UNFORGIVEN 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
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.
Sixteen years later, Resto, 44, wearily waited for the inevitable line of questioning like a trialhorse waiting for a rising contender’s money punch.
In the tiny office at the Morris Park Boxing Gym in the Bronx, we enjoyed shooting the bull about the good old days, but it was just prelim chatter.
Until reintroducing myself to the one-time fringe contender, the thought of Resto sickened me. After the feather fisted 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.
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. Panama 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, hyped by Top Rank as a future champion, 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 crashed his car and died upon impact.
Eric Drath, boxing manager and former producer for CNN and Fox News, 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.
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.
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.
At 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.
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.
His room,above the gym, 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 over-sized Puerto Rican flag, yellowed newspaper photos of Resto’s ring triumphs, and pictures of his sons.
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.
A simple man, Resto doesn’t seem to be prone to introspection.
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?
What Luis Resto and Panama Lewis did will forever be viewed as an unforgivable sin.
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.
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 offenses.
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