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Opponent's Injury Has Espino on Ropes : Boxing: Tragedy almost strikes twice for Forum fighter but Mercedes, his latest foe, is recovering.

March 03, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Miguel Mercedes lost consciousness, Cecilio Espino lost hold on his emotions.

Weeping uncontrollably, Espino limped back to the Forum dressing room Tuesday night, not knowing if tragedy again had followed him into the ring.

Espino did not know then that Mercedes' condition would eventually be stabilized, that the blood leaking into Mercedes' skull would be slowed, then stopped by doctors.

Mercedes did not need surgery and was moved out of the Cedars-Sinai Hospital intensive-care unit Wednesday. A doctor said he could be discharged Friday if the swelling in his skull continues to recede.

All Espino knew Tuesday night at the Forum was that the scene resembled the night in 1989, when Hector Ruiz suffered injuries that led to his death after a fight with Espino.

"I was crying, yes," Espino said. "I saw his eyes were like, turning, and I was worried. Same exact thing with this guy happened with the other. So I was worried. I was thinking, 'Oh my God, it's going to happen again.' "

On May 22, 1989, Hector Ruiz collapsed and died after a six-round fight against Espino in Mexico, almost causing Espino to retire.

All Espino could think of as Mercedes sank to the canvas Tuesday was that night in Mexico and the blood on his hands.

"I don't know what I would do if it happened again," Espino said. "You have a heart and you believe in God . . . it's hard.

"I was in my dressing room and they told me, 'You know what? This guy is bad, he's in the (Forum medical unit).' I just pulled my pants up and went to see him. But I couldn't see him, he was already at the hospital."

After the Ruiz tragedy, Espino said he consciously let up during fights. And he said he let up against Mercedes, who actually knocked Espino down in the first round. The fight was stopped at :45 of the 10th round, with Mercedes trapped against the ropes.

"I was hitting him with these hard punches, and I was thinking, 'Why doesn't this guy fall down and why doesn't the referee (James Jen-Kin) come in?' " Espino said. "I wasn't even trying to hit him a lot because I knew he was hurt."

Mercedes, 33, lost consciousness and had to be carried from the ring on a stretcher after absorbing hundreds of blows from Espino in the super-flyweight bout.

Tests at Westside Hospital revealed a burst vein in the area between his skull and brain. But after doctors decided immediate surgery was unnecessary, they moved him to Cedars-Sinai.

"He looks like he could be fine," said Robert Karns, the Forum's ringside physician.

After the fight was stopped, Mercedes sagged to the canvas from his stool. His eyes rolled, then closed. His hand gripped the bottom ring rope.

"He was going in and out," his manager, Elvis Phillips, said Wednesday. "I was hitting him with ice water, splashing him with ice on his neck, just hoping and praying he would come back and not go away for good."

Phillips said Mercedes never lost consciousness again, but when the tests showed the bleeding, everyone knew the possibilities.

"Once he realized there was a problem that they were thinking about maybe operating, he started to get afraid," Phillips said. "I reassured him the best I could, told him it wasn't serious--but it was."

Mercedes, a Dominican training in New York who had a 14-7 record before Tuesday and hadn't fought in 14 months, will never fight again, his manager said. His brother, Eleoncio, was the World Boxing Council flyweight champion but was shot and killed in the Dominican Republic in 1987.

Phillips said he hopes to meet with Jerry Buss, owner of the Forum, to discuss ways the Forum could help Mercedes.

"Obviously, there's great concern for the fighter," said John Jackson, president of Forum Boxing.

This was the most serious injury sustained in a Forum fight since July 22, 1985, when light-heavyweight Chris Schwenke suffered permanent brain damage when he fell into a coma and underwent brain surgery after being knocked out by Prince Mohammed.

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