Lawyer Tries to Revive Suit Against Boxing Commission

April 8, 2008

With information from a new documentary film supporting his case, an attorney is trying to revive his lawsuit against the New York State Athletic Commission over its handling of the 1983 bout where a fighter took a beating from doctored gloves.

Unbeaten Nashville welterweight Billy Collins Jr. lost a unanimous 10-round decision to Luis Resto at Madison Square Garden. The bout left him swollen, partially blind and unable to fight again at 22. He died in a car crash within a year. Resto, a former New York Golden Gloves champion, also never fought again.

Resto and trainer Panama Lewis were banned for life by the state commission, which found padding had been removed from the gloves and ruled the bout no contest. Both men served two-and-a-half years in prison on assault convictions.

A suit against the commission in the New York Court of Claims failed at trial in 1994. Attorney Marc Thompson, representing Collins’ widow and daughter, has asked for a new trial based on Resto’s statement in the film “Cornered” that his hand wraps were also coated in plaster over the knuckles, giving the usually light-hitting Resto (20-8-2, 8 KOs) even harder fists.

“There was no requirement, according to the court, to actually check the gloves to make sure everything was the way it should be,” Thompson said. “Essentially the rules and regulations the state had at the time required that supervisors were obligated to check tape and sign tape to make sure the right amount of tape was used and placed correctly on boxers’ hands.”

“That’s the argument we’re making now. If the court buys that new evidence as such, we’re entitled to a new trial,” Thompson said. Resto gave him a sworn statement confirming the plaster on his hand wraps, the lawyer said.

Filmmaker Eric Drath, whose documentary debuts April 20 in Nashville, had run into Resto, who was living under a Bronx gym that Drath visited while working as a boxing agent. He began doing research, and contacted those involved, including Thompson.

Lewis, who has since worked with other boxers though not as a licensed trainer in New York, denied it. “He said he didn’t do it,” Drath said.

However, Resto needed to clear his conscience, and secret recordings made by a detective for the district attorney, which were never allowed in court, were the catalyst, Drath said. The wraps had been signed earlier by a commission investigator who has since died. With so much attention afterward on the gloves, which were taken by the inspector when Collins’ father was yelling in protest, nobody took the wraps after the fight, he said.

“It really becomes a redemption story. Here’s a guy that has been living with guilt and shame for so long,” Drath said. “Boxing’s been great to me and I love the sport. This is not about a bad sport. It is about a couple of bad decisions and some bad intentions.”

Ron Scott Stevens, head of New York’s commission since June 2003, said Friday he couldn’t comment on how the fight was handled 25 years ago, but nothing like that could or should happen today. Now, inspectors are assigned to individual fighters from dressing rooms, to the ring and back, enforcing rules about proper gloves, gauze and tape. “It was a terrible thing that happened,” he said.

“We’re very strict about all of that,” said Stevens, who personally attends most pro boxing matches in New York along with various commission staff. “During the time I’ve been chairman we haven’t had one critical injury. We minimize some of the risks that are inherent in boxing, without taking away any of the drama, the excitement or the competition.”

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