Weekly Feature



2018-06-13 / Sports

Mesi headlines 2018 Greater Buffalo Sports Hall

Smith, Yeates also selected
by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter


Former heavyweight boxer “Baby” Joe Mesi is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. The Town of Tonawanda native and Sweet Home High School graduate went 36-0, including 29 wins by knockout, before an injury forced him into early retirement. Mesi and the rest of the Class of 2018 were introduced on June 6 at KeyBank Center. 
Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Former heavyweight boxer “Baby” Joe Mesi is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. The Town of Tonawanda native and Sweet Home High School graduate went 36-0, including 29 wins by knockout, before an injury forced him into early retirement. Mesi and the rest of the Class of 2018 were introduced on June 6 at KeyBank Center. Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com “Baby” Joe Mesi is a member of the Ring 44 Buffalo Boxing Hall of Fame and was recently entered into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame, but getting selected for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame was a surprise.

“To be honored outside of the field is great,” said Mesi, a Town of Tonawanda native and a Sweet Home High School graduate. “To be cemented with the names that have been inducted before me of all different sports and industries is huge. This is one that I never expected to get. I felt like ‘geez, maybe I’ll be an old man [when I would get inducted]’ so to be so young, I was surprised.”


Kenmore West graduate Barry Smith, who has won seven Stanley Cups with three different NHL teams, is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. 
Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Kenmore West graduate Barry Smith, who has won seven Stanley Cups with three different NHL teams, is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Mesi, 44, was announced as one of the 15 members of the 2018 Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class in a ceremony June 6 at KeyBank Center. The date of the induction dinner will be announced in the coming weeks.

Other new inductees from the Ken-Ton Bee coverage area include Town of Tonawanda and Kenmore West graduate Barry Smith (hockey) and Cardinal O’Hara graduate Jeff Yeates (football).

Mesi, once known as Buffalo’s “third franchise,” became a household name for Western New Yorkers although he didn’t start boxing until he was 19.


Cardinal O’Hara graduate Jeff Yeates, who played on the defensive line in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. 
Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Cardinal O’Hara graduate Jeff Yeates, who played on the defensive line in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, is one of 15 members selected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Photo by Kathleen KramerPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com “I was fortunate to be from Western New York,” Mesi said. “If I had been from Houston, Miami or Los Angeles, I might have been a good boxer but I would not have had the following. It’s the people of Western New York and Buffalo that I share this with. Nowhere else in the world would I have 18,000 fans coming to see me. It just wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to bring boxing back to Buffalo and I feel like I did that. I gave people good times and memories. We did it together.”

As an amateur, Mesi was a three-time New York State Golden Gloves Champion (1993, 1995, 1996), an Empire State Games gold medalist (1993), a United States Olympic alternate (1996) and a New York State Heavyweight champion (1999).

With his father, Jack, as his manager, Mesi signed a promotional contract with fighter and then-promoter Sugar Ray Leonard.

In April 2002, Mesi won by technical knockout against Keith McKnight, which headlined a show at the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena that was nationally televised on ESPN2.

He sold out KeyBank Center, which was then called HSBC Arena, three times. One of the fights was Mesi’s favorite nights as a boxer in a first-round knockout over DaVarryl Williamson on Sept. 27, 2003.

“My goal was fighting here in this building,” he said. “I got to do it three times. Fighting DaVarryl was special because he taught me everything about boxing on the way up as an amateur. A lot of people don’t know that. I looked up to him. To meet up with him later in my career and beat him the way I did was sort of a sentimental victory for me.”

Earlier in 2003, Mesi beat Robert Davis by technical knockout to win the North American Boxing Federation Heavyweight Championship. In 2007, he won the World Boxing Council United States National Boxing Heavyweight Championship.

Mesi was 36-0, including 29 by knockout, but was forced into early retirement due to at least one, possibly two subdural hematomas.

Since leaving the ring, Mesi has worked for nine years as a territory manager for Abbott Medical, where he sells medical implants to local physicians.

“It didn’t end way I wanted it to but sometimes things don’t end the way you want them to and sometimes things just work out better,” Mesi said. “I feel like where I am at today with my sales career with my wife and three children, I could not ask for anything more.”

Barry Smith

Barry Smith has coached hockey at some level for over 40 years but no matter where he is coaching, he returns to Buffalo every summer.

“It’s a great honor,” said Smith of getting inducted. “I’m a Buffalonian. I come back every summer no matter where I am.”

After graduating from Kenmore West and then Ithaca College, Smith started coaching football and hockey as a graduate assistant, but eventually focused on coaching hockey because he did not like that football only played once a week.

“I liked coaching hockey,” the Town of Tonawanda native said. “I liked the way the game was played and the different nuances of it. I took off with hockey.”

Smith said he has so many favorite memories from his coaching career.

“I was allowed to travel to a lot of places, work with a lot of different personalities and was so fortunate to have a lot of great hockey players to be with and learn from them,” Smith said. “You don’t coach great hockey players. You sort of work together and manage each other. It was an honor to be with them as well as Scotty Bowman and Bob Johnson as coaches and mentors. It was all great experiences.”

Smith was named head coach at Elmira College in 1976. In five years his teams posted a 129-50-3 record and were two-time NCAA Division II finalists.

Smith’s career as an assistant and associate coach in the NHL included stops with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks.

Smith has been a part of seven teams that have won Stanley Cups. He won back-to-back titles as an assistant coach with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992, won three championships as an associate coach in Detroit in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and earned two more with Chicago in 2013 and 2015.

“I have been fortunate to work with great organizations,” Smith said.

After Smith served as an assistant on Wayne Gretzky’s staff in Phoenix from 2005 to 2007, he spent three seasons as coach and director of player personnel with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

Smith was also head coach in the Swedish Elite League, assistant coach for Team USA at the 1991 World Cup, and associate coach for Sweden at the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Winter Olympics.

As the Chicago Blackhawks’ director of player evaluation, Smith’s role is to help younger players transition to becoming professional hockey players.

“I take care of all of the young players that we draft,” Smith said. “I help with our free agents and evaluate what we have on the farm team.”

Jeff Yeates

Jeff Yeates is in Cardinal O’Hara High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame and the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame, but he had not heard of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame until he was contacted.

“I think it is wonderful,” said Yeates, who has lived in Atlanta, Georgia for over 40 years but visits family in Buffalo every summer.

Yeates, who played pro football as a defensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, started his football career at Cardinal O’Hara where he was a team captain, an All-Western New York selection and was known for being an extremely hard hitter.

“That is where I got groomed,” he said.

Yeates went on to play four years at Boston College and graduate in 1973. In his senior year, he earned All-America honors and a trip to the Senior Bowl despite playing through three torn knee ligaments.

Yeates was drafted by the Bills in the fourth round — 103rd overall — of the 1973 NFL Draft.

“That was almost unheard of to be a local grown kid coming back and playing in your hometown,” Yeates said. “The amount of franchises was considerably fewer than they are now and to have that opportunity was fantastic. All of my family would come to all of the games.”

Yeates played for the Bills until 1976 when he was waived after three appearances. He was picked up by the Falcons in 1977 and became a starter on the defensive line in 1978, staying with the team through the 1984 season. Bleacher Report said Yeates was one of the Falcons’ 50 all-time best players.

Yeates played in a total of 138 games in 11 seasons and had 84 starts.

After his playing days were over, Yeates got a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia and worked at Coca-Cola in Atlanta for a number of years.

Other members of the Class of 2018 include John Faller (Sweet Home football/lacrosse coach); Bill Bradshaw (college administrator); Gina Castelli (Canisius College basketball player, college coach); Lonnie Nielson (PGA golfer, senior tour champion); and Jimmy “Bug” Williams and Rickey Williams (college and pro basketball standouts).

Werner “Babe” Birrer (Major League and Buffalo Bison pitcher); James Hewson (track and field Olympian); Marv Hubbard (three-time NFL All-Pro fullback); and Louise, Estelle and Mary Weigel (figure skating champions) are being inducted posthumously.

With the 15-member class of 2018, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame will now have 330 inductees since its inception in 1991.

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