He was a New York State Golden Gloves champion, and as an amateur boxer he defeated future two-time Heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman. Mesi made it all the way to the finals in the 1996 Olympic Trials, but lost to eventual US heavyweight representative Lawrence Clay-Bey. In Buffalo, for a brief period, Joe was once considered by some to be the city’s “third professional franchise”, with the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills being the other two. Joe is still often seen at Bills and Sabres games and also supports many local charities.
In 2002, Mesi started a non-profit to raise awareness about organ donation and transplantation upon finding out his cousin was in need of a kidney transplant, and to help others in the Upstate New York area who needed such surgeries. His cousin, Ganelle Shanor, died in an accident before she was able to receive the operation. In January 2004, Mesi donated $7,500 to the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, New York as a way of giving back to the Rochester community and to promote an upcoming fight at the Blue Cross Arena, with kidney transplant recipient Dillon Gonzalez and his family in attendance. The foundation was funded in part by admission fees to victory parties.
The injuries came from a 2004 bout with former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov. In round 9, Mesi was knocked down from a right hook and in the tenth round he was knocked down two more times. Mesi managed to finish the fight on his feet and the bout was scored 94-93 for Mesi by all three judges.
In June 2005, Mesi, along with his attorneys and three doctors supporting his reinstatement, went before the Nevada State Athletic Commission to argue Mesi’s hematomas had healed, and, he was, “in no more danger than any other boxer.” Mesi’s appeal was denied by a 5-0 vote. In response to Dr. Julian E. Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, opinion that: “Football players and other athletes who had even more severe head injuries than Mesi were allowed to continue their careers without further harmful effects.” Dr. Tony Alamo, one of the board’s commissioners, replied, “You play football, you don’t play boxing.”
The suspension effectively blacklisted him from boxing anywhere in the United States under the premise of the full faith and credit clause. He launched several ineffective lawsuits against parties they claimed had leaked news of his health, while also appealing to Nevada representatives that he should be allowed to box. The suspension was officially lifted when Mesi’s Nevada boxing license expired at the end of 2005. However, he was unable to renew the license due to the concerns of Nevada boxing officials. In 2006, Mesi was again licensed by boxing commissions in Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Arkansas and Michigan, with a handful of other states to follow suit in 2007. Over that time, Mesi won all of his handful of fights, though effectively retired from boxing in 2007.
Joe Mesi had one of the longest active undefeated professional boxing records in the world for a heavyweight. Ranked #1 heavyweight contender by the WBC prior to his two-year layoff, Mesi was #16 in the December 2007 rankings. In 2018, Mesi was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame.