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Joe Mesi


THREE YEARS ago, Buffalo native Joe Mesi appeared to be just what boxing's stale heavyweight division needed. At age 30, the WBC's No. 1 contender was 28--0 and had a cult following in upstate New York. "I was next in line," he muses. "The possibilities were unimaginable." But Mesi's career crumbled in March 2004, when he suffered two subdural hematomas (blood clots on the brain) during a decision over Vassiliy Jirov. The Nevada Athletic Commission placed Mesi on indefinite medical suspension; since all states must honor any medical ban, the decision effectively kept him from fighting in the U.S.

Arguing that the injury was minor, Mesi waged a 20-month legal war that led to a Nevada judge's ruling that the ban was unenforceable because Mesi's boxing license had expired. Mesi began a comeback in Puerto Rico, the only place he could get a license, last April, when he defeated 41-year-old Ron Bellamy (above left, with Mesi) in an eight-round bout. He has since climbed to 29th on the WBC's contender list with wins in four-, and six-round fights in Montreal, Arkansas and Michigan. On Feb. 22 he'll face journeyman George Linberger (29-8-1) in Chester, W.Va., in his first 10-rounder since the injury. "Once I fight 10 rounds, [the WBC] tells me I'll move up quickly," he says. Mesi insists his health isn't a concern. "It's completely gone from my mind," he says. "I'm just focused on a title shot. I think that's owed to me."