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Haymon Boxing on Spike

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The rollout of Premier Boxing Champions continued on March 13 with Haymon Boxing’s inaugural show on Spike.

First the fights, which were contested at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California.

Shawn Porter (24-1-1, 15 KOs) was coming off a majority-decision loss to Kell Brook, but had impressive victories over Paulie Malignaggi and Devon Alexander in his two fights immediately preceding that defeat.

Roberto Garcia was the intended ‘B-side” opponent. But Garcia failed to appear at the weigh-in and was replaced by Erick Bone of Ecuador. To make Bone’s task more difficult, he was called upon to take a long flight to California one day before the bout. Porter stopped him at 2:30 of round five in a lackluster fight.

Then, despite the fact that it was Friday the 13th, Premier Boxing Champions had a stroke of luck. Because Porter-Bone ended early, Chris Arreola vs. Curtis Harper was inserted in the telecast as a swing bout.

Arreola entered the ring weighing 262 pounds, 23 more than for his last fight. Harper was a blubbery 265. The assumption was that Curtis would get whacked out early. He’s a club fighter who was taken the distance by Jamal Woods (5 wins in 21 fights) in his last outing, a six-round bout in Arkansas. That assumption was further bolstered in round one when Harper was decked by a right hand and rose on wobbly legs, looking like 265 pounds of Jell-O.

But Arreola was woefully out of shape. And Harper had the mindset, if not the skills, of a good fighter. The bout devolved into two huge guys staggering each other back and forth in what resembled a barroom brawl highlighted by a POP-CRASH-POW seventh round. Arreola won a 76-75, 77-74, 78-73 decision, the latter score being a bit too kind to Chris. It did not speak well for his showing that he was pushed to the limit by a nomadic clubfighter. But it was highly entertaining television.

Then came the main event: Andre Berto (29-3, 22 KOs) vs. Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KOs).

Berto is Exhibit A for how Al Haymon was allowed to distort the decision-making process at HBO in an earlier era. Andre was a two-time national Golden Gloves champion, a bronze medalist at the 2003 World Amateur Championships, and a 2004 Olympian (representing Haiti as a consequence of his father’s dual citizenship). He turned pro in 2004, and was ESPN’s 2006 “prospect of the year.” Thereafter, Berto was on HBO too many times against soft opponents for inflated license fees with less-than-enthusiastic viewer response. No longer a “star of the future,” he entered the ring on March 13 having won two fights since 2010.

Lopez is a game fighter who has trouble getting by world-class opposition. He beats the guys he should beat and loses to the fighters that he’s expected to lose to. His marketability was built on a 2012 outing against Victor Ortiz in which Ortiz (ahead on points) retired after nine rounds because of a broken jaw. In Josesito’s next two fights, he was knocked out by Canelo Alvarez and Marcos Maidana.

Berto-Lopez was a fast-paced spirited fight. Lopez was ahead on the scorecards in round six, when Andre landed a sharp right hand that staggered Josesito. Then Berto hit him again, and Lopez went down. He rose, was knocked down for the second time, and referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped the fight.

Insofar as the production of Premier Boxing Champions on Spike is concerned, the most readily apparent difference from PBC’s fights on NBC is the announcing team.

Dana Jacobson, a former ESPN Sports Center anchor who has hosted a variety of sports radio and television shows, opened the Spike telecast. Later in the evening, she was paired with Thomas Hearns. Hearns was a great fighter. He’s not a great commentator.

Scott Hanson, known primarily for his work as an NFL Network host, was the blow-by-blow announcer. Jimmy Smith (a veteran of Spike’s Bellator MMA telecasts) and Antonio Tarver (an expert analyst for Showtime Boxing before he tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing drugs) served as analysts. Nigel Collins had an off-camera role, unofficially scoring the fights.

Smith made the most credible commentating contributions to the telecast. When Hanson told viewers that Bone was in shape to fight Porter because he’d been working in the gym, Smith correctly noted, “There’s no such thing as fighting shape if you’re not getting ready for a fight.” (EDITOR NOTE: Bone in fact was getting ready for a fight, sometime in April, against foe TBD.) Smith also picked up nicely on an apparent ankle injury suffered by Bone just before he was stopped by Porter. There should have been a follow-up on Bone’s medical condition later in the telecast but wasn’t.

Overall, the announcing team devoted too much energy trying to sell the concept of Premier Boxing Champions. Phrases like “a new era in boxing” and “a new day for boxing” were repeated more than necessary. If the fights are good, viewers will figure it out. If the fights are bad, viewers will figure that out too.

A few more observations . . .

The fighters’ ringwalk music written by Hans Zimmer isn’t effective. I know it’s branding for PBC. But it takes away from the individuality of the fighters and has the homogeneous feel of a television game show. Ditto for the staged visuals of the combatants walking to the ring. That kind of entrance works for Wladimir Klitschko because he’s Wladimir Klitschko. None of the fighters we’ve seen so far on Premier Champions Boxing has a legitimate claim to being King of the World.

As with the March 7 NBC telecast, the ring announcer and roundcard girls were out of sight on Spike.

Once again, there was no mob in the ring before and after each fight. Once again, thank you, Al Haymon.

The 360-degree overhead ring camera was used less often on Spike than on the NBC telecast. In this instance, less is better.

As was the case on March 7, the ring ropes were black instead of red, white, and blue. That effectively highlighted the fighters.

PBC also introduced a new toy on the Spike telecast: a miniature camera installed on a headband worn by referee Jack Reiss during the first fight of the night. But contrary to its billing, the “ref cam” didn’t show viewers “what the referee sees” because it follows the referee’s forehead, not the referee’s eyes.

Where broader business issues are concerned; the past week has seen a flurry of press releases and comments by interested parties on all sides regarding PBC’s March 7 NBC telecast. Many of these statements have been evocative of the spin-doctoring that follows a presidential debate.

If Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero is a “fight of the year” candidate, then 2015 will be a bad year for boxing. Guerrero won two rounds at most and was outlanded 211-to-104. He fought courageously and there was drama in round nine as to whether or not he’d survive. But boxing fans aren’t calling for a rematch.

The key talking points regarding the NBC telecast have revolved around ratings (which will dictate how much advertising is sold in the future – which, in turn, will be crucial to the success or failure of Haymon Boxing).

Team Haymon sent out a press release that declared, “The PBC on NBC telecast averaged 3.4 million viewers, ranking as the most-watched professional boxing broadcast in 17 years (“Oscar De La Hoya’s Fight Night” on FOX, 5.9 million, March 23, 1998).”

This implied to the uninitiated that De La Hoya fought on March 23, 1998. He didn’t. It was a Top Rank show, and the main event was Yory Boy Campas versus Anthony Stephens. Oscar (who was then with Top Rank) lent his name to the promotion.

Also, on October 15, 2005, NBC televised a live fight card headlined by Sergio Mora versus Peter Manfredo that drew 8,000,000 viewers. But Team Haymon and NBC say that doesn’t count because the telecast was the finale of a TV reality show.

Let’s put these numbers in perspective.

On May 11, 1977, Ken Norton fought Duane Bobick on NBC on a Wednesday evening in prime-time. As reported by Carlos Acevedo, that fight earned a 42% audience share and was watched by 48,000,000 people.

Obviously, those were different times. So let’s leave it at this for the moment. The advertisers will sort out the ratings. Either the audience for PBC will grow or it won’t. Boxing fans should hope that it does. But significant growth won’t be easy to accomplish.

The mainstream media is drooling over Mayweather-Pacquiao. Television networks, Internet sites, newspapers, and magazines that haven’t covered boxing for years will be on hand. But that might not translate into broader support.

By way of example; on March 7, the New York Times sports section listed fifty “TV highlights” for that day in its “Sports Calendar.” Premier Boxing Champions on NBC was not among them. Nor did the Times list PBC’s Spike card among the more than thirty “TV highlights” on its March 13 sports calendar.

And a few more thoughts in closing . . .

Berto-Lopez was for the “interim WBA world welterweight” title. Mercifully, that wasn’t mentioned during the Spike telecast. Also, had Haymon chosen to do so, he could have found a belt for Porter and Bone to fight for. He didn’t.

Ignoring the belts on Spike gives more credibility to PBC’s decision to match Danny Garcia against Lamont Peterson in an over-the-weight bout on NBC on April 11 rather than fight for their respective titles. Let’s see how Haymon handles the belts for Andy Lee vs. Peter Quillin on the same card and in other future beltholder fights.

All five of the PBC fights on NBC and Spike to date have matched black against Hispanic fighters. The next Haymon time buy on NBC features black vs. Hispanic and black vs. Irish. Ethnic matchmaking is a boxing tradition, but it’s a tradition that PBC might consider jettisoning. Great fights that become part of boxing lore like Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns, Barrera-Morales, and Vazquez-Marquez stand on their own merit.

Finally, as of this writing, the favorite has won five-out-of-five fights on PBC’s Spike and NBC telecasts. That got old on premium cable a long time ago. And it will get old here fast.

The banner at the top of the home page for the Premier Boxing Champions website trumpets: “Premier Boxing Champions: Where the Next Legends Collide.” Taking Al Haymon at his word, boxing fans will be looking for some of those colliding legends.

*     *     *

HBO’s March 14 telecast started poorly with Isaac Chilemba vs. Vasily Lepikin and Steve Cunningham vs. Vyacheslav Glazkov. The main event – Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal – was worth watching.

Kovalev came into the bout with 26 wins, 23 knockouts, 0 losses, and a technical draw that should have been recorded as a win. Four months ago, he solidified his credentials as the best 175-pound fighter in the world with a 120-107, 120-107, 120-106 whitewash of Bernard Hopkins.

Pascal (29-2, 17 KOs) was regarded as a good measuring stick for Kovalev.

Kovalev was the aggressor in the early going and fought at a brisk pace. In round three, Pascal decided to fight with him and wound up being saved by the bell after a hard right hand draped him over the ropes and led to a correctly-called knockdown. It was the first knockdown scored against Pascal in his pro career.

Pascal rallied to win rounds five and six, but he tired noticeably in round seven. In round eight, Kovalev unloaded, leaving Jean on wobbly legs. Referee Luis Pabon stopped the bout at the 1:03 mark with Pascal pinned in a corner but still standing.

It was the first stoppage loss in Pascal’s career. He can take solace in the fact that Kovalev never knocked him off his feet. After the bout, Jean told television viewers and the crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, “I don’t know why the referee stopped the fight. It’s not hockey.”

Kovalev showed a good chin and an improving left hook to go with his power. The fact that he outlanded Pascal 122-to-68, indicates an effective delivery system for his arsenal. He got hit with too many solid punches, but that makes for exciting fights.

The biggest problem that Kovalev will have in the near future is getting marketable opponents to step into the ring with him. After the bout, Adonis Stevenson claimed that wants to fight Sergey, but he won’t.

*     *     *

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Staged pre-fight staredowns are stupid.

The latest example of this stupidity was on display at the final pre-fight press conference for Kovalev-Pascal. The fighters got into a shoving match. No damage was done, except to the dignity of the sport. Then the promotion decided that this was a good thing and sent out an email blast with the subject line “Download Kovalev-Pascal Altercation Video.”

Some day, a fighter will be hurt during a staredown altercation and a fight will be canceled. Let’s hope that “someday” isn’t May 1, when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao face off at the weigh-in for boxing’s next fight of the century.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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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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