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Avila Perspective, Chapter 36: Cubans, Claressa Shields and More

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Cubans

Smooth as a yard of silk, and slick as a pool of oil, best explains what boxing fans can expect to see when Cuban fighters Erislandy Lara and Luis Ortiz step in the ring for their respective battles this weekend.

Cuban style boxing represented at its best.

Not everyone prefers the wait-for-the-moment kind of fighting that Cubans employ, but if you do, then you are in for a treat. Both Lara and Ortiz excel in this boxing strategy.

Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs) steps in the boxing ring against undefeated Brian Castano (15-0, 11 KOs) of Argentina for a version of the WBA super welterweight title on Saturday, March 2. A heavyweight co-main event features Ortiz versus Christian Hammer (pictured).

Showtime will televise the two fights from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

In his last fight Lara was run over by Jarrett Hurd nearly a year ago. The fight resulted in a split decision loss for the Cuban southpaw but many felt he legitimately was vanquished by the bigger and more aggressive fighter. This time Lara faces an aggressive but smaller Argentine slugger. It should be a perfect fit.

Like most Cubans taught that island style of boxing, Lara is a lefty who waits until you make a mistake then pounces on you. Patience is his weapon and nobody out-waits Lara. But if the opponent is aggressive, then the Cuban style can be a thing of beauty if utilized correctly.

“Saturday, it’ll be my time to take his belt,” said Lara at the media day on Wednesday. “Castano is undefeated but he hasn’t fought anyone yet. He’s definitely never fought anyone close to my level. After Saturday night, he won’t be undefeated anymore.”

Castano, 29, hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina and you never know what to expect from that boxing country. They can surprise you like Marcos Maidana did years ago in his big stage arrival.

“I’m very proud to be representing Argentina here at Barclays Center on a card of this magnitude on Showtime. I couldn’t be any happier because I know what this moment can represent to others. Its motivation that fighters from Argentina can make it to the highest level,” Castano said.

In the heavyweight clash another left-handed Cuban enters the fray.

Ortiz (30-1, 26 KOs) returns to the ring and faces Germany’s Christian Hammer (24-5, 14 KOs) in a 10-round heavyweight clash.

The big Cuban heavyweight still moves pretty well at age 39 and he has a foe standing in front of him who doesn’t like movement. But Hammer has fought guys like Alexander Povetkin and Tyson Fury so he has experience with top tier heavyweights.

“I take every fight against top fighters and I will fight them anywhere in the world. I want to be a champion, so I know I have to travel,” said Hammer. “I have to go in there and prove myself. I’m going to leave it all in the ring and show the best version of myself.”

Ortiz is a classic example of the Cuban style. He probes and punches judiciously and when he spots a mistake he takes advantage with lightning speed for his size and age. This is his moment to prove he still belongs with the top 10 heavyweights.

“I know he can go 12 rounds with a top fighter like he did with Alexander Povetkin, so we’re not taking any chances,” said Ortiz. “I’m not Povetkin though. So he’s not going the distance with me.”

If you like smooth style boxing this fight card is for you.

An uncle of mine that we call “Feo” Teo – he’s called Feo (ugly) because that’s what he calls everyone else – always boasts Cuban boxers are the best. He constantly brings up fighters like Jose Napoles, Sugar Ramos and Teofilo Stevenson. But you can’t believe everything he tells you. He also claims he’s the most handsome man in Southern California.

Claressa and Christina

Female prizefighting still has ground to make up in terms of recognition but if you are looking for a reason to watch the best, then make room on your calendar for the battle between undefeated middleweights Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer on April 13. Showtime will televise the event that takes place at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

For those boxing fans that saw female boxing before and didn’t like it, well, all I can say is don’t base your opinions on the past. This is the present and these female prizefighters are a notch above anything in the past.

Hammer, 28, has that classic European style that most of the female boxers have. She boxes and moves while sticking out the jab and using her height and reach to out-point the opposition. She’s a strong girl who fights out of Germany and has been tested once in a fight against France’s Anne Sophie Mathis. That fight ended in a disqualification and a no contest after it was ruled Hammer was knocked out by an illegal punch. That was five years ago. Since then the tall German middleweight has pretty much had her way in beating American middleweights Kali Reis and Tori Nelson easily.

Shields, 23, has a totally different style from most female prizefighters. She’s like a dragster fueled by nitro, she explodes on the opposition. She can box, she can bang and she can out-talk anyone. But what most people don’t know is she’s a student of the boxing game. She knows boxing in and out. If you want to talk about Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran or James Toney that’s OK by her. She lives, sleeps and drinks boxing 24/7.

“I study tapes of old fights all the time,” said Shields.

How many females do you know that can talk boxing and know more than you?

As my uncle Feo would say “that’s heaven baby.”

Heavyweight Tantrums

A couple of days ago a Twitter battle between Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza and Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn took place over the revelation that a contract by representatives for WBC titlist Deontay Wilder was sent to multiple belt holder Anthony Joshua and allegedly refused, ignored or not seen.

The other heavyweight, Tyson Fury, recently signed a mega deal with Top Rank and ESPN that further muddied the heavyweight picture. Fury is considered the true lineal heavyweight world champion by many because he defeated Wladimir Klitschko when he held all the titles. But then he took time off because of personal issues and all hell broke loose. Now there are three heavyweights who all claim to be the real heavyweight champion of course.

Last December, at the Staples Center in L.A., both Fury and Wilder engaged in a roaring heavyweight battle that ended in a split draw after 12 raucous rounds. That didn’t answer any questions; it simply added more fuel to the fire. Now a rematch between the same two is on hold because Fury already has a date set up. But recently, it was announced that Fury does plan to meet with Wilder in September. We shall see.

First up to bat is Joshua who meets Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 1. DAZN will stream the heavyweight title fight card.

Danny “Baby-Face Assassin” Roman

From the moment he won the WBA super bantamweight title in Japan, the Los Angeles native Danny Roman has openly sought to unify all of the world titles in the 122-pound weight division.

Roman, 28, finally gets his wish.

On April 26, at the Inglewood Forum, Roman (26-2-1, 10 KOs) puts his WBA title on the line against Australia’s TJ Doheny (21-0, 15 KOs) a southpaw who has the IBF version. The unification bout will be streamed on DAZN.

“It will be a new experience for me because I’m not fighting a challenger, I’m fighting another belt holder. It’s exciting in a lot of ways. I’ll be at my best because I’m planning to add another title on April 26,” said Roman.

For those not familiar with Roman, he’s defended the title three times since dethroning Japan’s Shun Kubo in August 2017 by knockout. In every defense Roman has defeated opponents with at least four inches in height advantage. But when he meets Doheny he will be looking the Aussie dead-in-the-eye.

“Nothing is easy at this point. It’s going to be a heck of a fight,” said Roman. “Two World Champions fighting for control of the division. What more could you want?”

Fights to watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. UFC Fight Pass – Ray Ximenez (18-1) vs. Luis Alberto Lopez (16-1).

Fri. 11:30 p.m. Telemundo – Ricardo Franco (22-2) vs. Ricardo Nunez (29-8).

Sat. 3:30 p.m. PT YouTube.com/Showtime – undercard at Barclays Center

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Erislandy Lara (25-3-2) vs. Brian Castano (15-0); Luis Ortiz (30-1) vs. Christian Hammer (24-5).

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / SHOWTIME

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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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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