Torres says he could barely see during fight

Updated: March 17, 2004, 8:57 PM ET
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- A convicted murderer who forged close ties to baseball stars and other athletes while in prison says he had hepatitis and could barely see when he fought a fixed comeback fight at the Anaheim Pond.

Joey Torres, out on bail at the time of the 2002 fight, said a matchmaker had someone take his medical tests for him, then brought his opponent to his hotel room the morning of the fight so they could rehearse how he would knock him out.

Torres said he had highly contagious hepatitis C, 20/400 vision and trained on cognac and colas to get ready for the fight after being assured he would win.

Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor posted bond for Torres, and he and former baseball star Eric Davis were in the corner for the fight that ended with Torres knocking out Perry Williams in the second round. California authorities were suspicious after the bout, but said they could find no evidence it was fixed.

The allegations were made in a letter Torres sent to his sister, Marcy Bautista, from a California prison, where he was sent after losing an appeal to remain free on a 1979 murder conviction. Bautista confirmed the handwritten letter, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent by her brother, who she said has not had access to a telephone since being sent to a Delano, Calif., facility last month.

Torres identified the matchmaker as Sean Gibbons, who is at the center of an FBI investigation into boxing irregularities.

The claims were mocked by the attorney for Gibbons, who said Torres has a history of lying. Gibbons, an assistant matchmaker for promoter Bob Arum, was fired earlier this year after the FBI raided Arum's Top Rank offices as part of its probe.

"If Mr. Torres ever makes an accusation like this in a court of law, I'll look forward to cross-examining him," lawyer David Chesnoff said.

In the four-page letter, Torres also said he was the one who sparked the boxing investigation by calling the FBI while out of prison and offering his services to infiltrate Arum's offices. A call to the U.S. Attorney's office in Las Vegas was not immediately returned.

An undercover New York City police detective called "Big Frankie" was sent to pose as a cousin of Torres so he could gain access to Top Rank, which promoted the Torres fight.

In his letter, Torres said "Big Frankie" was in his hotel room the morning of the fight when Gibbons pushed the furniture to the side and told the boxers how to make the fight look real.

"Unbeknownst to Mr. Gibbons my 'cousin' was in fact an agent," Torres wrote.

Torres said he told Gibbons he had bad vision and hepatitis C, which is easily transmitted by blood and can lead to chronic liver disease. The matchmaker, Torres said, told him "not to worry, I'll take the tests for you."

At the time, Torres had been out of prison for several months after winning a chance to appeal, and his feel-good story was being shopped as a possible movie.

Torres, an amateur star before he was imprisoned for killing a gas station attendant, was 5-foot-6, 199 pounds for the fight. Head Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler told California officials afterward that he picked the worst opponent he could find for the 41-year-old fighter making his pro debut.

Williams may have been bad, but the flabby, heavily tattooed Torres looked even worse. The first right hand Williams threw sent Torres down face first, much to the surprise of both boxers.

Torres barely beat the count, but instead of going after a hurt fighter, Williams put his gloves in front of his face. Williams barely threw another punch the rest of the round before going down himself from a suspect left from Torres.

The enraged crowd chanted "WWF! WWF!" believing the fight was fixed when Torres won by second round knockout.

Dean Lohuis, chief inspector for the California State Athletic Commission, said records show that blood tests were submitted under Torres' name on April 23. There was also a physical and neurological exam submitted under his name on the day of the fight.

"It's not the first time I've heard of a promoter taking the test," Lohuis said.

"We paid Joey Torres, but we didn't pay the other guy. That should tell you something."

Torres built a following in prison with his story that he had been unjustly convicted and sent to prison far longer than a judge originally intended.

He worked the phones constantly to cultivate relationships with ballplayers like Molitor, Davis, Darryl Strawberry and Emmitt Smith. Smith visited him in prison, Strawberry took his phone calls in the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout, and Molitor credited Torres with helping him during a hitting slump.

Torres was released on appeal, and he said in his letter that the FBI promised him he would not return to jail as a reward for helping the investigation.

However, a California judge last year ordered him to resume his 25 years to life prison sentence.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press