Three summers ago, HBO aired a documentary entitled Assault in the Ring. It was a disturbing, human drama piece about an incident which took place inside the ring at Madison Square Garden in 1983 and the three young men involved. It was so disturbing it won an Emmy for Executive Producer Eric Drath.
The three men involved were Luis Resto, Carlos “Panama” Lewis and Billy Collins, Jr. Resto and Lewis are still around. Collins is not. He died nine months after the incident, the result of what Resto and Luis did to him the night of June 16, 1983.
Lewis was a licensed trainer. Resto and Collins were licensed fighters, and Lewis was Resto's trainer. What Lewis and Resto did was cheat to win. They cheated big time. They removed padding from both of Resto's gloves in the dressing room before he went out to face Collins in front of a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The reason the Garden was packed was because of the main event, a 15-round bout for the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship of the world. The champion was the popular Davey Moore. The challenger was the legendary Roberto Duran.
I was Editor-in-Chief of Ring Magazine at the time. I was also the boxing analyst for the USA Network. I had a fight to call in Los Angeles the following night, so I was on a plane while the card went on at Madison Square Garden.
When we landed, it was around 10:00 p.m. Pacific Time. It was 1:00 a.m. in New York. The card was long over. I stepped off the plane wondering if Moore was able to hold off the challenge of Duran, who was fighting on his 33rd birthday.
I headed right for a pay phone (there were no cell phones in 1983) and called my right hand man, Ben Sharov, who had been at the fight.
“Ben, what happened in the fight tonight?” I asked with curious excitement.
“Duran won,” he said. “He stopped Moore in the eighth round.”
Before I could react, Sharav kept going.
“But the big story was in the co-feature,” he said. “Billy Collins Jr. against Luis Resto.”
“Don't tell me Resto beat Collins,” I said. “Is that what you're about to tell me?”
“Uh, yes, Resto did win, but there's more,” Sharav answered.
“More?” I asked.
I could hear Sharav take a deep breath. He proceeded to tell me that the previously-undefeated Collins had taken a vicious beating for 10 rounds at the hands of journeyman Resto.
But that in itself wasn't the story. The story was that Collins had taken the beating from gloves which had been tampered with. Much of the horsehair padding had been removed from the knuckle area of both gloves. Padded leather had not crashed into Collins' boyishly-handsome face for 30-minutes. Gauzed, taped knuckles had. Again and again. Over and over. They bruised his face unlike any fighter has ever been bruised. The punches caused severe swelling, cuts and deep bruises.
Those were the lesser of the injuries. Collins suffered irreparable eye damage. Not only would he never get a title shot, he'd never fight again.
Billy Collins, Jr.'s world fell apart. In a massive depression, he took to alcohol and drugs. In March, 1984, while in the depths of depression, he was behind the wheel of his car when it spun off a dirt road near his home in Tennessee. He was 22 when he died.
My editorial in The Ring was called “Murder, Plain and Simple.”
Resto, who had worn the gloves which did the damage to Collins, swore he didn't know the gloves had been tampered with. His cornermen pointed fingers at each other and whispered behind each other's backs. One cornerman, Artie Curley, died of cancer not long after the incident. He had told me—and others—than Panama Lewis had doctored Resto's gloves.
All I knew was that somebody had done it and wrote in my editorial following Collins' death, that “Billy Collins is now spending eternity in paradise...and one day, the men who removed the padding from the gloves will meet their maker and be sent to burn in the fires of hell for the same amount of time.”
The editorial opened up a legal case, and both Lewis and Resto were put on trial. They were found guilty of assualt, conspiracy and criminal possession of a deadly weapon. They were sent to prison for several years.
By the time they got out, I was no longer Editor-in-Chief of The Ring. I was the Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. I could grant them or deny them a license. Lewis wanted a Second's License. Resto wanted a Boxer's License. I denied them both.
Lewis never attempted to visit me for his license again. Resto did. Every year, he came in. At first, he came in for his Boxer's License. The last year I was commissioner (1995), he came in for a Second's License. I denied him each time. He said he had gone to prison. He said he was unable to make money in boxing. He said he had paid his dues. But I never heard him say he was sorry. Not that it would have mattered.
If you work in a children's day care center and abuse children, you may go to jail if you are caught. You'll pay your dues and be released. But upon release, are you going back to work at the day care center? I think you know the answer to that.
Lewis continues to train fighters at a gym near his home in Florida. He can train them, but he cannot work their corners. No state athletic commission will license him.
Resto lives in The Bronx, New York. He is 56. He is uneducated and a likable, pathetic soul. He is—was—only a fighter in the ring. Otherwise, he is a follower. He followed what was being done to his gloves. Not a bright man—and that's an understatement—he probably never gave thought as to what was happening to his gloves in the locker room that fateful night of June 16, 1983. He just followed along. He saw, said nothing, put them on and went out and fought. If he did question what was going on, Panama Lewis, a loud, controlling type, quickly and vocally stifled his fighter.
Watch Assault in the Ring if you can. You can at least see excerpts on YouTube. As a boxing fan, as a sports fan, as a son, daughter, father or mother, you owe it to yourself to understand the torment that night brought to so many. Billy Collins Jr.'s life is not the only one life which ended that night.
It has been heard it boxing circles that Luis Resto intends to apply to the New York State Athletic Commission for his Second's License very soon.
Denying him won't bring young Collins back, nor will giving the license to Resto. But will giving him a license open the doors for Panama Lewis to then be licensed? Should they both be licensed, or should they both face a lifetime ban from the sport which they both love so much, but have tarnished so badly?
This one will soon be in the hands of Chairperson Melvina Lathan, Edwin Torres and Thomas Santino. They are the three voting commissioners who sit atop the New York State Athletic Commission. When Resto requests they give him a license, it is they who will approve his request or deny it.
What will their vote be?