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BOXING: SENECAS FORM TRIBAL BOXING BOARD; MESI BRANCHING OUT IN BOXING BIZ
By David Staba
There hasn't been a professional boxing promotion in Niagara Falls, N.Y., since the Convention and Civic Center, which hosted three fight cards in 2001, was reborn as the Seneca Niagara Casino on New Year's Eve the following year.
That could change rather quickly, according to Seneca Nation President Maurice John.
John's remarks at the annual dinner of the Buffalo Veteran Boxers Association Ring 44 were brief, but his few words carried the impact of a right cross.
"I'm here to announce the formation of the Seneca Nation Boxing Commission," John said, opening another front in the tribe's ongoing tussle with New York state.
During their four-plus years in the gambling business, the Senecas have yet to add boxing to the traditional casino mix of slots, tables, cocktail waitresses and all-you-can-eat buffets. In part, that's because the New York State Athletic Commission claims jurisdiction over all boxing in the state, including on sovereign Seneca territory.
Already embroiled in disputes over the state's efforts to collect sales tax on goods sold by Native American businesses and the highway rights-of-way running through reservation land, Seneca leaders have been loathe to cede control of anything to Albany.
Instead, John said they're setting up their own commission, as the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians did to oversee shows at their casino in Manitee, Mich. That commission licensed Joe Mesi to fight Jason Weiss there in September 2006.
A tribal commission would also open the door for Mesi to fight in his home state for the first time since December 2003, when he won a 10-round decision over Monte Barrett at Madison Square Garden.
In his next fight, Mesi suffered brain bleeds late in his win over Vassiliy Jirov, triggering a suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that led to a two-year hiatus from the sport. While a Nevada judge's ruling allowed him to begin applying for licenses in any state, he hasn't done so in New York because of the state commission's long-standing policy against permitting anyone who has suffered bleeding on the brain to fight again.
Such regulatory issues, as well as the money involved, guarantee that the state won't sign off on a tribal commission without an epic legal brawl.
Mesi also spoke at Friday's dinner at Salvatore's Italian Gardens in Depew, talking up his Aug. 18 fight against Sherman Williams at South Towne Exhibition Center in Sandy, Utah, as well as the creation of his own promotional company.
Mesi announced his entry into the business end of boxing at an early-morning news conference in Delaware Park two days before the dinner, saying that he wants to start by staging shows featuring local fighters, such amateur prospect Felix Mercedes, who plans to turn professional shortly, along with bigger names from outside the area. While Mesi drew 15,000 to HSBC Arena before his injury, he said his early shows would be aimed at attracting 2,500 or 3,000 fans -- a healthy crowd for a casino fight card.
During the news conference at Delaware Park, Mesi said that, after easily handling his first six opponents, facing Williams -- who is 33-10-2 with 19 knockouts -- marks the next stage of his comeback.
"They were names that weren't much to talk about," Mesi said of Ronald Bellamy, Stephane Tessier, Dennis Matthews, Weiss, George Linberger and Ron Johnson. "They were tune-up fights. We're stepping it back up. This is the first of my real fights back into contention."
At 5-foot-11 and usually weighing about 250 pounds, Williams has been stopped only once, on a fifth-round technical knockout at the hands of a then-unbeaten Robert Davis back in 1999. Mesi dispatched Davis, who had lost five times in the interim, in 80 seconds in 2003.
"Although Sherman Williams is a journeyman, a gatekeeper in the division, he's a dangerous fighter," Mesi said. "He's Tyson-like -- he's very strong, like a rock."
Mesi is ranked 30th in the July rankings issued by the World Boxing Council, which rated him No. 1 in the world before his injury became known. Williams, who has won eight straight, the last three by knockout, is No. 36. The WBC's USA title belt will be at stake in the 10-rounder.
"It's a regional title that, the way we look at it, will put me at a much better ranking," Mesi said. "We're not looking past Sherman Williams, but if we get a win and follow it up with another one, we could be back in the Top 15 in the world before long."
A fight with fringe contender Brian Minto is still a possibility, Mesi said, and he mentioned a long-discussed meeting with two-time champion Hasim Rahman at both appearances last week. Rahman was scheduled to be a guest at Friday's dinner, but canceled in order to be with his pregnant wife.
Mesi said the plan is to secure a shot at one of the four world titles in 2008. With Evander Holyfield getting a shot at Sultan Ibragrimov's World Boxing Organization heavyweight title in October on the strength of four wins over fighters not much more accomplished than Williams, that's not so far-fetched.
Ring 44 inducted six new members to its Hall of Fame at Friday's Dinner:
* Brian La Spada grew up in Buffalo but never fought in Western New York. He spent most of a nine-year professional career campaigning in Las Vegas, where he now works as a car salesman. He lost his third professional fight, a first-round TKO, to Willie Washington, and settled for a draw against Ken Nania in his fourth. But La Spada won 23 of his next 24, winning the minor-league NABF cruiserweight belt and earning a shot at WBC titlist Nate Miller.
Miller dominated the first eight rounds of their March 1996 meeting and stopped La Spada in the ninth. La Spada quickly settled into the role of a trial horse, with seven of his last eight bouts coming against young fighters with no defeats or one loss. He lost six of those, but the one win -- an eighth-round stoppage of Canadian Olympic silver medalist Egerton Marcus, who was stopped in the 10th by Razor Ruddock at the old Convention and Civic Center in October 2001 -- provided one last career highlight before he retired with a 28-8-2 career ledger, 13 of the wins by knockout.
* Joey DeJohn, a hard-punching middleweight from Syracuse, lived in Buffalo for three years and fought 17 times at Memorial Auditorium. He retired in 1955 with a 74-14-2 mark and 52 knockouts, including stoppages of Lee Sala and Irish Bob Murphy. Fighting at a time when there was only one world champion, instead of four, in each weight class, DeJohn never got a shot at a belt.
* Though Steve Halaiko spent much of the early 1930s in the lightweight division's Top 10, he never got a title shot, either. Often fighting more than a dozen times a year, the Auburn native finished with a 74-35-11 mark with 22 knockouts.
* Jake Schiffer began his career fighting under the nickname "Indian Kid," but in actuality, the South Buffalo native was Jewish. Much of his career, which lasted from 1911 to 1921, took place with the Walker Law in effect, which banned decisions from being issued for boxing matches. Any fight that made it to the final bell, as Schiffer's usually did, was instead ruled a "no-decision."
Fighting frequently in Buffalo, as well as Rochester, Lockport and Tonawanda, he finished with a 61-18-15 mark, based on the unofficial decisions rendered by writers covering his fights. He was knocked out only once, in his final professional bout by future welterweight champion Pete Latzo.
* Paul Wieloposlki won five straight Western New York Golden Gloves titles between 1967 and 1971. He opted to go to college instead of turning professional, but later returned to the ring as the boxing coach at the Austin Street PAL gym in Buffalo. One of his charges, Ross Thompson, later turned pro and challenged twice for a junior middleweight title belt.
* Bert Finch was a manager during boxing's heyday in Buffalo, steering fighters like Lou Scozza, Jimmy Duffy and Frankie Schoell during a career that stretched from 1903 to 1957. He also managed Tommy Mesi, Joe's grandfather, who was a top amateur and briefly fought professionally.
David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.