By Rich Mancuso
One of the ugliest incidents in pro boxing history has been recalled and documented on HBO Sports revolving around the evening of June 16, 1983 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Billy Collins Jr, after his fight with Luis Resto was never the same and eventually would take his own life.
Collins, undefeated had the opportunity of a lifetime fighting at the Garden and challenging Resto, the fighter from Puerto Rico residing in the Bronx, New York, though considered a journeyman in boxing standards. At the time, Resto moved up to welterweight and had to put on some weight. This was the biggest opportunity of a career that was not moving in the direction he wanted.
There was Collins, a great puncher who moved up quickly after a successful career as an amateur from Nashville Tennessee.
Resto would upset Collins, and for those not familiar with events that followed there was plenty to learn about the events leading up to the tragic fight and aftermath of both fighters as the HBO presentation, “Assault in The Ring” achieved high ratings, is repeated on the network and also available on social media platforms.
The life of Resto would change. He was prosecuted and incarcerated for assault and battery, his fists being the weapon as the trainer, Panama Lewis denied that he took the padding out of Resto’s gloves. Collins met an untimely death due to his downward spiral after sustaining numerous and detrimental injuries to his face and vision, at the hands of Resto.
Collins became dependent on alcohol, could not hold jobs and eventually took his own life by crashing his car into a ditch in a suburb by his home in Tennessee.
But for those who know Resto, a gallant and aggressive fighter at the time, he’s not at fault for getting a victory over Collins that was tainted, because his trainer, Panama Lewis had the padding illegally removed. Resto cannot work corners in New York, or for that matter at fight venues in the country and the sting of taking a fall has hurt him financially.
But, the 61-year old Resto, who struggles to make a living will not give up the sport. He travels to Juncos Puerto Rico to get away when he can, a place he still calls home. Though most of the time, Resto is in the boxing gym and not making much as he trains upcoming fighters at the Morris Park Boxing Gym in the Bronx.
Those who know Resto greet him with respect. Many, though, too young to remember the history and chronology of those events at Madison Square Garden many years ago. The boxing world though, including the New York State Athletic Commission, that supervised the card promoted by Top Rank, has since improved safety and well being of fighters.
An inspection of gloves ,including hand wraps and padding are handled with care and before fighters get in the ring they are in a backroom secured and under watch by NYSAC authorities. Similar procedures are followed by other state athletic and control boards where boxing comes under their authority.
“Assault in the Ring” analyzes and reviews events of that fatal night in a ring at Madison Square Garden. Lewis provides his side of the story, so does Resto. Former New York State Athletic Commission authorities including Jack Penderville, Randy Gordon and Ron Scott Stevens, those who prosecuted Resto, defense and jury from the 1986 trial in New York also provide their accounts.
Resto is truthful and honest and still stands by his account of that night. Now a retired fighter who speaks English but prefers to tell his account in Spanish, he is aware about the controversy and the death of Collins,after all these years still haunts him.
In the meantime, Lewis is still banned from the sport, and with the exception of a jurisdiction body out of the United States, Lewis is not allowed to train or be involved in any aspect of the fight business. And one can never believe this statement from Lewis:
“They wanted to nail me to the wall,” he said. They wanted to take me out the game about winning too many fights.” Yeah, Lewis was an exceptional trainer, but resorted to using illegal means to get his fighters a win to many was his tactic.
It worked for Lewis, one though that resulted in a change of the guard in the sport. And Resto became the unfortunate victim.
Case in point is how Lewis aided one fighter, the Hall of Fame champion Aaron Pryor, In his fight with now deceased Hall of Fame champion Alexis Arguello, in Miami back in November of 1982, Lewis spiked the water bottle of Pryor that enabled his fighter to get an added boost of energy. Pryor would get a 14th round TKO and win the WBA welterweight title.
To this day, Lewis will deny that occurrence. Though boxing authorities at the time felt powerless and let the decision stand for Pryor and Lewis. Evidence still exists that Lewis was a criminal then and his credibility for some reason wasn’t tarnished. He continued to train fighters who were vulnerable to the Lewis propaganda of, “I can make you a champion.”
Resto says about the ordeal that happened to him: “Yeah, that was the best year and the worst night,” commenting about the fight and the outcome. On the death of Collins years later, after living a distraught life, Resto says, “When that happened I wanted to commit suicide. I don’t care if I die or not.”
“You know, I think about that fight almost every day,” says Resto. ‘When I work in the gym, I work with the other guys. I don’t see your face, I see Collins’ face.” Very compelling words that come from a misguided fighter who was the wrong victim at the hands of justice and has never recovered, since that fatal night at the Garden.
And the referee, Tony Perez on the bout and tampered gloves that defaced the face of Collins, has said, “When I saw the gloves and I handed it to them (the authorities) I knew there was something wrong with the gloves. There was something missing, absolutely.”
There is so much more. Resto would rather not discuss that uneventful night in New York. Most of the time he turns away those who want him to tell the story again as he felt closure came with the HBO documentary.
“I just want to be here and train these kids the right way,” he says in a slurred speech at the gym. Morris Park is close to home, though at times he will go to other gyms and train the kids realizing that his appeal to work corners on the amteur and pro level will never happen.
They said, Resto used his hands as a lethal weapon, and the dues have been paid. Boxing is still and always will be a part of the Luis Resto legacy, but in a bad way. Most of all it is another horrific story that will always be in the minds of those who love the sport.