- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

His name is “Baby” Joe Mesi, and he is the latest great white hope in boxing — whether he likes it or not.

He doesn’t like it.

“I don’t want race to be a part of all this,” said the 30-year-old Mesi, who makes his Madison Square Garden debut tonight against Monte Barrett on HBO.

The undefeated Mesi (27-0, 25 knockouts) would have to limit his fights to National Federation for the Blind events if he didn’t want race not to be part of his story. Of course his story could end tonight because Barrett is Mesi’s biggest test yet.

That’s always the problem with white heavyweights — sooner or later, no matter how many stiffs they fight to build up an impressive record, they have to take a real fight against a real boxer. And usually that is when the great white hope is revealed to have been the great white hype.

So far the hype has been limited to upstate New York, though Mesi’s reputation has spread because of his punching power. His last two wins were first-round knockouts, including one against the District’s DaVarryl Williamson in Mesi’s HBO debut. Since then, he signed a three-fight deal with the cable network, starting with tonight’s fight against Barrett (29-2).

Mesi’s career has been nurtured by his father-manager. He spent much of his time fighting in his hometown of Buffalo, where he is so popular that he is considered the third sports franchise, behind the Bills and the Sabres.

Tonight the Garden will become Buffalo South. If a crowd of about 12,000 is expected, you can be certain that half will be the Buffalo contingent. If Mesi manages to win impressively, it’s likely the Buffalo caravan will soon be heading to Las Vegas, where they are desperate for a boxing meal ticket again. If that happens, they may dig up Rocky Marciano — the last recognized white American heavyweight champion — to pose with Mesi.

They came close this week in New York. A cardboard cutout of Marciano stood at a press luncheon for Mesi which featured Marciano’s brothers, Peter and Lou.

“If there’s ever a guy who we want to break the record of 49-0, it’s you,” Peter Marciano told Mesi.

Peter Marciano didn’t want Larry Holmes to break it when Holmes was 48-0. Peter Marciano said he was lighting candles and praying Holmes wouldn’t tie his brother, and his prayers were answered when Michael Spinks upset Holmes.

If history is any indication, there aren’t enough candles in the Vatican for Peter Marciano to light in order for Joe Mesi to become heavyweight champion and go 50-0.

Here are some of the white hypes who have tried:

• Jerry Quarry (53-9-4, 33 knockouts): Probably the best of the white American heavyweights since Marciano, but he came along at the wrong time, when the division was at its best. He fought Muhammad Ali twice (getting knocked out in the third and seventh rounds) and Joe Frazier twice (getting knocked out in the seventh and fifth rounds), but he beat Floyd Patterson, Buster Mathis, Mac Foster and Ron Lyle. He knocked out Earnie Shavers in one round.

• Duane Bobick (49-4, 41 knockouts): The 1972 American Olympic heavyweight went 39-0 and was ranked as high as fourth before he faced Ken Norton at the Garden in 1977. He was knocked out in one round and it was downhill after that.

• Gerry Cooney (28-3, 24 knockouts): Probably the most celebrated of the white hypes whose career was built on tomato cans and over-the-hill heavyweight names (see first-round knockouts of Ron Lyle and Ken Norton) and culminated when he was stopped by Holmes in 13 rounds in June 1982. He never truly had the desire to be a fighter. The late trainer Eddie Futch said if Cooney had received the proper training, he had the talent and the punch to be heavyweight champion.

• Tommy Morrison (46-3-1, 40 knockouts): The highlight of Morrison’s career was playing the white hype in the film “Rocky V.” Every time the hard-punching Morrison was on the road to stardom, he was knocked out or down by reality. He had a multi-million payday lined up against Lennox Lewis when he took a tuneup fight against Michael Bentt and was knocked out in one round in 1993. When he finally did meet Lewis three years later, he was stopped in six rounds. Later it was revealed that Morrison was HIV positive.

• Lou Savarese (43-5, 35 knockouts): Like Mesi, he was building up a record of fighting nobodies until he was finally exposed as a mediocre heavyweight, losing to David Izon and Michael Grant. He then was knocked out by Mike Tyson in 38 seconds more than three years ago.

There have been other white heavyweights who have actually held titles — Frans Botha and Gerrie Coetzee among them — and many believe Vitali Klitschko (who meets Kirk Johnson tonight in the Garden show) or brother Wladimir will wind up as the recognized heavyweight champion. But they are from foreign soil, and to meet all the requirements of the great white hype, they need to be red, white and blue born.

Joe Mesi fits the bill so far. Now we will see where he fits on the list of those who were anointed before him.

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