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The Top Ten Light-Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

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154lbs had a fascinating decade. The first generation that came through with Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto soon made way for a younger generation made up of exciting young fighters like Jarrett Hurd and Julian Williams, in some cases, in real and visceral ways, trading leather over inches of real-estate in blood-teared boxing-rings. There is much head-to-head resolution in this list, sure sign of a healthy division.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. The light-middleweight decade was also marked with dreadful scoring and one or two straight-up robberies. Like every division I’ve looked at so far, it seems to run out of locked inclusions well before we hit the last berth, which is a cause for concern.

But we do get a fascinating gallery of characters and actors which includes two pound-for-pound contenders for the decade. 154lbs has surprised me during this review, and I hope it surprises you too.

Rankings are by Ring 2010-2012 and TBRB 2013-2019.

10 – Demetrius Andrade

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 20-0 Ranked For: 58% of the decade.

The saddest sight from this past 154lb decade was the steady descent of Demetrius Andrade down the light-middleweight rankings as he continued to win, win, win and win in the boxing ring. The reason? Alphabet politics, specifically the level of fighter Andrade has mixed with during his pitiful WBO title run. There was a time when even an alphabet belt could only enhance a fighter’s legacy.  No longer.

Andrade, out of Rhode Island, picked that title up in 2013 in a superb performance against Vanes Martirosyan in a fight that reeked of ambition. Both Andrade and Martirosyan were unbeaten, both legitimately skilled prospects with deep amateur pedigrees. Andrade won a superb fight that began with a bang but became a little too one-sided down the stretch to be branded classic; Andrade was bizarrely awarded a split in a fight he clearly dominated.

And that is his fistic peak. Three years later he dominated and stopped Willie Nelson, the then number nine contender, and that is what qualifies as Demetrius Andrade second best win.

Also speaking for him is his unbeaten decade and a quick, clean southpaw fighting style, but our number ten is a sign of the times. I’ve almost (but not quite) talked myself into replacing him with Tony Harrison.

09 – Miguel Cotto

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-4 Ranked For: 52% of the decade

Is Miguel Cotto being under-represented here at number nine? Arguably, but the following needs to be considered: Firstly, Cotto fought just eleven fights in this decade. Secondly, some of these were contested at middleweight, not light-middleweight. Third, of the 154lb contests he engaged in, he lost three; finally, he beat just one ranked contender, Yuri Foreman, in a strange, badly refereed contest where Cotto brought good pressure but unquestionably benefited from a serious injury to his opponent’s knee. This contrasts with his middleweight visit where he defeated some of the best fighters of the 160lb decade.

Cotto scrapes in at nine, then, based upon his defeat of Foreman and his exquisite performance in combat with a man unranked at 154lbs but who brought with him serious pedigree from the 147lb limit he stretched his 5’11 frame over, Antonio Margarito. Cotto’s first fight with Margarito was a thing of great infamy, and no more virtual ink need be spent on it here. The rematch at light-middleweight is what interests us.

Cotto was precise and sharp throughout; Margarito, reaching. Cotto’s sensational performance needs to be balanced against Margarito’s condition, questionable after his brutal dismantling at the hands of Manny Pacquiao but it also needs to be noted that it was Cotto, not Pacquiao, who scored the stoppage.

Cotto was unquestionably a better light-middleweight than he was a middleweight, but it is also unquestionable that he achieved more in absolute terms against elite opposition at 160lbs in the decade at hand. Nine, then, is where Cotto finds himself for 2010-2019 at this weight class.

08 – Austin Trout

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 10-5-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Austin Trout had a fascinating decade, but he left the numerical trunk of his career back in the 00s and an ugly close to the decade marred his paper record. Trout was defeated by both Charlo brothers and Jarrett Hurd 2016 through 2018; the new generation feasted on him.

In fact, 2012 aside, Trout did not perform as well as some may assume. That year though, was a fine one. He kicked it off with a patient, waiting performance against Delvin Rodriguez, who was at that time hanging onto his number ten ranking by his fingertips. Trout deployed his tiring, distracting southpaw jab to its usual discombobulating affect and coasted to a wide points victory. Exceptional defensively against middling handspeed (and good against fast hands), Trout was a brave choice of opponent for Miguel Cotto, coming off a thrashing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather but certainly still elite.

Trout was brilliant that night. It is perhaps the defining example of how to avoid being pinned to the ropes by a pressure fighter, not just in this weight class but in any weight class for this decade. Every time Trout felt the ropes close in behind him, he made an exit by way of feint or punch and fleet footwork. He made Cotto look ordinary and he was deserving of his majority decision victory, despite a huge swathe of tight, swing rounds.

Then he ran into Canelo Alvarez. This fight is important. Despite Trout’s seeming surety that he had lost the fight clean, it was very close; what needs to be understood is that the WBC’s insistence upon open scoring made much of the last third of the fight moot and after Alvarez won the eleventh clear, the twelfth round a redundancy. Trout could only win by a knockout he was never going to score.  That he won the fight by a single point on my card is neither here nor there.

And that leaves me with a problem. Trout, a fine fighter, who turned in one of the finest performances of the light-middleweight decade, can sit no higher than eighth. Having won two meaningful fights in 2012 he went on to lose to every ranked man he ever faced; it is natural that no fewer than four of them rank above him here.

07 Jermell Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 23-1 Ranked For: 45% of the decade

Jermell Charlo, one of a pair of fighting brothers from Texas, also ran into Vanes Martirosyan, who served as an elite gatekeeper throughout the decade. A tension-drenched contest resulted with Charlo edging a fight that could have gone any one of three ways. Jermell hasn’t been blessed with the power of his twin brother, the inconveniently named Jermall (see below) but the quickness of his jab and decent accuracy make him a difficult opponent.

Adding a deceptively stinging hook gave him the feel of a completeness in his style and Jermell capitalized on the punch against a much-faded Austin Trout, dropping him twice to squeak home on the cards. With the division at his fingertips, the capable, defensively sound Tony Harrison came calling. To be clear, Jermell deserved the nod here for me, but the surprise loss he suffered on the cards did underline some of the problems in his execution. I saw no fewer than four of the twelve rounds close and difficult to call. Jermell perhaps deserved the benefit of the doubt here (and I personally gave it to him) boxing on the front foot and landing all but one of the hard, eye-catching shots in the fight – but he also failed, perhaps, to close the show in rounds where he had an edge but an arguable edge. He allowed Harrison to wait for him and failed to capitalize on the pressure he brought to bear. Jermell’s loss to Harrison was unfortunate but it was no robbery.

Jermell put the blot right in a rematch, surging in to attack where before he had waited, willing to get hit to land a superior, tighter offense. His pressure bore fruit; Harrison was stopped on his feet in the eleventh.

Charlo stands having learned a valuable lesson and ready to take a new decade on with precision aggression; he nevertheless did enough between 2010 and 2019 to stand here on merit.

06 – Jarrett Hurd

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 23-1- Ranked For: 25% of the decade

In a division festooned with classy boxers, Jarrett Hurd assumed the status of bogeyman. Huge at the weight, strong, iron-jawed, relentless with inconveniently deceptive footwork that re-introduces him to the space of even the most fleet-footed runner or stick-and-move artist, Hurd is death on a stick for a certain type of fighter.

That type: older, some tough rounds on him, a boxer. Step forwards Austin Trout. This fight is painful to watch as the ageing Trout, never stopped before, never stopped since, is pulled by his corner late in the fight. Hurd mauled and punched him into submission until he was little more than a crouch and some pit-a-pat offense in the sphere of influence belonging to a fighter who cannot be turned around by even serious punches.

Hurd stepped out of Trout’s ring and into Erislandy Lara’s, a different matter. Their fight was fascinating and brilliant, Hurd’s ceaseless hunting and adeptness in cutting off the ring against Lara’s guile and brilliant footwork. Then Lara quit on his stick-and-move strategy and stepped into Hurd’s pocket. The Cuban proceeded to outfight his much younger, bigger, stronger opponents for long stretches.

Power is power though. A visit to the canvas in the twelfth cost Lara the fight and made Hurd the breaker-in-general of 154lb boxers.

Hurd was ranked the world’s #1 light-middleweight post-Lara and it seemed, perhaps, a period of dominance might follow. Then Hurd ran into a fighter named Julian Williams.

05 – Julian Williams

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Julian Williams suffered a disaster in his last fight, losing his strap and number one ranking to Jeison Rosario; but that loss occurred in January of 2020. Williams, whose career entered the Covid-19 lockdown in tatters, is unaffected here by that devastating loss.

He did suffer a loss between 2010 and 2019 at light-middleweight, to Jermall Charlo who also stopped him in five back in December of 2016; his rebuild was something rather special. He summited in the final year of the decade with a victory over number one contender, Jarret Hurd.  This was a superb thinking performance from a fighter who had learned his lessons well. He out-thought Hurd on the outside, making a seeming lie of Hurd’s clear reach and height advantages to out-jab him, then out-fought him on the inside, throwing out tides of short, snappy punches that had Hurd in such serious trouble in the second that it seemed, after dropping the number one contender, he might stop him. Hurd survived to drop a clear unanimous decision.

Hurd came to that fight based primarily upon his victory over Nathaniel Gallimore, ranked six, another taller, longer fighter. This was Hurd-lite for Williams, a dress rehearsal for that excellent performance. I was saddened to see Williams stopped early in 2020, his resurgence one of the finest lo-fi stories of the decade. As to whether he deserves the number five spot for that decade, that is debatable – although certainly, battering the fighter ranked number six helps.

04 – Jermall Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Trout beats Cotto, Hurd beats Trout, Williams beats Hurd and finally Jermall Charlo beats Williams.  It’s helpful in interpreting the division, these matches, and there’s been refreshing traffic between the top ten light-middleweights of the decade. Jermall departed undefeated for the middleweight division before the decade was out but despite the temporal shortage, Jermall made his mark and ranks as a “best of the rest” #4, clear water between he and the number three, but a stretch between he and #5, also.

Jermall landed in earnest as late as September 2015, obliterating storied veteran Cornelius Bundrage in four rounds. Bundrage won not a minute of a round and was yoyoed throughout. It was easy.  Bundrage was shocked by Jermall’s offensive capabilities and you could see it, especially on the third knockdown. After stopping Wilky Campfort in similar short order, Jermall fought perhaps the most important fight of his career against Austin Trout. Trout had lost to both Alvarez and Lara in short order but had since rebuilt and was once more ranked the world’s number two light-middleweight.  Jermall edged him out in a close, absorbing contest, emerging as a fighter of economy and no little power, his jab a hurtful weapon, the speed on his straight right turning it into a slashing, hurtful punch. Trout didn’t go away and, in fact, made some very exciting adjustments to test Jermall to his fullest, but it was the younger man who emerged with the victory.

Jermall then scored what, in retrospect, would seem a sensational knockout over Julian Williams and stepped up to middleweight. This leave him not beyond reproach; he departed the division at the very moment it seemed ripe for his dominance and he began mixing with top contenders only a short time before; two keystones in his resume were men past their apex in the form of Trout and on the slide in the form of Bundrage. But it must be remembered, too, that Jermall got a lot done in a short time and that he looked, for the most part, superb in doing it. He spent most of the decade at the limit and left it without loss.

03 – Erislandy Lara

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-3-3 Ranked For: 83% of the decade

Erislandy Lara is still ranked among the ten best fighters in the light-middleweight division, sitting pretty at number six as of April 2020. Each of these divisions has kicked up a survivor, a fighter who hangs onto his ranking by hook or by jab and who becomes a key operator for that decade. Lara is that man at 154lbs.

To be honest though, I was a little disappointed putting him under the microscope. This is a man who rarely matched ranked contenders; in fact, Lara could be comfortably placed a little lower judged purely on quality scalps. Lara’s third best win is over Yuri Foreman.

But his longevity counts for plenty here and is illustrated by the fact that the first and best big win of his career came back in 2013, a twelve round decision awarded to him over Austin Trout. Lara exposed Trout’s limitations. If you can outland him in a given round, he will lose; if you are fast, he will struggle defensively; if you are patient, he will crack, which may have been the key to Lara’s wide decision victory.

Later, in 2016, Lara matched old foe Vanes Martirosyan, a name familiar from earlier entries. Lara had been on the bad end of a technical draw against Martirosyan in 2012 in a match he dominated but he took the unanimous decision in the rematch; he rolled straight out of that contest into a fight with Yuri Foreman over whom he scored a weird knockout in four (track it down).

And that is all. Is that enough for number three? It is not.

Untold are the interesting wrinkles. In 2012 he took the enormous, the terrifying, the rather past-it Paul Williams and timed, bullied, battered and countered the bigger, stronger, longer, ever game Williams to pieces – the judges, all of whom would be suspended from the sport in the wake of their actions, scored the fight for Williams. Lara is credited for a win over Williams for the purposes of this list.

In 2014, Lara was in an excruciatingly close fight with Saul Alvarez; I had the Mexican a winner 115-113 but the average media scorecard was 114-114. This was a fight that basically failed to settle the issue between the two and Alvarez passed on a rematch.

This is enough to close the distance on and then overhaul Jermall; Lara is the third most accomplished light-middleweight of the decade. He was also the most interesting.

2 – Saul Alvarez

Peak Ranking: Ch.  Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 47% of the decade

Saul Alvarez followed a much-trodden path in his approach to his divisional summit: he walked the bones of former contenders like Carlos Baldomir, Lovemore Ndou, Kermit Cintron and a faded Shane Mosley. This is good practice for a well-funded prospect, and Saul Alvarez was always that.

But while the big bucks associated with his burgeoning fame was drawing in name fighters past their best, Alvarez was also breaking contenders in more interesting fights. Ryan Rhodes was ranked number four for their 2011 encounter while Alvarez was ranked number nine. Seeing the young Mexican learn and apply what he had seen during this fight was thrilling. He picks punches with more and more confidence as the fight nears its conclusion and indeed, he would seem to improve with every fight he had at 154lbs, eventually emerging up at 160lbs as complete a version of himself as could be imagined.

Rhodes succumbed in twelve and close victories over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara would have made him the era’s outstanding light-middleweight.

Were it not for Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather had made himself a force in the division before his retirement in the 00s and his re-emergence saw him inevitably clash with Alvarez in 2012. That Alvarez was so thoroughly beaten by Mayweather makes it extremely difficult to place him at number one here. This is especially hard on Alvarez because he was rendered number two up at middleweight, too – and for reasons directly opposite of those expressed here. The two differences are Mayweather’s total dominance over Alvarez and the fact that Alvarez managed fewer than half the decadal contenders that Golovkin did at middleweight.

In other words, Alvarez did not do quite enough in either division to be rendered number one, but for very different reasons in each case, which is a tough break. Had he remained at 154lbs, he would have done more than enough to justify the number one slot. As it is, he’s missed out by the narrowest of margins – the type of margin by which Floyd Mayweather might slip an oncoming jab.

1 – Floyd Mayweather

Peak Ranking: Ch.  Record for the Decade: 10-0 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

Floyd Mayweather rolled back into light-middleweight in May of 2012 and made Miguel Cotto, then rated divisional number one, look like a journeyman. Cotto was never anything less than brave and in round eight he looked his sensational self, but in the eleventh and twelfth, especially, it was clear that there was at least a full class between Mayweather and Cotto.

What most impressed about this was that Cotto was a fighter made in hell for an older fighter. Fast pressure, technically sure punching, a good engine and a withering body attack are the attributes you absolutely do not want to see named in the opposite corner when you are in your fourth decade. Mayweather, who had lost a step or two, found other ways to keep his more aggressive foe under control, first among them, peerless countering abilities. Cotto did as well as any Mayweather foe of recent memory but was, in the end, left well behind.

Arguably though, Saul Alvarez was the more dangerous challenge and for the purposes of naming the number one light-middleweight of the era is obviously the key combat. Younger and in his physical prime, Alvarez was also two weight-divisions bigger on fight night, coming to the ring a super-middleweight. Mayweather looked him over and proceeded to outbox him for ten of the following twelve rounds. It was a glorified spar; it was a fighter headed for the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound list reduced to the status of a training partner. Mayweather was landing trailing uppercuts and outlanded his opponent in all but one of the twelve rounds.

It was as vivid a demonstration of one fighter’s complete superiority over another as can be imagined over twelve and leaves no doubt as to which of the two is the superior fighter. However, a counterargument to Floyd’s holding the number one slot does present itself. As a rule, before agreeing a fighter’s final slot with myself, I look at said fighter’s third best victory under the conditions described (here, light-middleweight in a given decade). The answer to that question, for Mayweather is “Conor McGregor.” That is, Floyd’s third most impressive scalp here considered is an 0-1 MMA specialist. This is unimpressive.

Given that Shane Mosley hadn’t won a fight for more than three years when Alvarez faced him, it could be reasonably argued that Alvarez’s own #3 scalp is Ryan Rhodes and, more significantly, that what Ryan Rhodes was to Saul Alvarez, Saul Alvarez was to Floyd Mayweather. That was the gap that existed between the two in the ring.

So it’s Mayweather at number one for me, not locked given that Alvarez got better and Mayweather underwhelmed with volume of victories, but as the only man to beat two number one ranked contenders in the decade and more than that, made it all look rather easy, I’m satisfied he is the right choice.

Other divisions presented even tougher choices: Heavyweight, Cruiserweight, Light-Heavyweight, Super-Middleweight and Middleweight.

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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 economically 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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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

—-

Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Friday Night Fights: Nontshinga Wins by TKO in Oaxaca; O’Shaquie by SD at MSG

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Fridau-Night-Fights-Nontshinga-Wins-by-TKO-in-Oaxaca-O'Shaquie by SD at MSG

South Africa’s Sivenathi Nontshinga (13-1, 10 KOs) came from behind to recapture the IBF light flyweight (108-pound) title with a 10th-round stoppage of Mexico City’s Adrian Curiel in Oaxaca, Mexico in the featured bout of a Matchroom card that aired on DAZN.

This was a rematch. Last November in Monte Carlo, the the supposedly feather-fisted Curiel with only four stoppages to his credit in 28 pro bouts, snatched the title from him and changed the trajectory of his career with a shocking one-punch, second-round knockout. In that bout, Nontshinga was a massive favorite but tonight the roles were reversed with Curiel favored in the 9 to 5 range in large part because of the locale.

Curiel, whose record declined to 24-5-1, was conspicuously ahead after eight frames. He was the aggressor and the busier man and it didn’t help Nontshinga’s cause that he was docked a point in round seven after a clash of heads. But late in round nine, there was a sudden turnabout when the fighter from South Africa’s Eastern Cape rocked his Mexican foe with a big left hook. Curiel was saved by the bell and it was all over 44 seconds into the next round when veteran Texas referee Mark Calo-oy pulled the plug with Curiel trapped in a neutral corner eating a barrage of punches with nothing coming back in return.

A rematch is in order although Nontshinga may seek a match with WBC/WBA title-holder Kenshiro Teraji, the paramount fighter in the weight class, or perhaps the winner of the forthcoming fight between WBO belt-holder Jonathan Gonzalez and his Puerto Rican countryman Rene Santiago.

Co-Feature

Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara (26-3-2) and Hermosillo’s Daniel Lugo (27-2-1) battled to a 10-round draw. It was the first fight at 130 for ex-featherweight champion Lara who was making his first start since last May when he was out-pointed by Leigh Wood in their rematch in Manchester, England.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden

O’Shaquie Foster (22-2, 12 KOs) successfully defended his WBC 130-pound world title with a hard-earned decision over Abraham Nova (23-2) in the featured bout of a Top Rank card that aired on ESPN. The 30-year-old Foster, who hails from Orange, Texas, and trains in Houston, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of previously undefeated Rey Vargas.

It was the 12th straight win for Foster after his career was interrupted by legal troubles. Late in the final round,  he put Nova on the canvas with a sweeping left hook. Referee Steve Willis hesitated before starting a count, uncertain whether it was a true knockdown, but replays showed that it was a legitimate knockdown, albeit of the flash variety. Two judges had it for Foster (116-111 and 115-112) with the dissenter favoring Nova by a 114-113 tally.

Co-Feature

Las Vegas junior lightweight Andres Cortes (21-0, 12 KOs) scored an impressive fourth-round stoppage over Bryan Chevalier (20-2-1). Cortes, who was credited with landing 23 power punches in the last full round, was too strong for his lanky, five-foot-eleven Puerto Rican opponent whose corner tossed in the towel at the 2:17 of round four.

Also

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, a featherweight contest slated for “10,” Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington made a significant jump in public esteem with a brutal one-punch knockout of Bernard Torres (18-2). Carrington, who is big for the weight class and had a 6-inch reach advantage, set the tempo and ended the contest with a sweeping right hand at the 2:59 mark of round four. Torres landed face first and the bout was stopped without the formality of a count. “She Shu” represents the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, but has been training in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma.

Torres, a Filipino by birth who has been living in Norway, lives to fight another day. He is booked to fight again on April 6 in Oslo.

Other Bouts of Note

Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello, a 2016 Olympian, improved to 12-1-1 (10) with a first-round demolition of Huntington, Long Island’s Moses Johnson (11-2-2). Early in the opening round, Vianello buzzed Johnson with a short fight hand to the temple. Referee Shada Murdaugh apparently thought it was an illegal rabbit punch followed by a push and called time out rather than start a count. But Johnson wasn’t right and would be on the canvas four more times before Murdaugh finally stopped it with only one second remaining in the round. “It was not his best night,” said broadcaster Bernardo Osuna referencing Murdaugh in a great understatement.

In his career-best performance, Cleveland super lightweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a Tokyo Olympian, improved to 11-0 (6 KOs) with a first-round stoppage of Brazilian southpaw Paulo Galdino (13-8-2). Johnson decked Galdino in the opening round with a short left uppercut and then went for the kill. Moments after snapping Galdino’s head back with a short right hand, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:49.

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