The 36-0 heavyweight with 80% KO record who never fought for the title

Joe Mesi Heavyweight

HBO

Heavyweight title shots are hard to come by at the best of times. But try telling that to New York knockout artist “Baby” Joe Mesi.

Mesi retired from the sport in 2007 with an impressive 36-0 record with 29 KOs from a promising career blighted by controversy over brain injuries.

The six-foot one-inch Buffalo native, under any other circumstances, would almost certainly have challenged one of the top division rulers between 2003 and 2007 – his prime years between the age of 30 and 34 before walking away.

But Mesi’s career wasn’t a straightforward one. He mainly faced also-ran opponents until finally getting to fringe contention in 2002.

Up until a 2003 NABF title victory over Robert Davis, Mesi’s best win on paper was a ninth-round stoppage of 1992 Olympic silver medalist David Izon.

The Izon win, beating Davis for the NABF and then following those wins up with stopping DaVaryll Williamson in 97 seconds and beating Monte Barrett on points, should have been the catalyst for a shot at the sport’s biggest prize.

In any typical career, it certainly would have been. Not for Mesi.

HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE

Mesi was on the brink at 28-0. Next, he went into a clash with dangerous Kazakhstani “Tiger” Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi knew he was possibly just one victory away from his opportunity.

Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Vitali Klitschko, and Lamon Brewster were clearly in Mesi’s sights. But, despite a hard-fought and close unanimous victory, Mesi’s dream was shattered.

Down three times in the Jirov fight, doctors found that Mesi had suffered at least one – but potentially two – subdural hematomas. It would be two years of legal disputes before Mesi would take to the ring again.

Joe Mesi Heavyweight
HBO

By 2006, there were too many question marks despite his legal team doing all they could to persuade the regulators Mesi was OK to continue his career.

Only licensed in Canada, Puerto Rico, and a handful of States, Mesi found it almost impossible to maintain his ranking and stay relevant.

The dangers always seemed to be active due to liability clauses needed by his opponents for fights. It simply wasn’t a risk worth taking for everyone involved.

In 2007, after eighteen months of trying to get some normality back to his heavyweight run, Mesi decided enough was enough.

The end came to pass despite another seven straight victories notched on his C.V.

Walking away with a 36-0 benchmark, Mesi holds one of the best-ever undefeated heavyweight records ever amassed.

Upon the finalization of his boxing career, Mesi entered politics and became a medical salesman to support his family.

In 2018, Mesi got inducted into the New York Boxing Hall of Fame.

Phil Jay is the Editor of WBN. An Auxiliary member of the Boxing Writers Association of America since 2018. And a member of the Sports Journalists’ Association. Follow on Twitter @PhilJWBN.