By Thomas Hauser
Joe Mesi is believed to have suffered a subdural hematoma (bleeding on the surface of his brain) in his March 13th fight in Las Vegas against Vassiliy Jirov (pictured). Mesi was comfortably ahead in the fight after eight rounds, but was knocked down once in the ninth and twice in the tenth. All three judges scored the bout 94-93 in Mesi's favor.
The final stanza against Jirov was hell for Mesi, who wobbled around the ring and barely survived. Now there are rumors that he was close to not surviving at all.
After the fight, Mesi complained of a headache. Later in the month, he went to a neurologist in Buffalo, who ordered various tests including an MRI. There are reports that the neurologist discovered a small blood clot that was the result of a recent subdural hematoma. Mesi's condition did not require surgery. Over time, the blood will be reabsorbed by the brain in the manner of a bruise. But if the rumors are true and Mesi-Jirov had been scheduled for twelve rounds, the tear in Mesi's brain could have been exacerbated and he might have died in the ring.
"It's all nonsense," says Jack Mesi, who serves as his son's manager. "I've heard the rumors and I don't know what they're talking about. How can someone make up stories like this? There's utterly no truth to them. It's just ridiculous. Joe had an MRI, and there was nothing more serious than a concussion."
After Mesi-Jirov, Mesi was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission because of the knockdowns he suffered. That's common practice. Suspensions of this nature are usually lifted within thirty to sixty days.
"I've received a letter from the Nevada commission," Jack Mesi acknowledged. "They want to see Joe's doctors' reports and other documents regarding Joe's post-fight condition. When Joe's doctor says he's fine, we'll send a response to Nevada with all of the necessary back-up. The proof will be in the test results. They'll show that Joe is fine."
Mesi's suspension will not be lifted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission until the appropriate documentation is received and evaluated. Nevada has a policy that no one who has had bleeding in the brain from a fight-related injury can fight again.
Last month, there were rumors that Mesi was planning to defer his scheduled August HBO date to the fall and fight a "bring-your-own opponent" on an Indian reservation in Ontario this summer. Indian reservations, unless they are members of the Association of Boxing Commissions, are not required to recognize suspensions by other jurisdictions.
Now negotiations are underway for a fight between Mesi and Mike Tyson to be held in December at Madison Square Garden. "I'm eighty percent sure that it's going to happen," Tyson adviser Shelly Finkel told SecondsOut on Thursday morning. "The Mesi people have not in any way indicated during negotiations that there is a medical problem." Then Finkel added, "I'm told that Mesi might take an interim off-television fight this summer."
New York, like other members of the ABC, is required to honor medical suspensions by other jurisdictions. Moreover, if Nevada lifts Mesi's suspension, it's likely that the New York State Athletic Commission would order tests of its own before allowing Mesi to fight in the Empire State.
Recently, Dr. Barry Jordan (medical director of the New York State Athletic Commission) was asked to comment generally on allowing fighters who have suffered bleeding in the brain to be allowed into the ring again. "If there's evidence of past injury to the brain," said Jordan, "our policy is to not let a fighter fight. I can't think of any exceptions. Morally, I would be obligated to put a fighter with a past brain injury on permanent suspension."
Moreover, if Mesi in fact suffered a subdural hematoma, the thought of his sparring in the gym is troubling. Again, speaking generally, Dr. Jordan declared, "After the type of injury you're describing, there's no fixed timeline for exercise. You start with mild exercise and work your way up slowly. But when it comes to contact, whether it's blocking and tackling in football or sparring in the gym, there's always an increased risk of bleeding."
Mesi's rumored situation is different from the case of Marco Antonio Barrera. Last year, it was revealed that Barrera underwent brain surgery in 1997 and had been fighting since then with small metal implants in his head. The surgery was related to a congenital defect; not a fight. Barrera's skull was opened, an abnormal vein was removed, and a metal plate to protect the area was affixed with screws inside his skull. By contrast, the blood clot that was supposedly found in Mesi's brain is presumed to have been the result of uncontrolled bleeding from a fight-related injury rather than a congenital abnormality.
Mesi's situation underscores the need for the mandatory MRI testing of fighters. At present, Nevada and New York are the only two states that require such testing.