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Mesi celebrates court win Judge overturns boxer's suspension

There was no entourage for Joe Mesi.

No promoters. No trainers. No doctors. None of those fight-game gawkers always ready to glom onto a guy when he's hot.

This time Joe Mesi sat silently next to his father and listened to the latest installment in what had been a fruitless quest to fight again in the United States. Mesi's fidgety big brother was there, too, but that was the extent of his crew.

Rest assured, the well wishers will come around again.

Mesi is one gigantic step closer to returning to the ring after a Nevada judge on Monday overturned the suspension that had kept the undefeated former heavyweight contender idle for 21 months.

Jack Mesi rubbed his son's back in loving congratulations as 8th Judicial District Court Judge Douglas Herndon declared the Nevada State Athletic Commission didn't have the power to keep Joe Mesi suspended beyond the duration of his expired license.

"It feels like a huge weight got lifted off my back," Mesi said. "I feel great. I can apply to fight in any state now and start over.

"The last two years I've had no control. It was completely out of my hands. Everything's in my hands in the ring. Now it's back in my control."

Herndon mostly disagreed with Mesi's lead attorney, Paul Cambria, who asserted the commission didn't follow proper constitutional procedure in suspending the Town of Tonawanda native. Herndon deemed the suspension -- for multiple brain bleeds suffered in a March 2004 bout with Vassiliy Jirov -- justifiable.

The judge, however, ruled that because Mesi no longer was licensed in Nevada, the state had no authority over him. In Nevada, boxing licenses are good only until Dec. 31 and must be renewed annually.

"At the end of the year, when the license expired, I believe the jurisdiction expired and the medical suspension ends," Herndon said from the bench. "I think this is important because if a medical suspension is allowed to outlive (the duration of the license), Mr. Mesi may never want to fight in Nevada again, but . . . he would have to go through Nevada to fight anywhere else. I don't think that's the intent of our legislature or of that federal law."

Nevada chief deputy attorney general Keith Kizer rose from his seat and pleaded with Herndon, "This will change the state of boxing throughout the entire country."

Replied Herndon: "I'm not trying to change the state of boxing in this country, and I don't think I am. But you can't have a medical suspension go on indefinitely when he's no longer a licensee."

Herndon's decision could have a significant impact on the sport and will provide more ammunition for proponents of a national boxing administration over state-by-state commissions.

Under federal law instituted to address lax state commissions -- in some states, little more than a pulse is required for licensing -- Mesi was prohibited from competing anywhere in the U.S. as long as he was suspended by Nevada.

Now any prizefighter who has been medically suspended has the benefit of a Herndon's substantial precedent to spring him from the sidelines once his license expires.

"It basically takes a lot of teeth out of the Ali Act," Kizer said afterward, referring to the 1998 amendment to the Professional Boxing Safety Act. "It takes away Congress' ability to prevent a fighter who has not proven he's fit to fight from going elsewhere. The adverse impact is on the federal law. It's not on the state law or on the commission."

Herndon's ruling was particularly interesting because no argument regarding an expired license was ever broached in the courtroom. It was merely mentioned in a brief by Mesi's legal team.

Both lawyers seemed surprised Herndon based his ruling on that concept.

"It sure as hell makes sense, though, doesn't it?" Mesi said. "It just seems so simple amid all these things we've been arguing about. They were suspending a fighter who wasn't even licensed. I never really thought of it that way."

Cambria's case mostly accused the Nevada State Athletic Commission of several procedural missteps in applying the suspension. Herndon agreed that a boxing license, once granted, is a property right that can't be taken away arbitrarily. But the judge found the commission was fair.

Nevada State Athletic Commission member Dr. Tony Alamo, one of Mesi's sternest adversaries when the suspension was unanimously upheld in June, wasn't pleased with Herndon's decision to vacate.

"At the end of the day the commission did the right thing," Alamo said. "Did he get due process? Absolutely. Would I change anything based on what happened today? No. My decision still stands what we did with Joe Mesi, which was the right thing for Joe Mesi."

Said commission executive director Marc Ratner: "It's a loophole in our laws that we have to look at. Maybe we have to change the way we do business. It has national ramifications. It does change the scope of the business."

For Mesi, the rigamarole is over. No more hearings. No more medical reports in triplicate. No more legal mumbo jumbo.

Although Mesi still must find a state that will grant him a license -- New York is one of a few that has a policy to prevent fighters with a history of brain bleeds to compete there -- he said he would resume training in earnest the day after Christmas, giving personal significance to Boxing Day.

Looking more rotund than contender, he guessed he weighed about 270 pounds but was "too afraid" to step on a scale. He was about 45 pounds trimmer against Jirov.

"Getting into shape is the easy thing," Mesi said. "The question is, 'When will I be the fighter I was before?' It depends on how I look in the next couple of fights. We think it will take 10 or 12 months before we are where we were then and fight a top 10 or top 15 guy. We want to be comfortable."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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