Luis Resto takes a usual morning jog on the Atlantic City boardwalk and those three miles back-and-forth for the former Bronx and Puerto Rico professional welterweight have become a routine. The jog and meeting people who resemble a familiar face, bring some peace to an otherwise chaotic past of turmoil.
Later, he goes home to his one bedroom, Atlantic City government assisted apartment and takes a map. He meets a friend at the nearby Greyhound bus terminal on Atlantic Avenue, eats a burger with coffee and returns home.
It’s a lonely and dark life for Resto, the now 67-year old who is remembered for that ugly June evening in 1983 at Madison Square Garden In New York, then a fight with the late Billy Collins Jr. that ended his career with prison time of two and a half years for assault.
“I pray for Billy and his family,” Resto said to me on the boardwalk last week.
As documented, Resto, then a journeyman fighter was matched with a contender, Collins. The fight became a nightmare and gained worldwide attention. Resto was implicated and convicted by a New York State Grand Jury for assault, criminal possession of a weapon (gloves), and conspiracy.
His boxing gloves and padding were illegally altered and confiscated. Plaster under the hand wraps were the culprit that caused permanent damage to his opponent, and months later the bout was declared a draw after intense findings conducted with the New York State Athletic Commission.
The NYSAC also brought Resto to trial. The culprit, though, the late Panama Lewis, trainer of Resto, instigated the irregularities and was banned from working corners and the sport.
Since then, the NYSAC assures inspectors are nearby as trainers wrap the hands of fighters and also give final approval of the gloves before they are used. Also, the incident has provided similar and strict procedures followed with other athletic commission and control boards around the country that regulate professional boxing.
Boxing can be detrimental under all circumstances, but this was different because the gloves became a weapon. The Resto-Collins fallout has led to improved safety procedures for the sport and assurances that something like this would never occur again.
However, years later, Antonio Margarito battered the face of four- division champion and Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto, in a junior welterweight title fight that led to questions. Margarito, a Mexican, was implicated and nailed red handed for tainting his hand wraps, later banned from fighting in jurisdictions of the United States.
The victim, Collins Jr. would never recover. Face scarred and disfigured, torn iris, permanent blurred vision all from alleged weapons to the face, the promising and talented fighter would never fight again. Collins reportedly committed suicide when he drove his vehicle off a side road near his home in the suburb of Antioch, Tennessee.
Resto was also banned from competing, though years later was granted a reprieve and worked a few corners at small venues. His love for the sport has been diminished to a daily run, gripping his hand with a rubber ball, and throwing his hands in a boxing stance.
“I am so sorry,” he continually says to me in a slow and slurred speech, showing remorse, and remaining silent for long periods. He constantly apologies to those he harmed. Resto wants closure, however, that will never occur as the Collins family refuses to accept his apologies.
A Showtime documentary “Assault in the Ring ” is replayed often and shows Resto visiting the Collins graveside and asking for forgiveness.
“I went there,” Resto says. “I ask Billy to forgive me. His family threatened to call the cops if I came to their door again. I won’t go. I think of that time. I am not a bad person.”
No, Luis Resto is not a bad person. But the perception is, he ruined the career and life of a good person. Collins Jr was respected and had potential among those in boxing, with friends, and family. The culprit, though, was Lewis who reportedly made those gloves a weapon because Resto was the underdog, and a win would assure bigger paydays.
In boxing, over 40 years ago, a huge payday went a long way as compared to the million dollar purses that fighters get today with promoters, television, and streaming networks.
But this was a fight made for Resto, who had a history of trouble growing up on the mean streets of the Bronx, and like so many others walked in the boxing gym that became his safe haven. After serving his sentence, Resto was homeless and lived in a basement at the Bronx based Morris Park Boxing Gym.
He maintained the gym and also could be seen hitting the bags. He was able to train young fighters as part of his probation, kept to himself, and was offered respect. But, many years later, that night at Madison Square Garden remains a dark eye to his minimal and brief legacy.
Many still ask Resto about the gloves that became a weapon. I asked him again last week about the circumstances. I questioned the procedure of wrapping hands. Was he aware that Lewis was tainting the gloves to assure Collins would be beaten?
Resto hesitated. He looked down and his left hand grasped the rubber ball that is always in his pocket.
“I was stupid,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I listened to Panama. He did me wrong. I did what he tell me what to do. I trust him.”
Yet, I, and many others continually refuse to understand how Resto would not be aware that an assault was about to occur in the ring. How could a fighter not be aware of his surroundings, the normal wrap of the hands from a trainer that he trusts?
How could Luis Resto not know that padding was removed from his gloves and that Lewis, as documented in legal proceedings, soaked the hand wraps in “Plaster of Paris” that caused the wraps to harden as a plaster cast?
He said to me, as he has to Collins’ widow and at a press conference, that Lewis had done this in prior fights. He never reported his trainer because as he said “I was too young. I went along.”
Granted, at the time Resto was 28 years old. And Lewis was implicated more than once for spicing the bottle with an illegal substance to his fighters in between rounds that gave them a boost of energy, never detected at the time when corner inspectors were very few in the business.
Resto bowed his head again. He continued to grasp that ball and took a brief walk. He walks to regroup and clear his mind.
“I wish and say that day should have never came,” he said. “I want them to forgive me. I am a good person. Panama was a bad person.” Unfortunately, though, Luis Resto will never be portrayed as a good person as many years later he tries to move on from this ugly incident.
He never got to know and respect Billy Collins Jr. as the fighter and person. The gloves on that night became the story and not the fight. Panama Lewis passed on with a belief he did nothing wrong that night at Madison Square Garden.
A fight and unfortunate part of boxing history. A fight that Luis Resto continues to try and overcome, except a career was ended. A life was eventually lost in what the Collins family and others say was attributed to an assault in the ring.
Rich Mancuso [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube. Like, Comment, Subscribe