anything of enough credence to say 'Go for it.' "

Two members of the medical advisory board also expressed at Monday's hearing their concern for Mesi's well-being against elite competition.

At the time he was suspended Mesi (29-0 with 25 knockouts) was negotiating a lucrative bout with Mike Tyson. Mesi also was in line for a title shot against World Boxing Council champion Vitali Klitschko.

Cantu was not the ace witness the Mesi camp hoped he would be. The chief of neurosurgery and director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., didn't provide a tremendous number of definitive answers and seemed unclear regarding treatment Mesi received before their meeting in June 2004.

"I thought Bob Cantu didn't have all the information from Mesi's previous doctors based on his dictations," Las Vegas neurosurgeon and board member Albert Capanna said. Capanna noted he has performed emergency operations on three prizefighters who have suffered subdural hematomas; all of them died. "I don't think Bob knew (Mesi) had so many hard-core neurological signs."

Retinal specialist Jeffrey Parker pressed Cantu on his testimony. Cantu had stated Mesi was at no increased chance for suffering a brain bleed than he was before the Jirov fight. Parker challenged that statement, asking if Mesi might have been naturally predisposed.

"Nothing is absolutely certain," Cantu said. "In my opinion Joe is at no greater risk to resume boxing than he was before sustaining his subdurals. I don't know any reason why he's at any greater risk compared to anybody else."

Parker wasn't adequately convinced to take Cantu's word for it and suggested Mesi revisit with the doctor to speak more intimately about the situation.

Cardiovascular surgeon Todd Chapman was equally ill at ease with the thought of Mesi resuming his career.

"Maybe it would be fair to let Mr. Mesi take the risk. It's America," Chapman said. "The rub is, where do we stop? Is it after another persistent headache or at other persistent symptoms? Is it brain damage? Is it someone who looks like Muhammad Ali?

"The end point has been reached."