Luis Resto and Billy Collins Jr. met in 1983 at Madison Square Garden in a fight that landed one of them in jail and ruined another’s career and life.
Since the 12 Rules of the Marquis of Queensberry were adopted as the normative skeleton of modern boxing in the late 19th century, gloves have become an omnipresent element of protection for those who deliver a blow and, above all, for those who receive it. With different models, fillings, weights, colors and sizes, they are so essential that their adulteration, no matter how small, can be reason for a sports penalty. And even a imprisonment. Of this can account Luis Rest.
One fight, one surprise result, two prematurely interrupted races, a death, a condemnation, a redemption that never came and a mystery that took years to begin to unravel shaped a story that began to take shape on June 16, 1983 in the Madison Square Garden from New York and who had four star protagonists.
The first protagonist was Billy Ray Collins, a boy of just 21, born and raised in Antioch, a suburban town 12 miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee. Son of Billy Ray and Bettye, the family called him Ray to distinguish him from his father, who had been a professional boxer (he fought at Luna Park against Jorge Fernández in 1965) and then had dedicated himself to driving trucks and training his son.
After building a solid amateur career (he won 101 of the 110 fights he fought), Collins Jr. made his professional debut on December 2, 1981 in Atlantic City: he knocked out Kevin Griffin in three rounds. Then he chained other 13 wins in a year and a half, almost all broadcast on ESPN, before the night that would end his career.
The second protagonist was Luis Resto, a Puerto Rican born in Juncos, who when he was 9 years old had moved to New York with his mother, Susana Badilla, and two brothers. At 13 had been expelled from school for hitting a teacher and sent to a rehabilitation center for adolescents with psychiatric pathologies, where he spent six months.
After that, he never returned to school. He began working as a laborer in a food products company and practicing boxing. As a fan, he won three titles from the Golden Gloves from New York, but could not replicate those successes in the rented field. At 28, with 20 lackluster wins, 8 losses and 2 draws, his career seemed stagnant. But one thing is stagnant and another, quite different, is torn to shreds.
The third protagonist was Carlos Lewis, who nobody called by his first name, but by his nickname: Panama. He was an outstanding coach, who had worked with Roberto Mano de Piedra Durán and the former middleweight world champion Vito Antuofermo, and who at the time was leading the career of the unbeaten super lightweight monarch of the World Boxing Association, Aaron Pryor. And also that of Luis Resto.
Lewis’s work had not been without controversy. Just seven months earlier, Pryor had exposed his title to the Nicaraguan Alexis Argüello. At the break between the 13th and 14th rounds and with both fighters exhausted, a television microphone caught Panama asking Artie Curley, one of his assistants on the corner: Give me the bottle. Not that one, the one I mixed “.
Pryor drank from the happy bottle, returned revitalized and knocked out Argüello in that 14th chapter, which after the denouement he was unconscious for four minutes on the canvas.
The Nicaraguan’s manager, Bill Miller, filed a complaint with the Miami Athletic Commission, but neither the contents of the bottle were checked nor were the fighters subjected to urine tests.
Lewis claimed that there was a mixture of soda and tap water in the container. Curley claimed it was mint brandy. “Aaron had had a large steak at 5.30pm and then had a nap. That made him burp all night. The brandy was only to calm his stomach ”, he justified. It was never really known what had happened.
The fourth protagonist of the story was the pair of red gloves that Resto used on June 16, 1983 to face Billy Ray Collins Jr.
That night, 20,061 spectators came to Madison for the evening organized by Top Rank, whose main attraction was the fight they would star in Davey Moore, WBA super welterweight champion, and Roberto Durán.
In one of the preliminary duels in the same category, the rising Collins, who had achieved 11 of his 14 victories before the limit, was a wide favorite against Resto. It was even speculated that if he won (something that was discounted), he would be the next rival of the winner of the main fight of the night.
Half an hour before the contest, Pasquale Giovanelli and Richard Hering, the inspectors hired by Top Rank, checked the dressing and donning of Collins’ gloves. When the task was finished, they moved into Resto’s dressing room. There, Panama Lewis asked for more time to enlist his fighter. When they returned, 15 minutes later, the Puerto Rican had his gloves on. The inspectors did not check them, and neither did the bandage. A slip that would end up costing dearly.
On the ring, the favoritism of the red-haired Collins, who was nicknamed the Irish, it was fading as soon as it began to be drawn a purplish mark under your left eye in the second round. Resto’s punches did much more damage than anticipated (he only had eight knockouts in his career). During the break between the third and fourth rounds, the television microphone visited the favorite’s corner. “It is much stronger than I thought,” he was heard saying.