"Were the gloves illegal?" he asks, sitting on a worn bench in the gym. After a long pause, he says, "I don't know."
Look at the tape of the fight, on June 16, 1983, at the man throwing punch after punch. Resto's skin is pure Puerto Rico, dark and smooth. His bounce is lively. A black ponytail dangles down his neck. Today he looks old and worn, a tired man with no ponytail, no bounce. "I tell you this," he continues after another long pause. "I just put on the gloves and fought. I trained long for the fight. I worked harder than ever. I didn't cheat. And I didn't kill Billy Collins. Not me."
You want to believe Panama Lewis. You really do. He is a victim, you tell yourself, and you almost buy it. He says he didn't know. Couldn't have. He's just another pawn in the system, still feeling the effects of that night 15 years ago. So what if he refuses to talk to the media? Can anybody blame him? The man has been raked over the coals like a jailed dictator. "Panama is a very humble person," says Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, 46, a onetime light heavyweight who trained under Lewis in the early '80s. "He has taken everything society has thrown at him with class and dignity. He served his time. Society should let the man earn a living again."
Lewis, 52, was one of the best cornermen of his time, right up there with Emanuel Steward and Lou Duva. He trained Mike Tyson, Tony Tucker and Francois Botha, worked with Don King and pulled down more than a couple of bills. But what about those years in prison? What about being banned permanently from working the corner? He didn't kill anyone, did he?
Besides, who actually saw Lewis remove the padding from Resto's boxing gloves? Sure, something that looked like horsehair was seen on the floor of the fighter's locker room at Madison Square Garden. But why would Lewis do such a thing? For such an insignificant fight? Maybe for Roberto Durán when he fought Sugar Ray Leonard the first time. But Luis Resto—Billy Ray Collins Jr.? What would have been the point? "Panama Lewis did nothing," says Sterling McPherson, Botha's manager. "I know the kind of person he is, and there's no way he would pull something like that. Somebody set him up."
You want to believe Billy Ray Collins Sr. You really do. He is a victim, you tell yourself, and you almost buy it. He says he didn't know. Couldn't have. He's just another pawn in the system, still feeling the effects of that night 15 years ago. Besides, his son is dead.
"The fight killed Ray," says Collins, sitting on a couch in his small house in Antioch, Tenn. "He may have not died that night, but he was as good as dead."
Collins was working the corner for his son, who was known in the family as Ray, in a 10-round junior middleweight bout against Resto on the Davey Moore—Roberto Durán undercard at the Garden. Ray, just 21, was 14-0. He expected to knock out Resto, a soft-punching 20-7-2 fighter. He expected to go on to a title bout.
He took the beating of a lifetime. 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."