A NIGHT OF UNBRIDLED VIOLENCE — Sometimes—not very often—but sometimes the intensity, ferocity and even cruelty that fighters like Mike Tyson, Nigel Benn, Tony Ayala Jr., and Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. brought to the ring could make a bout almost too edgy to watch. They and a few others engaged in fights that had you on the edge of your seat amazed at what was transpiring in the ring. There was even a sense of dread or danger, as if something terrible was about to occur.
It happened when Big Gerry Cooney caught Ken Norton in a corner and pummeled him with frightening left hooks as Tony Perez moved in to stop the savagery. It happened when Ray Mercer caught Tommy Morrison with brutal punches rendering him senseless as the referee, Perez again, moved in to stop the savagery. It occurred when Archie Moore fought Yvon Durelle and in Hearns vs. Hagler, savage and unmitigated non-stop action, and Castillo vs. Corrales and Indian Yaqui Lopez vs. Matthew Saad Muhammed and it happened when Arturo Gatti separated poor Joey Gamache from his senses with a left hook from hell.
On June 16, 1983 before an energized and screaming, sell-out Madison Square Garden crowd of 20,061 (including myself), Roberto Duran (75-4), the former lightweight and welterweight champion of the world, attempted to win his third crown, the WBA junior middleweight title, by taking on champion and solid 5-to-2 favorite Davey Moore (12-0). Though Moore was the hometown fighter, most were there to root for Duran. Every seat was filled and the crowd went absolutely bonkers when Muhammad Ali made his appearance. The chant immediately went up and I happily joined in, “Ali, Ali, Ali.” Spines tingled. It would not be the only chant that night; it would not be the only time spines would tingle that violent June might.
Preliminary: “Irish” Billy Collins Jr. vs. Luis Resto
Earlier, there had been an interesting preliminary that would have shocking deferred results and widespread collateral damage. The bout in question offered a big break for Billy Collins Jr. insofar as exposure was concerned, but Luis Resto, somewhat of a slickster, had a strong following in New York City and had fought much better competition. I fully expected him to win.
Still, Collins was undefeated, having run off 14 straight pro wins, including 11 KOs. His momentum took on the aura of a “rags to riches” story. He was a great fan favorite in Atlantic City and reminded some of a young Sean O’Grady. His victims included a very young Harold Brazier (5-1 at the time) who would finish his career with a mark of 105-18-1, winning several secondary titles. Coming off a solid KO win over tough Frankie Fernandez, he was booked to fight Bronx resident Resto (20-8-2) at Madison Square Garden on the undercard.
As an amateur, Resto had considerable talent and won two prestigious New York Golden Gloves titles. He also competed in the 1976 U.S. Olympic trials. When he turned pro in 1977 at the age of 22, he had a potentially solid professional future, but poor management and matchmaking slowed his career to journeyman status.
Over the years, Resto continued to fight difficult opponents and won his share. On his resume were notables like Bruce Curry, Mario Omar Guillotti (55-8-5 coming in), Adolfo Viruet, and Nino Gonzalez. Resto was coming off a win over tough “Slammin’” Sammy Horne (23-3) in April 1983. His 1979 closet classic win against Pat Hallacy (19-1) was 10 rounds of full-tilt mayhem and is still discussed among aficionados. He was trained by the knowledgeable but soon-to-be disgraced Panama Lewis—no stranger to controversy.
When the bell rang, Collins started well but then found himself being battered by his supposedly light-hitting opponent. His face soon became misshapen; it looked like it had gone through a meat grinder. Each round was a repeat of the previous round and Junior had no answer. Eventually Billy Sr., his trainer, asked him if he wanted the slaughter stopped. “No,” said Junior, and the fight went the distance.
Resto had beaten Collins’s face into a grotesque mass of purple and swollen bruises, eventually resulting in half-blindness due to a torn iris that, as it would turn out, could never be repaired. If Davey Moore’s face would later be turned into a bloody mess by a rampaging Duran, Billy’s was turned into a gory purplish pulp. If Duran was ferocious, Team Resto was intentionally cruel.
After the final bell, Resto went over to give young Billy a Judas kiss while Billy Sr. began to shake Resto’s right glove, saying: “Good fight.” Grabbing the glove, he was shocked to find that the padding had been removed. He immediately alerted the official.
Collins: “Hey! All of the padding is out of the damn gloves. It’s all out.”
Resto –looking across the ring toward Panama Lewis for help –his face plainly showing his guilt said “huh?”
Collins: “Commissioner…. Commissioner! No padding…. There’s no damn padding.”
The crowd, unaware that a terrible crime was happening before their collective eye, was now primed for the main event. In fact, I mentioned to my friends that while I was not surprised by the outcome, I was startled by how Resto had won. Later, to everyone’ s shock, the bout was ruled a “no contest” when it was discovered that Luis’s gloves were found to be lacking 60 percent of the horsehair padding which, in effect, made them lethal weapons.
The story has been well vetted but is best told in Eric Drath’s elegant and compelling 2008 documentary “Assault in the Ring,” that was broadcast by HBO and can now be seen on YouTube. It is truly worth watching. In 2013, John Nardizzi wrote an excellent story about the fight. Titled “Assault with a Deadly Weapon: The Cement Hands of Luis Resto,” it appeared on his blog “All Things Crime.”
Nardizzi: “…during the filming of the documentary, Resto came clean. He admitted that he knew Lewis had tampered with the gloves. And he added a dramatic new piece of information: Lewis had also dipped his hand wraps in plaster of Paris (Resto’s hand wraps are missing — only his gloves were seized as evidence). Panama Lewis sent his fighter out with hands of cement, knowing those hands would be smashing into the bony skull of Irish Billy Collins. Resto implied that Lewis had been approached by someone betting on the fight the prior day, and added that Lewis had taken padding out of his gloves on at least two other occasions.”
In the end, Billy Jr. was a promising boxer who made his family proud, but whose future was taken away in one violent and unfair night in the Garden. He had met the dark side of boxing on a night where violence reigned supreme.
Nine months later, with his home life in a mess, Collins died after driving off a cliff near his home in Tennessee, a crash some believe was a suicide..
Roberto Duran vs. Davey Moore (1983)
“Duran was a great lightweight, a good welterweight and a mediocre junior middleweight…There’s a big difference fighting people at 135 pounds and fighting them at 154. Not only can’t he be as physical, he’s a lot older now and he’s not as strong. I don’t think it will be all that tough a fight. He passed his peak a long time ago and I’m still getting close to reaching mine.”–Moore
“I worked hard for the Cuevas fight because I knew it meant so much and I’ve worked even harder preparing for this one. I’m not fighting this fight for the money. I want to prove that I’m a champion. I’m doing this for the glory.”—Duran
After the preliminary bouts, the crowd’s energy soared to an almost palpable fervor when it came time for the main event. Could Duran, the former champ, somehow regain his great form? More importantly, could he recapture his good name after a series of career missteps?
“Hands of Stone” did not disappoint and soon had the crowd chanting “Duuuran, Duuuran.” It quickly became apparent that this Duran was a Duran possessed. Like a ring artist, the 5-2-underdog neatly slipped Moore’s punches, countering, feinting and moving, and even bouncing off the ropes and then drilling crunching uppercuts upstairs and downstairs. Duran visibly relished the beat-down as he smirked, taunted and snarled. This was a Duran aroused and on a rampage; this was a Duran seeking redemption, and poor Moore found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as Duran’s ferocity and even some cruelness came to the fore.
As Michael Katz wrote in the New York Times, “The famous hands of stone were hands of quicksilver as they constantly beat Moore to the punch.”
Once Duran realized that Moore couldn’t hurt him, he began the final stalk in earnest, looking to stun and finish off the young champion. Finally, at the end of the seventh, Duran dropped Moore with a crashing straight right hand. A dazed Moore went back hard and landed on his seat with his lip badly puffed, his right eye closed and blood streaming from his mouth. He was up at the count of “5” just before the bell rang, but for all practical purposes the fight was over. However, referee, Ernesto Magana of Mexico cemented his place in boxing infamy by appearing to be numb as to what was going on.
Sports Illustrated writer William Nack described it as follows: “He [the referee] kept looking at Moore’s closed eye, as if waiting for it to fall out before he would stop the fight. Leave it to the WBA to hire a turkey to run a cockfight. That is what it had become, and Duran had all the talons.”
A sobbing Duran said after the massacre, “I was born again…I’ve returned to be Roberto Duran. It’s been a long time”
It was Duran’s 32nd birthday. I joined with the other screaming fans singing happy birthday to the winner, but my voice was gone by then.
As for Moore, he would never be the same. Duran had essentially ruined him. Sadly, in 1988, Davey was fatally injured at his home in New Jersey when his four-wheel drive vehicle began to roll down the driveway. He attempted to stop it but was dragged under, pinned there and killed.
This was a night where one fighter fought with “Hands of Stone” while another fought with a deadly weapon. It was a night of unbridled fistic violence.
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Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.