Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt
Photos Courtesy of Joe Mesi
“My best opponent was (Vassiliy) Jirov, but they were all tough.”—Joe Mesi
The heavyweight division has always been the looked at division to represent the sport of boxing whether you like it or not. Well, from 2000 – 2004 in the heavyweight division there was a shooting star by the name of “Baby” Joe Mesi. Yes, that was his nickname and there was nothing baby about him. He could punch, had charisma and would take your three to land his one – causing lights out many times! He owned the heavyweight division and was so close to a world title, but then, fate stepped in.
On March 13, 2004 Mesi faced former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov in a fight that he would win, but after, it would be disclosed he had a “brain bleed”. This would immediately put his boxing career on hold for over two years as his team fought it out in Nevada State Supreme Court, eventually winning. However, his boxing career would never be the same.
In this exclusive RSR interview, Mesi sets the record straight, talks about a multi-million dollar fight with Mike Tyson that almost happened and a lot more…
BB: First off, let’s catch the RSR readers up on what you have been doing since you retired from boxing back in 2007.
After my last fight 10/2007 I spent some time campaigning for a NY Senate seat. I won the primary but lost a very tight race in the general election. I then took the advice from a friend to enter the medical sales industry. It has now been almost five years that I’ve been a top salesman selling surgical implants to Neurosurgeons in the Buffalo area with St Jude Medical. I could not be happier.
BB: You turned professional back in 1997. How do you compare the current heavyweight division to when you first turned pro?
Not much has changed in the last 15 years in the division. Not since the prime of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, etc days. It is a great time to be a heavyweight fighter. The Klitschko run is coming to an end and only guys such as Bermane Stiverne, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Kubrat Pulev may be the future of the division. Not saying they are not talented or tough fighters, just that I don’t see or hear of any true dominant or electrifying, fan drawing names.
BB: You signed with Sugar Ray Leonard’s promotional company at one point in your career. What was it like being under his banner?
Ray and I had a great thing at one point. I was on the rise and his promotional company was as well. However it’s my opinion that due to a bad relationship with his former partner (who Team Mesi also did not care for) Ray was turned off by promotions and we had to go our separate ways. But having Sugar Ray in Buffalo and on our team certainly opened the world’s eyes to our team and our town.
What can I say? Those fights are the high points of my career. Every fighter dreams of fighting at MSG or on the Vegas strip on HBO. I did those things too. However, not many can say they boxed in their home town with 18,000 family, friends, neighbors, & fans cheering them on while televised on ESPN or HBO. I always did my best to keep the fights and fighters local which allowed me to have something most fighters never have, a strong hometown following!
BB: You were involved in a war on March 13, 2004 with former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov. After the fight, it was disclosed that you had a “Brain Bleed”. What is the factual account of what really happened to you?
A brain bleed or more correctly a subdural hematoma. And only the 10th round was a war. It was probably my best performance and against a true warrior and world champion. My team and I believed (and still do) that the ruling then should’ve been corrected or overturned. I believe almost every fighter suffers a bleed during his career, so these injuries should be handled case by case and by their severity and not by a blanketed rule explaining that if you’ve ever had a bleed you can no longer fight again, anywhere.
BB: After the Jirov fight, you are not seen in the ring for almost two years. What was going on?
A two year legal battle with Nevada State Supreme Court which we (Team Mesi) eventually won saying that we were again free to “apply” for licensing in any state we liked, but it would be that state’s discretion whether to allow me to fight or not. I then knew the odds of fighting in Nevada or more importantly New York were slim to none and I was right.
BB: Also, I noticed that the level of competition after the layoff was nowhere near what it was before. What caused that?
I certainly needed a few tune ups after a two year layoff, however I also believed it was challenging for me to get top 10 or 15 opponents seeing HBO would no longer have me on. I even received some push back from ESPN.
BB: In your almost ten year boxing career, who do you feel was your toughest opponent and why?
My best opponent was Jirov, but they were all tough.
Mike Tyson. After the Jirov win and before the news of a brain bleed we were in discussions with Tyson. We were even meeting with Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills) where we were expecting up to 50,000 in attendance. I accepted that fight as #1 contender over a fight with Wladimir Klitschko overseas.
BB: If that fight had happened, what do you think the outcome would have been?
I was confident of a victory. Keep in mind this was 2004, not the Tyson of the 90’s.
BB: What do you consider the high point of your boxing career?
There are a few: representing the USA as an amateur fighter in several international tournaments and representing the US as the Olympic Team Alternate. Being chosen to run the 2002 Olympic torch on New Years Eve in downtown Buffalo, several recognitions locally for my community efforts, and my fight and early knock out of Davaryl Williamson on HBO in Buffalo.
BB: What is one thing you can share with the RSR readers that may surprise them?
Probably that I am an extremely hands on father of three of the most amazing children. That my life today revolves around the security and happiness of my beautiful wife Michelle and children, Hope(16), Juliet(4), and Baby Joe(2).
BB: If you could meet any person from anytime in history, who would it be and what would your first question be for them?
My man, JC! Jesus Christ. My question? How was I chosen to live this wonderful life?
BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it finally accomplished?
It’s an extremely complicated issue and difficult to enforce. Not exactly sure yet about my stance.
BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?
I wouldn’t call it a “saying”, rather a montra… “Believe”
Professional Record: 36-0, 29 KO’s
Date Opponent Location Result
2007-10-12 Shannon Miller Lincoln, US W TKO 1
vacant WBC United States (USNBC) Heavyweight Title
2007-04-14 Ron Johnson Russellville, US W KO 1
2007-02-22 George Linberger Chester, US W TKO 1
2006-09-15 Jason Weiss Manistee, US W UD 4
2006-08-12 Dennis Matthews Russellville, US W TKO 2
2006-06-23 Stephane Tessier Montreal, CA W UD 6
2006-04-01 Ronald Bellamy Guaynabo, PR W UD 8
2004-03-13 Vassiliy Jirov Las Vegas, US W UD 10
2003-12-06 Monte Barrett New York, US W MD 10
2003-09-27 DaVarryl Williamson Buffalo, US W KO 1
2003-06-24 Robert Davis Buffalo, US W TKO 1
vacant NABF Heavyweight Title
2003-03-28 Jason Curry Tulsa, US W KO 2
2002-10-18 David Izon Buffalo, US W KO 9
2002-06-07 Talmadge Griffis Scottsdale, US W TKO 5
2002-04-05 Keith McKnight Buffalo, US W TKO 6
2001-11-02 Derrick Banks Mashantucket, US W TKO 1
2001-07-27 Bert Cooper Niagara Falls, US W TKO 7
2001-04-27 Jorge Luis Gonzalez Niagara Falls, US W TKO 4
2000-11-11 Joey Guy Niagara Falls, CA W TKO 3
2000-06-23 Matt Green Biloxi, US W KO 2
2000-02-25 John Rainwater Cranston, US W TKO 3
1999-12-17 Gary Winmon Pittsburgh, US W TKO 1
1999-09-17 Anthony Green Buffalo, US W TKO 8
vacant USA New York State Heavyweight Title
1999-06-04 Rowyan Wallace Philadelphia, US W KO 2
1999-04-24 Brian Sargent Portland, US W KO 1
1999-02-19 Dwayne Hall Verona, US W TKO 1
1998-12-03 Rodney McSwain Houston, US W TKO 3
1998-10-09 Jihad Abdulaziz Port Chester, US W UD 4
1998-08-27 Martin Lopez Houston, US W KO 3
1998-07-26 Kevin Rosier Verona, US W TKO 2
1998-06-25 Art Bayliss Mashantucket, US W KO 1
1998-04-02 Mike McGrady Buffalo, US W TKO 2
1998-02-20 Darryl Spratt Baton Rouge, US W KO 1
1997-12-04 Calvin Smith Albany, US W UD 4
1997-11-25 Jim Brackney El Paso, US W KO 2
1997-11-01 Dwane Cason Allen New York, US W KO 1