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Infamy and Redemption: The Strange Tale of Former British Boxing Champion Dick Burge

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Dick Burge

Dick Burge, born in 1865 in south west England near the rough-and-tumble port city of Bristol, had 22 fights that would find their way into the record books. In these matches, he was 12-7-2 with one “no contest.” Several of these fights had a bad odor about them. Suspicious fights were endemic in his era where a boxer’s earnings were often hitched to the outcome of bets. The victorious boxer got a piece of his backer’s winnings and perhaps a gratuity from others that profited from his triumph; the loser got nothing unless he worked out some deal to insure he wouldn’t go home empty-handed.

A 12-7-2 record is hardly the template of an important prizefighter, but Dick Burge was very important. Three thousand people reportedly turned out for his funeral. The King and Queen sent a sympathy card to his widow, Bella.

Burge’s first sport was pedestrianism (long-distance race walking). Prizefights in Burge’s days were sometimes contested for hours; no fighter advanced far without great stamina and long-distance running was a common gateway into the world of the prize ring. For a time he worked as a booth fighter for a traveling circus, taking on all comers although his opponent was more likely to be a confederate planted in the audience.

On the fair circuit Burge caught the attention of someone with deep pockets and he was soon pitted against boxers whose names resonated with the sporting crowd. In 1891, in his eighth documented fight, he was matched against Jem Carney in a 20-round contest billed for the world lightweight title. The bout, contested under Queensberry rules, was held on the trading floor of the Hop and Malt Exchange in the Southwark borough of London. The match ended in the 11th round when the referee awarded the fight to Burge on a foul.

The term “world title” was thrown around loosely in those days, but Burge had a legitimate claim to it in that Carney had previously fought the great Jack McAuliffe to a standstill. Contested under London Prize Ring rules (a round ended when a fighter was knocked down or went to the turf of his own accord to catch a breather), the Carney-McAuliffe fight at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, went on for several hours before McAuliffe’s partisans charged the ring to break up the fight, ostensibly to save their bets.

A British Empire title actually carried more cachet in Great Britain as this badge of honor had a less muddled lineage. Burge claimed this diadem in 1894 with a hard-fought win over “Cast Iron” Harry Nickless (Burge knocked him out in the twenty-eighth round) and defended it eight months later with a third round stoppage of Australia’s Tom Williams at the National Sporting Club. These matches were contested at 140 pounds. The lightweight ceiling wasn’t yet firmly fixed.

For a British boxer, nothing matched the prestige of appearing in the featured bout at the National Sporting Club. Located in the fashionable Covent Garden district of London, the exclusive men’s club, founded in 1891, hosted a string of internationally important prizefights. They were held in the basement theater where patrons in evening clothes were discouraged from shouting. It was here that Dick Burge had his most highly anticipated match, opposing George Lavigne, the Saginaw Kid. Contested on June 1, 1896, at 138 pounds, this was a true world lightweight title fight as it was acknowledged as such on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lavigne, who stood only five-foot-three-and-a half, four inches shorter than Burge, was teak tough. He swarmed all over Burge from the opening bell and eventually wore him down. The referee halted the fray in the seventeenth round. But Burge, who spent the better part of the day in a sauna to make weight, fought gallantly. A reporter for London’s Pall Mall Gazette wrote that it was the best fight ever staged there. The SRO crowd included a smattering of big gamblers from New York including the city’s political kingmaker Richard Croker, the Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall.

Burge fought sporadically over the next four-and-a-half years, winning some and losing some. His last bout came on Jan. 28, 1901, against Jerry Driscoll, a middleweight of some repute. It was a no-holds-barred embroilment although it wasn’t intended that way. The referee, unable to get the fighters to heed his commands, left the premises after the second round and the fight wasn’t resumed, much to the disgust of the crowd.

This was a sad way to end a career studded with many exhilarating moments, but the worst was yet to come for Dick Burge. Before the year was out, he was entangled in the sordid Goudie Affair, a sensational scandal that attracted international press coverage.

Thomas Goudie worked as a bookkeeper for the Bank of Liverpool. A bachelor, he rented a flat in a boardinghouse and had very few friends. In his mid-twenties, he acquired an interest in horseracing.

In the spring of 1901, traveling by train to a race meet, he was drawn into a friendly game of cards by two racetrack touts who talked big, boasting of big scores born of inside information. Goudie was more than a little intrigued and was induced to wire them money which they would place for him whenever he was notified that they had a sure thing. Word got around that the sharpies had found a live one and eventually others of the same ilk were able to horn in on the action.

You can guess where this is headed. Those sure things routinely finished out of the money and to recoup his losses Goudie began forging checks. He kept the ledger for the bank’s biggest depositor, a soap manufacturer, and from this man’s account he embezzled almost $170,000. The leakage made it the largest recorded embezzlement in the annals of British banking.

Where did Burge fit in? After Goudie’s arrest, Burge was one of five people indicted for fostering the scam. His exact role was complicated. Like the others, he was hit with an array of charges, some of which stuck and some of which didn’t. It is a fact that some of the missing money found its way into Burge’s bank account.

Two of the alleged conspirators disappeared before they could be brought to trial. Burge and Goudie received the harshest sentences. Each was sentenced to ten years of penal servitude. Burge was released after seven years. Thomas Goudie, the mild-mannered bank clerk, died in prison at age thirty-four. His death was attributed to a heart ailment, but the root cause was said to be a broken spirit.

After his release from prison, Burge acquired the abandoned Surrey Chapel, fixed it up, re-named it The Ring, and turned it into London’s busiest boxing arena. The odd, round-shaped building (supposedly built without four corners so that the devil wouldn’t have a corner in which to hide), which dated to 1783, sat in what was then a tough district of the city, Blackfriars.

The fights attracted some unsavory characters — a man known as Jack Spot, a regular attendee, was the collector of last resort for loan sharks — but there were very few incidents. In a stroke of genius, Burge hired a local minister, Rev. Thomas Collins, as his timekeeper. His mere presence, said a reporter, inspired confidence in the integrity of the bouts and caused patrons to tone down their blue language. Burge also barred bookmakers from accepting wagers at ringside. In his fighting days Burge engaged in a number of suspicious fights, but he brooked none of that in his own establishment.

It seemed, however, that Burge could never erase the stain of the Goudie Affair. In the papers, he was repeatedly referenced as an ex-convict. Then came World War I and Burge rose to the occasion.

Between May 1915 and May 1918, London came under attack from German zeppelin and other kinds of German aircraft. The death toll was set at 557, roughly three times that number were injured, and more than 300,000 left their homes to seek shelter in an underground railway station. Burge pitched in by promoting benefit shows for the families of soldiers at the front lines, but he did more than that. Although he had reached the age of 50, he enlisted in the Surrey Regiment where he was assigned to the ambulance corps.

Working a long shift on a wet and chilly night with Red Cross medics, Burge caught pneumonia. He died shortly thereafter. The turnout at his funeral bore evidence that by his selfless deeds he had lifted the black cloud that had hovered over him. Lore has it that the head of Scotland Yard was among those that came to pay their respects.

By the way, after Dick Burge’s death in March of 1918, his widow Bella, a former music hall entertainer, kept The Ring going. Boxing continued there until 1939 when the building was closed for renovations. It would never re-open. Damaged in a German air raid in 1940, it was reduced to rubble the following year when it absorbed a direct hit from another German bomber.

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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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