Casal returning to ring after near-fatal assault

AP - Sports

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) -- There's a thunderbolt-shaped scar on the back of Nick Casal's head, and a poster promoting a title fight that never occurred on the wall next to the light welterweight's practice ring.

These are among the reminders Casal carries from the time he nearly lost his life after being clubbed repeatedly to the head and body by a crowbar-wielding assailant two years ago. And these unlikely souvenirs also serve as motivation for Casal as he prepares to re-enter the ring in a bid to restart what had been a promising career.

''We put that up as a reminder,'' Casal said Sunday, pointing to the poster of the World Boxing Organization intercontinental title bout in which he was supposed to face Ruslan Provodnikov in June 2012. ''It's just a reminder of where I was at, and that's where I'm going to get back to.''

The first step is set to begin Thursday, when the 28-year-old Casal (22-4-1) is scheduled to fight Shakha Moore (11-19-3) at the Niagara Falls Conference and Events Center.

''It means a lot,'' Casal said. ''I just want to do it for myself. I was getting ready, lined up for a big fight when, obviously, that happened.''

He is referring to what happened in the early hours of May 12, 2012. That's when Casal was awoken by a call from his girlfriend, asking him to meet her at a nearby home in the town of Niagara. What Casal didn't know until he arrived was the home belonged to her ex-boyfriend, Michael Vicki.

As Casal and his girlfriend were preparing to leave, he was struck with a crowbar from behind by Vicki. Casal turned to defend himself but was eventually struck at least 15 times before being left on the side of the road.

Rather than going to a hospital, Casal instead inexplicably went home where, four hours later, he was found by his mother and a family friend lying on the bed in a pool of blood.

Casal was rushed to a hospital and spent three hours in surgery. Doctors required more than 200 stitches to close several gashes, including one on the back of his head and another on his right temple. His tooth was chipped and his arm severely swollen, but not broken.

Remarkably, tests revealed Casal's skull was not fractured.

Vicki pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault last April, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Casal, by comparison, was already long into planning his comeback.

He began working out a month later. Last year, he was cleared to fight by the New York Athletic Commission after passing a barrage of tests.

''Obviously, I have a hard head. It runs in the family, so thanks dad,'' Casal said, laughing.

Ray Casal, who also serves as his son's trainer, determined the best course of action was to take it slowly.

''I think he deserves to be eased in. But I found in 40 years of doing this that no fight's easy. And this might be his most difficult fight,'' Casal said. ''But, I have confidence in my son in that corner. Otherwise, I don't think I would be able to work the corner.''

Casal has watched closely as his son has shown familiar signs of regaining the form he displayed before the attack.

''Every week I saw it coming back,'' Casal said. ''My coaches were pounding him in the ring, and I wasn't holding back any more for him. And then I started feeling a little more comfortable.''

Before being hurt, Casal reeled off four consecutive victories, capped by a third-round TKO of then highly regarded Michael Anderson in October 2011. That win put Casal on track to face Provodnikov, who has since become the WBO light welterweight champ.''

''I believe, that night I would have beat him,'' Casal said. ''So we'll see. We'll fight again in the future.''

One step at a time, said his father, who regards it ''a miracle'' that his son is alive.

''Maybe God has a plan for him. Who knows, maybe there's a plan to go to a world championship one day, fight (Floyd) Mayweather, make a movie,'' Ray Casal said, starting to laugh.

''I'm not holding my breath for all these things to happen because for me, it's always living in today. And the one thing I can say is: I'm living in today with my son here. And that means a lot.''

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