Billy Collins Jr: The Crime That Ended His Career & So Much More
Billy Collins Jr had it all, talent and the looks, he was unbeaten and on his way to stardom. Until one night in 1983, when everything tragically changed. In many ways, his young life ended that night in New York.
Fourteen fights, all wins, Collins appeared set for a golden future. Bob Arum had big plans for his protégé, at 21 there were many big nights ahead, a career just getting started. Titles and the big money seemingly a mere formality. But then everything stopped, his career and effectively, so did his life. Madison Square Garden was full, packed to the rafters, most were there to witness the redemption of Roberto Duran. The Panamanian legend would bludgeon Davey Moore to defeat to win back the love of his nation, but a rising star had Duran in his thoughts.
‘Irish’ Billy Collins the Tennessee red-hot prospect was there for the next step on the road to superstar status. There were big hopes for Collins, very big hopes, a potential new star at light-middleweight. A Puerto Rican journeyman Luis Resto with an average looking record of (20-8-2) on the surface, posed little threat. A tough test but not perceived as too tough. Collins was expected to win, Resto was expected to lose. Boxing often has a script that gets ripped up.
Resto would dominate Collins, inflicting the first blemish on the resume of the young prospect. Resto prevailed on points, Collins was brave and refused to be stopped. Collins would show no quit, Resto would show no mercy. We now know how little mercy. The young hopeful took a fearful beating, a life-changing one. But that wasn’t the end of the story, it wasn’t a fair fist fight, Resto came with a loaded gun.
Resto’s feeling of triumph wouldn’t last long. The hollowness and criminality of his unlikely win would be revealed before he had even left the ring. Resto went to Collins’s corner to offer his weapon of choice, Collins Sr touched the gloves of the man who later would be found to have assaulted his son. The pivotal shocking moment was caught on camera, the guilt on the face of Resto plain to see. He knew, we all knew.
It was supposed to be nothing more than the obligatory post-fight parting of the ways between winner and loser. That time-honoured tradition of sportsmanship, but for Resto, it was a crucial mistake. Without it, we might never have known the horrific tragic truth on that night of horrors.
Collins Sr immediately noticed there was something not quite right with the gloves of Resto. Carlos ‘Panama’ Lewis, the trainer of Resto had removed a third of the required padding from Resto’s gloves, and much later, it was revealed that the hand wraps were also coated with Plaster of Paris. Hands of Stone wasn’t just in the main event.
The arguments and denials were long, hard but unconvincing. Stories of seedy meetings and large money to be made from a bet made the headlines. The reasons for the betrayal of fair play are irrelevant, they don’t help Billy Collins Jr. There was no justice for Collins, not in the proper sense anyway. The result would be reversed to a No Contest, Resto lost the win, but Collins had lost so much more.
It took three years but Resto and Lewis would get what they deserved. At least to a point. They went to trial and were found guilty of second and third-degree assault, conspiracy, and criminal possession of a weapon, the tools of his trade. Both would serve two and a half years in prison. Resto and Lewis paid a small price for what they did, Collins paid a far heavier price.
They were effectively kicked out of boxing for life. There was no way back for either, at least not to the extent that they wanted. Resto never fought again, after a long battle he was allowed to work as a cornerman. A sport with no shame. Resto was left with something, Collins was left with nothing.
Lewis trained fighters after his release from prison, including Zab Judah, but he wasn’t allowed to be in their corner. Resto would many years later, admit his involvement and offered a way too late apology to Collins’s widow. He looked relieved when his dark secret was out, some semblance of decency finally found. But it came too late for the family and the fighter he butchered in New York.
Lewis admitted nothing and took his lack of guilt or remorse to his grave. The silence said everything about a man who was suspected of foul play previously. There was a message in a bottle. Another story for a different day.
If there is sympathy for their plight, and there shouldn’t be, remember there was no way back for Collins. The innocent party who lost everything.
The swollen battered face of Collins would eventually heal, but only so much. As the swelling subsided, the real damage was revealed. Collins suffered permanent eye damage and blurred vision, and he never fought again. A career over, his life would end soon after.
Without boxing in his life, Collins hit self-destruction. He lost hope, he would soon lose much more. His marriage would crumble, pushed to breaking point, as was his relationship with his parents. The rows were plenty and loud. The suffering would be deep, uncontrollable, irretrievable.
Collins turned to alcohol and drugs in a big way. Any early lingering hopes of a return to boxing had long left his body. A fighter who had everything and finished with nothing, he’d lost any remaining self-respect in those final few months. It was sad, it was ugly.
In March of 1984, the young life of a one-time golden prospect would be over. The family were convinced it was a suicide attempt, almost certainly they were right. Collins slammed his car into a cement embankment, and the now troubled life with no more meaning was over.
Boxing has many sad stories in its long often shady and unforgiving history. There is a dark side to the sport that will never go away. Where there is money, there is greed, there is sometimes a crime. It wasn’t classed as murder what Lewis and Resto did to Collins, but maybe it should have been.