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March 2000

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Following the infamous "stuffing-removed-from-gloves" fight that brought an end to the career and, possibly indirectly, the life of Billy Collins, Luis Resto has become a boxing pariah. STEVE FARHOOD catches up with a man still in love with a sport that hates him

Photo shot

RESTO TODAY: a man in love with a sport that doesn't want him - Get Big Pic

The most memorable night of my boxing life was a giant birthday party.  On 16 June 1983, Madison Square Garden was sold out for Roberto Duran’s challenge to junior middleweight champion Davey Moore.  It wasn’t the greatest fight, mind you, but what a night!  Just not for all the right reasons.  

The rafters of the Big Building rattled when Muhammad Ali made his way to ringside before the main event; the deafening chant of “Ah-Lee!” provided the ultimate adrenaline rush.  As for Duran, such was the magnetism of the man that Moore, an ever-smiling kid from the Bronx, was booed in his own hometown.  After Duran, reborn at 32, masterfully managed an upset KO win, he climbed the ring ropes and shed tears as the crowd sang “Happy Birthday”.  He wasn’t the only one crying. 

Luis Resto doesn’t remember that night too well.  After beating up the previously undefeated Billy Collins on the undercard, Resto celebrated by getting drunk at Victor’s Café, a Cuban joint in Midtown Manhattan.  “Beer, rum, wine, everything,” Resto recalled.  “I was so happy.  I drank so much, I forgot to eat.”

Resto went to sleep dreaming about a shot at welterweight king Donald Curry.  When he woke up, a hangover was the least of his problems. 

Sixteen years later, Resto, 44, wearily waited for the inevitable line of questioning like a trialhorse waiting for a rising contender’s money punch. I hadn’t seen Resto since the Collins fight.  In the tiny office at the Morris Park Boxing Gym in the Bronx, I told him I had watched most of his early fights, either live at the Felt Forum or on ESPN.  We enjoyed shooting the bull about the good old days, but it was just prelim chatter.  This interview wasn’t going to be that easy for either one of us.  That’s because we both knew we had to talk about the gloves.

Until reintroducing myself to the one-time fringe contender, the thought of Resto sickened me.  After the featherfisted welterweight blinded Collins by hammering his face into a hideous mass of purple welts, it was discovered that padding had been removed from both of his gloves.  Immediately after the final bell, Billy Collins Sr., who worked his son’s corner, shook Resto’s right glove, saying: “Good fight.”  As reported in Sports Illustrated, the following was recorded by TV microphones:

Collins: “Hey! All of the padding is out of the damn gloves.  It’s all out.”
Resto (looking across the ring to trainer-manager Panama Lewis for help): “Huh?”
Collins: “Commissioner . . . Commissioner! No padding . . . There’s no damn padding.”

Who did it?  Who cut 3/4-inch holes on the lower palm side and removed an ounce of padding from each of the eight-ounce Everlast gloves?  The record shows that in October 1986, Resto was convicted of assault, conspiracy, and criminal possession of a deadly weapon (his fists).  He served 21/2 years of a three-year sentence.  Lewis was convicted of the same crimes, as well as tampering with a sports contest.  He served 21/2 years of a six-year sentence.  Both were banned from boxing for life.

Billy Collins didn’t escape so easily.  Hyped by Top Rank as a future champion, Collins had absorbed a frightful beating.  Permanently blurred vision, the result of a torn iris, meant his career was over.  Nine months after the fight, a drunken and depressed Collins drove his ’72 Oldsmobile off the road in Antioch, Tennessee.  He landed in a creek and died upon impact.  He was 22 years old.  Depending on one’s perspective, Collins’s death was either a suicide, a result of drunk driving, or indirectly, murder. 

“You don’t think Resto knew he didn’t have padding in the gloves?”  Collins Sr. told Sports Illustrated in 1998. “You don’t think Panama Lewis took it out?  I’ve had 15 years to think about it, and I know - I know - that they did it.  They killed him. They killed my son.”

Eric Drath doesn’t see it that way.  A boxing manager and former producer for CNN and Fox News, Drath, 29, befriended Resto while working out at the Morris Park gym.  He’s since paid the former fighter for the rights to his story.

“I found Luis instantly intriguing,” Drath said.  “How could somebody with his character, somebody so devoted to boxing, be banished from the sport he loves so much?  Everybody at the gym loves Luis.  They respect the fact that he doesn’t walk around bitter.  The first four years after Billy Collins died, Luis had to live with his demons.  But he confronted those demons.  You can see a rough past in his eyes, but he’s a warm, honest, sincere guy who’s always wearing a smile. 

“I want to give him what boxing owes him.  He doesn’t owe boxing.”

Spend five minutes with Resto and the last thing you’d take him to be would be duplicitous, much less conspiratorial.  Resto is ruggedly handsome, with jet-black hair and dark skin, but also sad-looking.  He’s quiet, and his English hasn’t improved much over the years.  (Resto was born in a small town in Puerto Rico.  He came to New York City with his mother and six siblings at age nine.)  He remains married, but his wife Maria moved to Virginia in 1994.  His sons, Luis Jr., 22, and Brian, 17, occasionally travel to the Bronx for weekends.

“My [older] son graduated from high school,” Resto said.  “I’m proud of him. I didn’t do that.”

In fact, Resto didn’t make it out of eighth grade.  After smashing his teacher in the face with an elbow, he spent six months in a Bronx hospital for the mentally disturbed.  Upon his release, he packed groceries until finding his way to a gym.  Trainers found serious talent and a toughness that served him well.  He won a pair of New York Golden Gloves titles and in 1976, competed in the Olympic Trials.

“When I turned pro, I just wanted to fight,” he said.  “I didn’t think about money or winning championships.”

Although he briefly cracked the Top 10, Resto lost to most of the world-class opponents he faced.  He was a 10-round fighter by his seventh bout, and in his eighth start, he was KO’d in one round by future world champion Bruce Curry.  There were some notable wins, including KOs of the heavily hyped Domingo Ayala and Robert Sawyer, and frequent sparring with Duran, but by the time of the Collins fight, the Puerto Rican, only 28, was already a journeyman.  The records told you all you needed to know:  Collins was 14-0, Resto 20-8-2.

Though he could never have imagined it at the time, the punches Resto threw at Collins would be his last.  Sixteen years after the fact, Resto still dreams of fighting again.  Until recently, he sparred with the pros and amateurs at the gym, regardless of their weight.  “He’d fight again in a minute,” said Joe DeGuardia Sr., a local businessman who employs Resto part-time as a security guard at his card store.  “Lately, I’ve discouraged him from sparring with the better guys, like Aaron Davis, Monte Barrett, and Daren Zenner.  Sometimes Luis gets very sad.  He gets in moods.  And it’s happening more now.”

For the past four years, Resto has lived rent-free in the basement of the gym, which is owned by DeGuardia’s son, Joe Jr. (“I would trust him with the keys to my home,” said DeGuardia Sr.  “Luis will be at my house on Thanksgiving.  As long as I’m around, I’ll look after him.”)  His room, which measures approximately 20 feet by 12 feet, isn’t big enough to house a large dog.  Worse yet, the ceiling is only six-feet high.  There is a small bed, a bicycle, a pair of dilapidated chairs, a refrigerator, and not much else.  On a wall hangs the ESPN championship belt won by Resto in 1982. “I never lost it,” he told me with palpable pride. “They took it away from me.”

Outside of the belt, the only adornments are an oversized Puerto Rican flag, yellowed newspaper photos of Resto’s ring triumphs, and pictures of his sons. “Sometimes I’m sorry I’m alone,” he said while gazing at the pictures.  “I want to be with my two boys.”

There is no bathroom. I presume Resto uses the gym toilet, which sits, exposed, at the foot of the stairs to the gym.

Resto saves most of the money he earns working as a roofer (about $375 a week) and security guard ($90 a week).  He jokes that when his sons visit, they reach for handouts before kissing him hello.  No matter what I ask, however, the conversation comes back to boxing.  Resto is in love with the fight game as much as he ever was.  “I walk around at 165 pounds,” he said . “Give me two weeks and I could fight a six-rounder at junior middleweight.”  His, dream, however, is a bit more conventional:  “I only want to be with my family.  The mother of Wilfredo Gomez’s nephew bought a house in Castle Hill [in the Bronx].  I’m gonna move there and take care of it.”

A simple man, Resto doesn’t seem to be prone to introspection.  When I asked him what made him happy, he said:  “My sons . . . working . . . eating . . . sleeping . . . my mother.”  What makes him sad, of course, is the loneliness.  It’s when Resto is lying on the small bed in that jail cell of a room that he thinks about Billy Collins Jr.

“Do you believe in God, Luis?” 
“Do you believe in heaven and hell?”
“Which way will you be heading?”
“I don’t know. I leave that to the guy upstairs.”

The horror of Resto-Collins is symbolised by a black-and-white photo taken by The Ring the morning after the fight. It is a close-up of Collins’s face, which is grotesquely swollen.  His hair is combed, but his eyes are badly discoloured and shut-perhaps not by choice.

“Look at the photo again,” Resto said.  “You see how he has a cut under his [left] eye? [Stitches are plainly visible.]  There was no cut in the fight. And if Collins was blind, how come, when we rode in an elevator together at the commission, he was reading a boxing magazine?

“You know, I was hurt, too.  I had a black eye from the fight, but nobody said nothing about me.  They only show me hitting him, never him hitting me.”

As for the gloves, Resto contends they were switched some time between the end of the fight and four days later, when the holes were discovered at an upstate police laboratory.

(After the fight, John Squeri, the New York commission’s chief inspector, took the gloves from Resto’s dressing room and placed them in a cardboard box.  He then handed them over to Jack Prenderville, the chairman of the commission.  According to a 1985 article in Inside Sports, Prenderville in turn gave the gloves to Jack Graham, another member of the commission, who inexplicably left them in the trunk of his car.  The next day, Graham brought the gloves to Everlast for inspection.  From there, the gloves made their way to the police lab.)

“The gloves felt the same as always,” Resto said. “There were no holes. Before the fight [referee] Tony Perez felt the gloves and didn’t feel anything wrong.  If the padding was out, when you hit somebody, you’d feel pain.  You’d break your hands.  My hands were fine.  And if I knew the gloves had been tampered with, why would I have gone to Collins’s corner after the fight to congratulate him?  That’s when the father said what he said.  He’s lucky I didn’t hit him.”

Let’s say the padding was indeed removed before the fight without Resto’s involvement or initial knowledge.  Is it possible that he could have fought 10 rounds without sensing that something was different?

“In the heat of a fight, your adrenaline is going, you’re focused,” reasoned Drath. “He was pumped up.  I don’t think Luis is savvy enough to do something like that.”

At the weigh-in for Grant-Golota, I spoke with Grant Elvis Phillips, who manages fighters and manufactures Grant boxing gloves.  Coincidentally, Phillips worked the corner in some of Resto’s fights.  On the night of the Collins bout, he was among those in the Garden crowd.

“It’s very possible Resto wouldn’t know [that padding had been removed],” Phillips said.  “Everlast gloves at the time, there was a thin layer of foam, and the majority was horse hair. Only an ounce - he might not have known.”

Jim Borzell, who runs the Morris Park gym, described Resto as “a good, hard worker and a humble, honest guy”.  He believes Resto should be relicensed by the New York commission as a trainer.  In fact, he’s lobbied on the former fighter’s behalf.  “The punishment has been meted out,” Borzell said. “Nobody should be punished for life.”  Nonetheless, he has his own take on Resto’s involvement.  “I can’t possibly believe anybody wouldn’t know if padding was removed,” Borzell said. “Particularly someone with that experience.  In my estimation, he had to have known.

“Luis knows my position on this.  Hey, prison is full of guys who didn’t do it.  It’s a shameful thing, of course, and I think he refuses to admit it.  At the Puerto Rican Day Parade last year, people were screaming: ‘Hey, Luis, keep the padding in the gloves.’  That sent him into a depression.  His downs are very low, and there’s no doubt in my mind that’s what it’s about.

“Will he ever admit it?  No.  And that’s the part of him I don’t particularly care for.”

In the tight and tiny world of professional boxing, there is an unofficial code of conduct.  Fighters have murdered and raped and stolen, but boxing isn’t to blame for what happens on the outside.  Luis Santana played dead after being fouled by Terry Norris and secured himself a six-figure payday.  Mike Tyson bit off and spit out a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear, then bit him again, and has made about $30 million in two fights since.  Those are pardonable offences.  What Luis Resto and Panama Lewis did will forever be viewed as an unforgivable sin. 

When Jim Borzell considers Resto’s surroundings and says:  “I’m not certain it’s a bad thing that a simple guy like Luis lives a simple life,” he’s simplifying Resto’s plight.  If Resto was wrongly convicted, shame on all of us.  If he was guilty, he’s never really been released from prison, has he?  And those sad eyes tell you he knows he never will be.

Also available to read from issue:

Magazine Contents:
Full details of the March 2000 issue - the complete contents listing.

World Rankings:
See where the top fighters were rated when March 2000 went to press...

This month’s Meet Your Makers feature sees Boxing Monthly readers put their questions to superstar Prince Naseem Hamed, who defends his WBO featherweight championship against Vuyani Bungu in London on 11 March

Since hanging up the gloves, former IBF cruiser champ Glenn McCrory has fashioned an impressive career for himself as Sky’s lead colour commentator - a role that, he tells ANTHONY EVANS, suits him better than that of a fighter.

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