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Mesi Ready For Prime Time?

After an absence of nearly three years, Joe Mesi returns to the realm of feature-length, nationally televised boxing Thursday night when he fights journeyman George Linberger at the Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W. Va.
The 10-round bout, Mesi’s first since March 13, 2004 — when he won a narrow decision over Vassiliy Jirov at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, but suffered brain bleeds that led to a two-year medical suspension – will be shown on the Versus Network, known mainly in the Buffalo area as the home of National Hockey League telecasts.
Mesi’s return has rekindled debate over the sport’s safety. To date, officials in states like New York and Nevada, where he was suspended until a judge ordered the ban lifted in late 2005, have indicated that they won’t grant him a new license, due to his previous injuries.
Mesi’s doctors argue that the subdural hematomas healed completely, leaving no scar tissue that would make him more susceptible to future, more serious bleeding. Such injuries are the primary cause of in-ring deaths, according to safety advocates.
While Mesi’s comeback continues, another potentially even more controversial one is scheduled to begin earlier in the evening. Tommy Morrison, probably most remembered for his role as Rocky Balboa’s protégé, Tommy Gunn, in the best-forgotten Rocky V, returns for his first fight in 10 years.
Morrison, a former title contender who won a decision over George Foreman in 1993, tested positive for HIV in 1996 and has been suspended in the United States ever since. He now says that test was a false positive and that he has since tested negative for the virus that causes AIDS.
Unlike most states, West Virginia does not require a blood test from applicants for a boxing license. Morrison (46-3-1 with 40 KOs) is scheduled to face John Castle (4-2, 3), who has been stopped in his last two bouts, in a four-round fight.
Mesi, who is unbeaten in 33 professional fights with 26 knockouts, with four victories but only one knockout since launching his comeback in April 2006, is scheduled to face Linberger (29-8-1, 25), a former college football player who has never gone past seven rounds as a professional, in the first bout of the telecast at about 9 p.m.
A preview of the Mesi-Linberger bout is available here. has clips of Mesi’s last two fights at a sold-out HSBC Arena, first-round knockouts of Robert Davis in June 2003 and DaVarryl Williamson three months later.
Photo by Joseph Cascio

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