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Pacquiao-Bradley Undercard Has Philly Flavor

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JonesSotoKarass2 Hogan15 Mike Jones (left, against Jesus Soto Karass) is one of the new Philly fighters who are trying to make a stamp similar to their 70s era brethren.

Some of the more popular dishes in Manny Pacquiao’s homeland of the Philippines are pork menudo, pancit molo, maja blanca, inihaw na liempo and dinuguan at puto. It can be presumed that Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs), who defends his WBO welterweight championship Saturday night against Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs) at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, chowed down on all or some of that highly satisfying and tummy-filling fare in bulking up from 106 pounds, his jockey-level weight for his professional debut on Jan. 25, 1995, to the career-high 145 he carried for his May 7, 2011, bout with Shane Mosley.

It is on the Pacquiao-Bradley undercard, however, that the taste of the evening’s events runs more toward that of a Philly cheesesteak. Two Philadelphia born-and-bred fighters, welterweight Mike Jones and super bantamweight Teon Kennedy, bid for world titles on the televised portion of the pay-per-view slate, while highly acclaimed amateur Jesse Hart, son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, enters the pro ranks, also at middleweight.

Should Jones and Kennedy come back as titlists – Jones (26-0, 19 KOs) will be favored in his showdown with veteran Randall Bailey (42-7, 36 KOs) for the vacant IBF 147-pound belt; Kennedy (17-1-2, 7 KOs), who challenges WBA super bantam champ and two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KOs), won’t be – they would join with Danny “Swift” Garcia (23-0, 14 KOs) as world champions, the first time Philly has held that distinction since Bernard Hopkins, Nate Miller and Charles Brewer were simultaneous strapholders in 1997.

“It could make Philadelphia the boxing capital of the world again, like it used to be,” Doc Nowicki, who holds a managerial interest in all three Philly fighters on Saturday’s card, said of the possibility of a sweep by his guys, and maybe even a more bountiful yield moving forward as America’s best fight town (which its citizenry has always believed itself to be) attempts to reclaim some of its 1970s glory.

“With this crew of guys that we have now, and even with some young amateurs we’re looking at, it could be huge. We could have four or five guys from Philadelphia that could be world champions at the same time. When’s the last time that’s ever happened?”

The answer is never, although some of Nowicki’s optimism is rooted in the current reality of four major world sanctioning bodies and 17 weight classes, an explosion of available titles that have diluted the meaning of the word “champion.” Still, making it to the top of the mountain is a notable achievement, even if the summit isn’t nearly as high or as difficult to scale as it was in that golden era of the ’70s, when Philly at one point boasted four of the world’s top 10-rated middleweights (Hart, Bennie Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe), not to mention heavyweight Joe Frazier, light heavyweight Matthew Saad Muhammad and bantamweight Jeff Chandler, all of whom held world championships at some point during that halcyon decade. The ’70s were also graced by such Philadelphia-based contenders as welterweight Stanley “Kitten” Hayward and heavyweight Jimmy Young. Light heavyweight and cruiserweight champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi was from right across the Delaware River, in Camden, which makes him at least a quasi-Philly fighter, if you’re giving that designation in accordance with the horseshoes-and-hand-grenades theory that closeness counts.

Not that those very good times, when the Spectrum was the site of bouts that routinely drew screaming crowds of 8,000 to 12,000, are coming back any time soon, if ever. Demolition of the Spectrum was completed in May 2011, and the Blue Horizon, the 1,500-seat bandbox that The Ring a few years ago declared was the best place in the world to watch a boxing match, has been dark since super bantamweight Coy Evans scored a six-round decision over Barbaro Zepeda on June 4, 2010. Most of the big fights involving Philadelphia fighters now take place elsewhere, with Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall – 55 or so miles removed from where the Spectrum once stood – anointed as the closest thing to a home base for those who will never know what it felt like to ply their trade before large, adoring local turnouts. Even the great Bernard Hopkins, long the primary face of Philly boxing, fought only twice in his hometown over the past 18½ years, and just once while defending a world title – a desultory eighth-round stoppage of frightened French middleweight challenger Morrade Hakkar on March 29, 2003, in the Spectrum.

But maybe that is to be expected. How are you going to keep them tied to home when they’ve appeared in such magnificent venues as Cowboys Stadium, the Mandalay Bay and Madison Square Garden, as Jones has after he graduated from his 10-bout apprenticeship at the New Alhambra (now the Asylum Arena) in South Philadelphia? Philly fighters remain fiercely proud to be recognized as keepers of their city’s proud pugilistic legacy, but now they’re accustomed to taking their act on the road, most often to glitzy casino sites.

“It’s pretty much normal now,” Jones, who is rated No. 1 by the IBF to Bailey’s No. 2, said of his introduction to brighter lights, much larger audiences and the pressure attendant to rapidly rising expectations. “I’ve been on some pretty big stages, in fights televised by HBO. I won’t go in there all nervous and overanxious because it’s a world title fight. The guy across from me will be trying to take my head off, same as it was in South Philly. I got to take his head off before he does it to me.”

Although Jones and Kennedy are promoted by Philadelphia-based J Russell Peltz, their appearance in conjunction with a high-visibility event such as Pacquiao-Bradley is hardly a coincidence.  Jones, a lean welter whose physique and style —  if not yet his accomplishment level — are reminiscent of a young Thomas Hearns, was said by Peltz to have “a chance to be a megastar” in the spring of 2009, which is why Top Rank bought a chunk of his promotional rights. Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, as is the case with many major promoters, likes to control both fighters whenever possible, and an impressive victory by Jones over Bailey could put his name in the mix for a future big-bucks date with Pacquiao, the lead pony in the Top Rank stable. Some of Pacquiao’s more recent bouts were against Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito, all of whom bore the Top Rank imprimatur.

“We saw that possibility a year ago, after the second (Jesus) Soto Karass fight, when Mike came back and proved to the world how good a boxer he was,” Nowicki said of a dream pairing of his guy and Pacquiao.

Kennedy is not under contract to Top Rank, but to secure his shot at the Arum-promoted Rigondeaux he had to agree to a three-fight deal with Top Rank should he pull off the upset. It’s the boxing version of someone, this case Arum, taking out an insurance policy against possible disaster. Even if Rigondeaux loses, Arum still would hold paper on the new champ.

But Kennedy, who is 0-1-1 in his two most recent bouts – a 12-round beatdown by Alejandro Lopez and a 10-round majority draw with Christopher Martin – said he will enter the ring against Rigondeaux with an unencumbered mind, which hasn’t always been the case. He had to bear the burden of being the victor in the Nov. 20, 2009, death match with Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez, in which Rodriguez slipped into a coma with a brain bleed after the fight and was taken off life support two days later. And prior to his scrap with Lopez, Kennedy faced multiple felony charges in conjunction with a shooting. It was later determined to be a case of mistaken identity, and all charges against Kennedy were dropped.

“I really didn’t want him to take that (Lopez) fight because I didn’t think he was focused,” Nowicki said. “So what did he do? He followed the guy around like a little puppy dog, and he lost. In the next fight, Martin probably expected Teon to do the same thing.”

Kennedy said he didn’t expect to get a title shot this soon, but he insisted Rigondeaux will be in for a surprise if he expects to tune up the guy who looked so, well, ordinary against Lopez and Martin.

“I’m in this position now and I’m going to make the most of it,” he said. “(Rigondeaux) is well-schooled, but he hasn’t fought a fighter like me yet.”

Hart wasn’t supposed to be in Vegas just yet. He is supposed to be with the U.S. Olympic boxing team, preparing for this summer’s London Games. But a double-tiebreaker loss to Terrell Gausha in the 165-pound final of the USA National Boxing Championships squashed Hart’s dream and sent him in another direction.

“It don’t get no bigger than this,” Hart, who was signed by Top Rank, said of his pro debut on a Pacquiao undercard. “I won the Olympic Trials, but I’m on the biggest stage that there is right now. This is what I was born to do. My dad told me that when I was a baby, he put a pair of little boxing gloves in my crib.

“It’s not my turn yet, but I look to be in the main event of an event like this in three years. I don’t want to just become a world champion, but to put my name in the history books as one of the greatest fighters of all time. I won’t stop until I’m better than Sugar Ray Robinson.”

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Yeritsyan vs Randall at Chumash Casino, Japan and More

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Violence of an organized nature begins in the rustic and peaceful surroundings of Santa Inez, California as welterweights Gor Yeritsyan and Quinton Randall headline a 360 Boxing Promotions card at Chumash Casino on Friday.

Hours later, three world championship fights erupt in Japan. And hours after that, super middleweights tangle in Florida.

All will be streamed.

Undefeated Yeritsyan (17-0, 14 KOs) meets Randall (13-1-1, 3 KOs) for the WBC Continental Americas title on Friday, Feb. 23, at Chumash Casino. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Others on the card include undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval (11-0, 11 KOs) meeting Javier Molina (22-5, 9 KOs) in a battle set for 10 rounds. It’s a stronger test for Sandoval who has blasted out every opponent. Molina is one of the fighting twin brothers who both were Olympians.

Javier was an Olympian in 2008 for the USA and Oscar Molina an Olympian for Mexico in 2012.

“I’ve been hearing about Cain for a while, but I know my skills and experience will give me the victory,” said Molina who fights out of Los Angeles.

Sandoval, 21, last November won by knockout in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Javier is a very good veteran who has had many more fights than me, but he’s never felt my power before,” said Sandoval who fights out of Sacramento.

Chumash Casino is located near one of the old California missions and built by the Spaniards in 1804. You can see open land for miles with the next nearest town of Solvang a short driving distance away.

Over the decades I’ve seen some memorable fights including Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s wild victory over Manuel Garnica in 2007 and Seniesa “Super Bad’ Estrada’s pro debut win in 2011 against Maria Ruiz.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tokyo Hosts Three World Title Fights

It’s a triple-header in Tokyo for real fight lovers.

Early Saturday morning at 1 a.m. (Pacific Time) three world title matches headed by WBC bantamweight titlist Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) of Mexico defending against Japan’s Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) take place.

Santiago defeated legendary champion Nonito Donaire last July in Las Vegas in an upset. He also fought to a draw against Filipino slugger Jerwin Ancajas who is also on this card.

Nakatani is a big hitter and two-division world champion. He is very familiar with Mexican fighters and often trains in Southern California. I saw him in Maywood, California a year ago. He’s quite a fighter.

In the other co-main event WBA bantamweight titlist Takuma Inoue (18-1, 4 KOs) defends against former super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (34-3-2, 23 KOs) of the Philippines. Its speed against power.

A third co-main features WBO super flyweight titlist Kosei Tanaka (19-1, 11 KOs) defending against Mexico’s Christian Bacasegua (22-4-2, 9 KOs).

ESPN+ will stream the card live on Saturday.

Matchroom in Orlando

It’s a showcase for contenders.

Brooklyn native Edgar Berlanga (21-0, 16 KOs) “the Chosen One” meets United Kingdom’s Padraig “the Hammer” McCrory (18-0, 9 KOs) in the super middleweight main event on Saturday, Feb. 24. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card from Orlando, Florida.

Berlanga, of Puerto Rican descent, burst on the pro boxing scene by knocking out 16 consecutive foes. But ever since 2021 he has been unable to win by knockout. Five consecutive opponents went the distance.

Can Berlanga still punch?

Facing the Boricua slugger will be McCrory a 35-year-old from Northern Ireland who remains undefeated. To put it into perspective, the United Kingdom is filled with very good super middleweights and none have beaten McCrory so far.

Also on the card is Cuban Olympic gold medalist Andy Cruz (2-0) defending a regional lightweight title against Mexican southpaw Brayan Zamarripa (14-2, 9 KOs). Cruz has blistering speed and an aggressive style as a pro.

Other interesting fights feature bantamweight prospects Antonio Vargas (17-1) and Jonathan Rodriguez (17-1-1). Both can punch but each lost via knockout. Whose chin will prove sturdier in this clash?

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Gor Yeritsyan (17-0) vs Quinton Randall (13-1-1)

Sat. ESPN+ 1 a.m. Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5) vs Junto Nakatani (26-0).

Sat. DAZN 4 p.m. Edgar Berlanga (21-0) vs Padraig McCrory (18-0).

Photo: Tom Loeffler is flanked by Javier Molina and Cain Sandoval. Photo credit: Lina Baker

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Munguia is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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