‘Baby’ Joe Mesi: “Boxing is My Dream, and it’s Being Pulled Out From Under Me”
Interview by Sean Newman (June 7, 2005) 
Photo © HoganPhotos.com
Joe Mesi is an undefeated heavyweight contender without a fight, and what’s more, he doesn’t even have the opportunity to set up a fight. Not in the United States, anyway. It’s been this way for him since his March 2004 war with Vassiliy Jirov, when post-fight MRIs revealed bleeding on Mesi’s brain. Since he was suspended from boxing by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Joe has been fighting hard to get back into the game. Public opinion seems to be split on the issue of whether he should be allowed to fight again, but without knowing the facts, only the experts on Mesi’s health should sit in a position to judge him. That’s all Mesi is asking. He’s just tired of doing his fighting on the outside of the ring for the right to fight inside it.

Doghouse Boxing recently caught up with Mesi, so read on for what he had to say...

SN: Joe, can you tell us what is coming up in your effort to get reinstated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission?

Well, our next step is leaving for Nevada on Wednesday, my team of attorneys, my team of doctors, my Dad, myself, for our second hearing, which will be in front of the full commission. What we’re hoping for mostly is to get this reversed, and get them to listen to our doctors and attorneys and understand that I’m at no greater risk than any other fighter. At worst, if they do not reverse it, we are ready and prepared to take the next step and that’s federal court.

SN: What do you think your chances are with Nevada?

Look, I’m optimistic. I’m very confident that I’m healthy, and confident in my attorneys and doctors. However, I do know that the commission has their back against the wall, they’re fearful of releasing a fighter in case I get injured again. I know that they feel some kind of responsibility, so I understand the fact that they’re trying to protect me. I’m not angry at them, I just want them to understand that I’m healthy. I don’t know what my odds are really, but I’m confident that I will be back in the ring, whether it’s through this hearing or through federal court, I will be back in the ring. I just can’t tell you when.

SN: You’ve always maintained the subdural hematoma you suffered was very small, and has since fully healed. Can you elaborate?

I’ve given them several clean MRIs. They have the MRIs from after the fight, where there were two small hematomas, very small, and I’ve also given them my good MRIs. We’ve met all the requirements, so I’m healed, they are no longer visible. That injury is gone like a cut on your finger that heals.

SN: What options do you have left for a return to if those efforts go in vain? Would you ever consider fighting overseas?

That’s an option. There are options. Federal court can be an option if this hearing doesn’t go well, fighting overseas could be an option. Look, retirement could be an option. There are options, but we don’t know until we get to that point. Once the hearing is over, we’ll make another decision, probably go to federal court if the commission decides against me. Hopefully that will go our way and we’ll fight, but if it doesn’t go our way, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board and see if we’ll fight overseas, or retire. We’re not too sure yet. We have had offers to fight overseas, but right now we don’t want to go over the commission’s head. We want to do things the proper way.

SN: Tommy Morrison recently expressed his desire to re-apply with Nevada for a boxing license. If you were a member of the commission, how would you vote?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. The rules are that if you test HIV positive, you can’t fight. The rules also are if you suffer a subdural hematoma, you can no longer fight. I’m not a doctor, but I do know through my doctor’s opinion, that I’m no longer at risk. I’m also not risking any other fighter. So with Tommy Morrison, is he at risk, or is he putting another fighter at risk? So I don’t really know how to answer these questions, I would have to know more about what the doctors know and what the commission knows. Similar cases, but the question is who are we protecting?

SN: Is there anything anyone can say or do that would convince you to give up boxing right now?

Of course there is. I could have several doctors tell me…I’ve gone to a couple of great neurologists, neither of which told me “you’re at risk.” The doctor with the commission did say that, however they didn’t test me, they didn’t look at me, they don’t know me and they don’t know all the steps I’ve taken, and I’ve taken a lot of rest. They just know “that’s the rule, and I’m standing by it.” The doctors that I visited said I wasn’t at risk. However, if I saw doctors, two out of three, saying I was at risk, then yes, I probably wouldn’t fight. I want to be heavyweight champion more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’d risk my life to become that. I don’t believe I am risking my life right now.

SN: How hard on you has the layoff been physically and mentally?

More so mentally. The layoff doesn’t hurt me. I started boxing late, I matured late, this layoff isn’t going to hurt me, it could even help me. A layoff can hurt a fighter or help a fighter, and I think it will help me. But mentally, it’s starting to get frustrating. Looking at the state of the heavyweight division, it’s poor right now. Not saying that there aren’t good fighters out there, but there really is no superstar. I can beat a lot of these guys and make exciting fights. I can make a lot of heavyweights a lot of money too. I think the heavyweight division is missing something, and it’s missing an exciting fighter like myself.

SN: How long would it take you to get back in top ten form if you were reinstated?

Well, it depends on how I’m looking. I’m 6 of 7 weeks away from getting into good fighting shape. I do have one fight left with HBO, and I would like to get permission to do a couple of them on ESPN to get back into the swing of things. I’d like to do one or two tune-ups and get back to HBO and finish up with them and possibly renew, who knows. It will take one or two fights to get back to the HBO level.

SN: You acquitted yourself very well when you co-hosted ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. Is commentating something you would like to do in the future?

Absolutely. Whether I fight or don’t fight, commentating is something I’d like to do. It could be locally, it could be HBO, it could be anywhere. I love the sport of boxing, sports commentary of any kind, really. I’d love to be an analyst of some kind. I do have some experience, some background. There are several options I have after boxing, but I’m not prepared to look at those options yet. Boxing is my dream, and that’s what I want to do right now and that’s my goal, and I feel that it’s being pulled out from me.

SN: Are you surprised that Monte Barrett has stepped up like he has lately?

No, Monte is a good fighter and he’s willing to fight anybody. Monte’s always been a little underestimated. I don’t know what it is about him, but I’ve always said he’s not real fast or real strong, but he has an ability to figure guys out in the ring. He does that and he has heart, so I expect Monte to do real well. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a world champion or even a world-beater, but I expected him to do well, and he is continuing to do well.

SN: Who do you consider the real heavyweight champion?

Right now, I’d have to say Vitali Klitschko. He seems to be the toughest of the title holders, but he’s still beatable. The only thing about Vitali is that he’s big. He isn’t very skillful, talented. Look, he’s a tough fight because he’s seven feet tall, 250 pounds. Of course he’s a tough fight, of course he’s hard to beat. He’s not a big athletic, skillful guy like Lennox Lewis was in his prime.

SN: Who is the fighter that you would most like to fight, both from a competitive and a financial standpoint?

There’s two of them. I’d like to fight anyone in the division, but mostly Tyson and Rahman. Tyson is a payday and the fight would be very marketable for both of us. I think it’s a very competitive fight, he’s still very dangerous. With Rahman, we have the amateur background where we both beat each other. Rahman does have marketability and I think he and I, certainly in my part of town, would do really well.

SN: Was it proper for the WBA to strip James Toney for testing positive for steroids and return the title to John Ruiz, given the circumstances of Toney’s claims that the substance was prescribed by a doctor and was strictly to help with his injury?

Yes, absolutely. If the rule is you cannot use an illegal substance, and they do, then they should be fined, and if it is a title fight, you should have the title stripped. It’s cheating. If you’re cheating on a test in school, you get an F. If you’re cheating in a title fight, you get the title stripped.

SN: How is your relationship with Tony Holden these days? Do you have a new promoter yet, or have you planned that far ahead?

My relationship with Tony is great, Tony and I are very good friends. As a matter of fact, in the last couple of months I’ve made two trips out to Oklahoma. Also, Tony and I are talking about promoting together. So our relationship is very good. He’s always been one of those guys that you can fully trust. We do not have a promoter right now, and as soon as we come back, we probably won’t need a promoter right then. We’d like to have some local fights, and we’ll start talking to promoters shortly after.

SN: Finally, Joe, how has the response from fans been towards you, particularly in Buffalo?

It’s been great. There’s no hockey because of the hockey strike, and the Bills have struggled, so the fans have relied on me as the only homegrown athlete here. They are eager, and they trust and believe me that I am healthy. Everywhere I go, people are eager to have me fight again, and they’re missing out on it. They believe that I’m healthy, they believe me that I can become champ, and they want me to come back.

SN: Anything you’d like to add in closing?

I’d just like to thank everyone for their support. For the non-believers, I just want them to know that I would never risk myself. I am willing, able, and healthy enough to fight. Thanks to all for supporting me, and I’ll be back very soon.

Writer’s Note: I’d like to thank Joe Mesi once more for his time. Joe was a pleasure to speak with, and a true class act.
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