- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"The bell rang [for the 10th round]," Minuto recalls. "Willie's on the stool. I said to him, 'What do you want to do?' He says, 'I want to fight.' "
Eskin did not have the fighters touch gloves for the final round. It is a custom, not a regulation. Scypion tore across the ring to meet Classen. "I was still on the apron," Minuto says. "Scypion measured him with a left, then bang, a right, then another right. I was still on the apron. As soon as the first punch hit, I thought the fight had to be stopped, and before Willie went down, I was in there.
"When he was lying on the floor, I cut the glove off his left hand, and while I was cutting the glove on the right hand, he grabbed me with his right hand like a vise and held on to me. I knew then he was unconscious, and I had to pull my hand out of his grip with my other hand. Then I knew that he was really hurt."
Confusion engulfed the ring. No one seemed certain of what to do. There was no established procedure to follow. Classen finally was placed on a stretcher and removed from the ring to an adjacent hallway. A call went out for an ambulance, but none came. By chance, Richard McGuire, an AAU boxing official, spotted an ambulance passing by on Eighth Avenue and he flagged it down. It was from Cabrini Hospital on East 19th Street, but Izquierdo and Warner insisted that the driver take Classen to Bellevue, where emergency neurosurgery was available. Warner rode in the ambulance across town with Classen and radioed Bellevue to be ready.
Within two hours of the knockout, neurosurgeons removed a large blood clot that had formed in the space between Classen's brain and its outer cover, the dura. Removal of the clot alleviated the pressure, but the brain itself had already been damaged. Five days later, at 7:42 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 28, Willie Classen died.
Peace did not follow Classen to the grave. The Ortiz Funeral Home in the Bronx would not release the body for the funeral at St. Joan of Arc and burial in St. Raymond's Cemetery until a bill of $2,000 was paid. Minuto had to come up with the cash. It was either that or a certified check, because the funeral home had been stuck with the bill after Benny Paret had died 18 years before.
There followed a series of curious reports and leaks from the office of the New York City medical examiner. Classen's brain and some tissues had been removed for autopsy. One rumor had it that Willie's brain was missing—it was proved false—but there was indeed a mixup involving tissues from another cadaver.
In mid-December, Senator Goodman's committee issued its report. It called for an immediate suspension of all boxing in New York until a six-point program to protect boxers could be enacted by the commission. The commission acceded to the suspension, and adopted all the recommendations, which included mandatory eight-hour neurological training courses for physicians, referees and supervisory officials, and the utilization of CAT scans for boxers when medically indicated. Goodman's committee also found that Classen's death was "a preventable tragedy" that provided "a glaring indictment of an archaic and inadequate system of boxing supervision," that the state had "failed" to screen doctors properly for its panel of ring physicians, that ring doctors and referees were "not properly trained to prevent serious boxer injury or death," and that boxers were endangered by a "failure of officials to have arrangements in place for rapid treatment of head and nervous system trauma." Goodman also urged acceleration of a computerized boxer identification system that would provide the various state commissions with a full record of a fighter's career and injuries.
The New York commission conducted its own investigation, and in January it announced that Izquierdo and Warner had resigned, that Minuto had been suspended for a year and that Eskin, La-Cava and Capriano were suspended for six months. Eskin called his suspension "ludicrous. It's a typical move by a...completely inept commission."
Informed of the suspension before he received official notice in the mail, LaCava said of the commission, "Those bastards! They have no business doing this. We were hired for one night, that's all. They're the murderers, not us. They passed this fighter."