by John Nardizzi

On October 8, 1986, a Manhattan jury returned a guilty verdict against Luis Resto and Carlos “Panama” Lewis, on charges of second and third degree assault, conspiracy, and criminal possession of a weapon.  There was nothing unusual about the charges, which were commensurate for perpetrators of an assault.  What was highly unusual was the venue: the assault had taken place three years earlier in a boxing ring in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in front of over 20,000 fans.  Luis Resto was the boxer and Carlos “Panama” Lewis his trainer.  Unbridled fistic violence has been the essence of the fight game, whether lashed out via the speed-blurred hands of a Manny Pacquiao or dealt in withering combinations by punching machine Marvin Hagler.  Assaulting opponents is not just a figure of speech, it is the actual, stated goal of each boxer. But Lewis and Resto dipped into the darker recesses of cheating in the ring.  After all, no man stands a chance of winning when his opponent’s hands have been secretly encased in cement.

In June 1983, undefeated “Irish” Billy Ray Collins Jr. had won 14 straight fights. He was a promising banger whose non-stop style heralded a bright future.  His opponent that night was Bronx native Luis Resto, whose record of 20-8-2 sang a tune of middling skills and average prospects.  Resto was tough and quick, it was true, but he could not knock out opponents with any regularity.   In boxing lingo, Resto was known as an opponent, a game fighter who took paydays as stepping stones for younger, more talented fighters climbing the ladder in their harsh trade of choice.

fight6Resto’s trainer, Panama Lewis, was one of those colorful, Rasputin-like characters that boxing produces by the dozen: tough, hard-working, verbally gifted and ambitious. He apprenticed under iconic trainers Ray Arcel and Chickie Ferrara before building his own stable of fighters.  In 1982, Lewis trained Aaron Pryor to a stunning victory over the great Alexis Arguello, a welterweight bout later named the “Fight of the Decade” by The Ring magazine.  Pryor and Arguello hammered each other for 14 rounds before Arguello finally was defeated. But video tape of the fight caught Lewis screaming at an assistant to hand him a special black bottle — “the one I mixed” — before the 14th round.  When Pryor seemed to explode with new-found energy in the next round, whispers abounded that Lewis would do anything to win — he had put some unknown stimulant in the bottle.

manWhen Resto and Collins met mid-ring, most predicted an exciting fight with an inevitable outcome — Collin’s raw power would eventually best Resto’s solid chin. It was only a question of which round. But to the growing surprise of ringside observers, Resto battered Collins around the ring. Collins’ face grew puffy and bruised in a way that most professional boxers never experience. (The following day, The Ring magazine immortalized the damage with a photograph of Collin’s face which was a swollen hideous mask of purple welts).

Sports Illustrated reported that Collin’s father, who was also his trainer, had recognized that Resto was cheating after his son noted Resto’s unusually hard gloves:

Midway through the fight he told his father, “It feels like he’s got rocks in his gloves.” There were no knockdowns, but after 10 rounds Ray’s face was purple and his eyes were swollen shut. “I’m blind,” he would say later that night, crying. “I can’t see a thing.”Immediately after the fight, when Billy Ray Collins Sr. stuck out his hand and shook Resto’s right glove, he felt leather over fist—no padding.  The ensuing dialogue was captured by the TV cameras.

Collins: “Hey! All of the padding is out of the damn gloves. It’s all out.”

Resto (looking across the ring toward Lewis for help): “Huh?”

Collins: “Commissioner…. Commissioner! No padding…. There’s no damn padding.”

fightIn the ensuing chaos, Resto’s gloves were examined by state boxing officials, who discovered the gloves were lighter than regulation weight. The padding had been removed through small holes near the palm. Both Resto and Lewis would later face a variety of state criminal charges, regulatory hearings and civil lawsuits — in essence, Resto was allowed to fight bare knuckles with the unsuspecting Collins. The result was terrible damage to Billy Collins’ eyes — he suffered blurred vision from a torn iris, ending his career. He began drinking heavily to manage the pain and anguish. Nine months after the beating, battling with his father and his home life in tatters, Collins died after driving off a cliff near his home in Tennessee, a crash some suspect was a suicide attempt.

fight4Years later, HBO filmed a documentary Assault in the Ring, and re-investigated the story. While Resto and Lewis both served 2.5 years in prison for what they did that night, neither had provided any explanation for their actions that day. The two men have taken vastly different paths since then. Resto became a pariah in boxing, holding odd jobs like sweeping floors and walking with his head stooped, as if the burden of what he did was dragging him to the earth. But 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.

Margarito looks at Pacquiao during the ninth round of their 12 round WBC World Super Welterweight title boxing fight in ArlingtonLewis maintains his innocence to this day. He has his defenders, some who feel a lifetime ban from his chosen profession is too harsh. Lewis has stated that he sympathizes with Collin’s family anguish over their son, comparing it to his own sorrow when his father died when Lewis was incarcerated. “I know what the family is going through… I lost my father during my incarceration.” When confronted by Resto and the documentary director, Eric Drath, Lewis continued to deny wrongdoing. He seemed to shift blame to cornerman Artie Curley who had wrapped Resto’s hands. Curley, conveniently, is dead.

The final outrage to many of Collins’ family memories is Lewis’ current role in boxing.  Although banned from ringside in any professional event licensed by a state boxing association, Lewis continues to work with boxers in gymnasiums and has earned fees consulting with professional boxers. Lewis remains hopeful that one day he will be allowed ringside in a professional bout.

jjjJohn Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction. He lives in the Boston area and supports AS Roma and Barcelona.

Click here to read All Things Crime Bog’s review of John’s crime novel, Telegraph Hill.

Click below to view John Nardizzi’s previous posts:

Cracks in “The Iceman”: Richard Kuklinski, Serial Killer and Real-Life Mafia Hit Man

Violence and Redemption in Pro Sports, Part One: The Chief Punches Out Bill Laimbeer

 

 

6 Responses to Assault with a Deadly Weapon: The Cement Hands of Luis Resto

  1. liselasalle says:

    Lewis has discredited boxing and gave it a black eye for life. He should never be allowed in an arena unless it is as a cement worker or a concrete finisher.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Freakin’ Cement Men in the ring. Appalling. Back in the day, there was a well-known novel of Soviet “social realism” published named “Cement”. It was all about cement and the worker’s struggles in the arena of cement. Nashe and I get a kick out of that. :-)

    • If I was sparring in the gym with a boxer where Pananma Lewis was cornerman, I would X-ray the gloves before stepping in the ring. Lewis has made the point that murderers are allowed to resume their chosen profession so why shouldn’t he? He doesn’t see the obvious answer…

  2. chami says:

    It is interesting that boxing is considered a sport in 2013 in the USA

    Perhaps we can think of the Roman times…

    or the spanish matadors…

    • Without cement cast hands, boxing remains quite the spectacle. But with new concussion studies, you wonder for how long.

      • Rick says:

        Excellent article, John.

        I believe that you are correct about the future of boxing (and football). Unless steps can be taken to minimize concussions in those two sports, they are probably headed the way of the dodo bird.

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