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Wednesday, June 5, 2002
Leonard impressed with Mesi

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- With a fight card featuring promising young heavyweight "Baby'' Joe Mesi on Friday, the night before Mike Tyson fights Lennox Lewis, promoter Sugar Ray Leonard hopes to take another step toward giving boxing a cleaner image.

"He's a first-rate prototype of my kind of fighter,'' Leonard said Wednesday of the 20-year-old Mesi. "He can fight, he's committed, he's very disciplined and he's a good kid.''

Mesi improved to 22-0 with a sixth-round knockout of Keith McKnight on April 5. It was the 20th time an opponent failed to go the distance with the Tonawanda, N.Y., fighter, who will be matched with Talmadge Griffis (21-2-3) on Friday night at Rawhide, a Western theme park in suburban Scottsdale.

Leonard said Mesi, who moved up from 27th in WBC rankings to 19th with his last win and is No. 1 in the NABC, has the potential to be a contender in the sport's glamour division but needs seasoning against increasingly tough foes.

"The heavyweight division is not that solid,'' Leonard said. "He needs maybe six fights. After each one, we'll critique him, assess where he's at.''

The Griffis-Mesi bout, scheduled for 10 rounds, will be televised nationally as part of SRL Boxing's 10th live show in as many months.

The card also includes a lightweight match between former featherweight champion Gregorio "Goya'' Vargas (41-7-2) and Emanuel Burton (25-19-4).

Before signing autographs and speaking to a reporter at a sports bar outside the Bank One Ballpark, Leonard went into the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse and watched batting practice before the game against the Houston Astros.

He was impressed with the speed of movement and concentration at field level.

"It's a lot like boxing. You can see that zone,'' Leonard said.

He liked Rawhide, which features Old West-style buildings, wagons, gold panning and staged gunfights, as the site for fights he hopes will be linked in the public mind with the heavyweight title blockbuster in Memphis, Tenn.

"It seemed kind of natural,'' Leonard said. "That fight Saturday night is going to be a wild, wild night with Tyson and Lewis. I like the atmosphere out there, the cowboys, the gunslingers. It's a natural.''