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Les Bonano, Mr. Boxing in New Orleans, Enters the NOLA Sports Hall of Fame

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He is perhaps the final ruler of what remains of a fraying and depleted boxing kingdom in the formerly great fight town of New Orleans. For 50-plus years Les Bonano has fought the good fight, both when things were going well or not so much in a unique American city familiar with pronounced pendulum swings not necessarily linked to his favorite sport.

Now, at 78, the boxing lifer who accepted the baton in a relay race of sorts whose previous carriers included such similarly distinctive local legends as Whitey Esneault, Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe and “Leapin’” Louie Messina, all of whom have taken their earthly 10-count, gets the championship turn none of his fighters were quite able to present him when he is inducted Saturday night into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame at the Hilton Riverside.

Bonano thus will become the 13th person affiliated with boxing to be enshrined in the GNOSHOF – hey, 13 is a number “Black Cat” Lacombe (who, like Messina, is not an inductee) would surely love, were he still around – but it might be a long time before No. 14, if there ever is one, gets the next call to the hall. All 12 of the previous pugilistic honorees are deceased, and those potential candidates who might have a case for being recognized have to date drawn scant support from a selection committee whose members are not seemingly disposed to acknowledge their places in the city’s once-rich boxing history. Before it was the “Big Easy,” New Orleans was known as “the city that care forgot.”  In terms of boxing in the here and now, 21st century NOLA might be more aptly described as “the city that forgot to care.”

But any woulda, coulda, shoulda arguments that have been waged or will continue to be on that front can’t detract from Les Bonano’s five-decade march to a level of recognition in his hometown that few boxing figures have attained. In boxing parlance, he will have gone the distance, arguably a longer trek and arguably a more improbable one than any of his predecessors.

“There is such a tremendous honor. I’ve won some awards, but this will be the greatest in my life,” he said when informed that he had finally gained entry into the exclusive boxing wing of the GNOSHOF. “It means so much to me, it’s hard for me to explain. I can’t put it into words.”

It is the fickle finger of fate that touches boxing’s peripheral presences – promoters, trainers, cut men, etc. – to either bask in the glow of their involvement with elite fighters, or be shrouded in the shadows along with their charges who never quite make it all the way to the top of the mountain. Angelo Dundee is a global legend, an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in no small part because he trained, among others, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Carmen Basilio. The same can be said of Emanuel Steward, Eddie Futch, Freddie Roach and any number of other chief seconds who were fortunate to bring their knowledge and expertise to the corners of fighters who were world-class talents and commanded the spotlight. Instantly identifiable promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, Tex Rickard and others have plaques hanging in Canastota, N.Y., because they handled the big acts.

Bonano began his boxing journey, as so many do, as a jack of all trades. He is primarily known as a promoter of fight cards in New Orleans and its environs these days, but he also has served as a trainer, cut man and doer of all things that are necessary in a trade where general handiness can be rewarding.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of good people in boxing,” he recalled. “And I was a sponge. I wanted to know everything. I learned from everyone that I could. Vincent Arnona (also not a GNOSHOF inductee) was a great New Orleans trainer and a legendary cut man who taught me everything he knew. I think I had success because I incorporated methods from all the different people that I met and worked with.”

Among Bonano’s guides along the way were Lacombe, a boxing and thoroughbred racing handicapper whose N’Awlins accent was as thick as Bonano’s, and Messina, a promoter who staged shows involving world-rated welterweights Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Home-grown main-eventers, Pugh (black) and Pellegrini (white) regularly drew full houses before loud, enthusiastic audiences in Municipal Auditorium in the 1960s and early ‘70s. And when they squared off for the Southern 147-pound championship on March 3, 1968, the joint was filled to overflowing. The slick-boxing Pugh won a 15-round unanimous decision over the harder-hitting Pellegrini, a virtual replay of the 10-round UD Pugh scored in their first meeting on Sept. 21, 1967.

“So many people were there, or wanted to be there and couldn’t get in,” Bonano, who later employed Pugh as a trainer of some of his fighters, said of those standing-room-only turnouts promoted by Messina in the 5,000-seat arena. “It’s something I’ll never forget. The place was packed, man.”

Neither Pugh nor Pellegrini ever got the chance to fight for a world title, however, which is a distinction several of the more prominent members of Bonano’s promotional stable were able to accomplish. Light heavyweight Jerry Celestine, an ex-con who came out of the Orleans Parish Prison boxing program instituted by Bonano when Les served in the OPP sheriff’s department, upset third-ranked Vonzell Johnson and later challenged WBA champ Michael Spinks, losing on an eighth-round stoppage. Melvin Paul floored Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown in the 15th round when they squared off for the vacant IBF lightweight title, but Brown beat the count and won a close and controversial (in Bonano’s opinion) split decision. And John “Super D” Duplessis got a shot at WBC/IBF super lightweight kingpin Julio Cesar Chavez, but, predictably, he had no chance against an all-time great and was whacked out in four rounds.

It is Paul’s narrow loss on points to Brown, a Philadelphian fighting in nearby Atlantic City, N.J., that has been most irksome to Bonano, who referred to the outcome as a “hometown” decision.

“Melvin thought he had the fight won,” Bonano said. “He ran to the side of the ring and was calling out to his wife and celebrating on the ropes. The (pro-Brown) crowd was going crazy, but Brown somehow was standing up. I was screaming at Melvin to knock him out, but he couldn’t hear me. Brown wobbled on his feet for about 30 seconds and was saved by the bell. Melvin was robbed.”

Although denied his own world titlist, Bonano had ample opportunity to be involved with indisputably great fighters – Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes, among others — when he worked in conjunction with bigger-name promoters Bob Arum and Lou DiBella to bring fights to Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Miss., within easy driving distance of New Orleans.

When Esneault, the legendary New Orleans trainer whose own list of fighters included world champions Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas and Freddie Little, as well as title challengers Bernard Docusen and Tony Licata, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016 (I served as his presenter), it reminded me of what New Orleans fight writer Waddell Summers wrote about “Mr. Whitey” when he passed away on Jan. 20, 1968, at the age of 76.

“When Whitey Esneault died, the Golden Age of boxing in New Orleans was laid to rest in St. Rich No. 2 cemetery,” Summers predicted. But that gloomy pronouncement might not have been absolutely accurate, even if Esneault was a World War I veteran whose life experiences dated back to the 19th century. New Orleans was once one of boxing’s hottest of hotbeds, the site of the Sept. 7, 1892, megafight, fought under the still-new Marquess of Queensberry Rules, in which “Gentleman” Jim Corbett dethroned John L. Sullivan, the “Boston Strongboy,” on a 21st-round knockout. The city’s deep roots in boxing date back further than that, to the 1870 pairing of Jem Mace and Tom Allen in what was considered the first legitimate heavyweight prizefight.

In later and more flush times, the Louisiana Superdome was the site of Muhammad Ali’s reclaiming of the heavyweight championship (for a record third time) on a 15-round UD over Leon Spinks on Sept. 15, 1978, a Mardi Gras-level event witnessed by an announced crowd of 63,350, and Roberto Duran’s “No Mas” surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard on Nov. 25, 1980, which drew a turnout of about 30,000. On a somewhat smaller scale, Roy Jones Jr. defended his WBA, WBC and The Ring light heavyweight belts on a 10th-round RTD over 30-1 underdog Eric Harding on Sept. 9, 2000, in the New Orleans Arena (now Smoothie King Center), now the home of the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Bonano doesn’t want to be New Orleans’ last inclusion in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame; he is a staunch proponent of Pugh getting the recognition he believes is long overdue, and he also figures the committee that approved him might want to take a look at Licata and Messina. But of perhaps greater importance is the need to rebuild upon traditions that are on the verge of going permanently fallow, unless a new face in an old place steps forward to accept the baton from Bonano.

Can New Orleans boxing be revived to a reasonable facsimile of what it once was?

“First of all, you gotta have somebody local that can develop into a world-class fighter, to draw attention to the game,” Bonano said. “Once that happens, you’d see a lot of young guys get involved in boxing, a lot of spectators coming back to see fights. But there has to be a lead person to draw that attention.”

And is there a possible successor to himself that might be ready to embark onto his own long journey toward the GNOSHOF?

“I got a good friend of mind named Toby Wattigney, who loves boxing,” Bonano offered. “He’s a trainer. I think that Toby will wind up taking over as a promoter. He’s great and I really believe he will carry on the tradition I’m leaving behind.”

Here’s hoping Wattigney can fill the large footsteps of New Orleans’ last (for now) link to what was. But, hey, miracles can and sometimes do happen. After all, the New Orleans Saints did win Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010.

In addition to Bonano, other inductees into the GNOSHOF (*for those now deceased, **for those also enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame), listed alphabetically with the year in which they are enshrined, are:

*Referee Elmo Adolph (2000)

**Former lightweight champion Joe “Old Bones” Brown (1970)

*Fighter and promoter Marty Burke (1978)

**Three-division former world champion Tony Canzoneri (1984)

*Former welterweight contender Bernard Docusen (1976)

*Former WBA/WBC super welterweight champion Ralph Dupas (1978)

**Trainer Ernest “Whitey” Esneault (2016)

*Dr. Eddie Flynn, a gold medalist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (1981)

*Harry Gamble, a multiple-sport athlete, including boxing, at Tulane University (1983)

**Former bantamweight champion Pete Herman (1971)

**Former unified light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano (1973)

*Former world-rated featherweight Jimmy Perrin (1979)

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney in Hollywood, Jake, Amanda and More

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HOLLYWOOD, Ca.- Adorned in a white suit, Ryan “King Ry” Garcia arrived on a big white horse followed by a handful of fair maidens dressed in various colors and some twirling hula hoops into the Avalon Theater on Vine Street on Thursday.

Inside the historic theater that once served as the Hollywood Canteen during World War 2, where actors like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth greeted soldiers, but this time it was the boxing media waiting.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) will challenge undefeated Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) for the WBC super lightweight world title on April 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. DAZN pay-per-view will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

It doesn’t get more Hollywood than this.

Inside the 97-year-old theater, once the two opposing factions arrived, the pageantry turned into a war of words, taunts and accusations.

This is boxing.

Aside from the taunts and words of derision tossed at each other, the Haney father and son combination admitted that Garcia was the one fighter willing to fight Devin.

“He (Garcia) raised his hand when no one else did,” said Bill Haney the father.

Devin Haney sat next to his father on the stage anxious as ever to prove his talent in the prize ring. After his victory over Regis Prograis that followed wins over Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos, the former undisputed lightweight world champion is now dwelling in the super lightweight division and holds the WBC version.

“I was killing myself trying to make the weight,” said Haney about moving up to the 140-pound super lightweight division.

Haney has long been familiar with Ryan Garcia since their amateur days as they met in the boxing ring six times as youths.

“They fought six times in the amateurs with both of them winning three apiece. Now they meet with championship gold and the chance at being the face of American boxing on the line,” said Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter and head of Golden Boy Promotions. “In other words, this one counts!”

Garcia and Haney have taken similar paths.

Garcia fought professionally numerous times in Mexico where it is legal to fight under the age of 18. So did Haney. Both faced unknown opponents, sometimes last-minute changes forced them to fight foes that were not originally scheduled.

As pros, the two similarly and eagerly sought to face the best opponents possible despite their inexperience. Both proved more than capable.

Garcia quickly amassed a surprisingly large following of fans through social media and through his exploits of sudden knockouts from his uncanny speed.

“Everything I have today, I earned it,” said Garcia. “Nobody gave me a handout, I never had money, I’m really a small town boy.”

Haney proved able to defeat veteran world champions feared for their technical expertise with his own buttery-smooth fighting prowess.

“I am happy to be here. I worked hard to be here. I sacrificed a lot to be here, and at the end of the day, the world will see it on April 20,” said Devin Haney.

Next month in Brooklyn the two longtime foes will be performing. Will it be the biggest grossing pay-per-view of the year 2024?

Jake and Amanda

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano are boxing’s best tag team.

Several years ago, Paul recognized that Serrano, a seven-division world champion Puerto Rican was capable of much more than fighting on the small stage.

Genius.

Paul signed Serrano to his Most Valuable Promotions company and together they have been able to draw a mixture of fans long ignored by other promoters.

Welcome to the age of the influencers.

For the past several years Paul has fought MMA stars, boxers and other social media influencers. And when he signed Serrano she fought Katie Taylor in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden where their fight drew more than a million pay-per-views.

Paul (8-1, 5 KOs) meets Ryan Bourland (17-2, 6 KOs) in an eight-round cruiserweight fight on Saturday March 2, at Coliseo Jose Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. DAZN will stream the card.

He will be co-piloting the fight card with the great Amanda Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) who will be defending the undisputed featherweight world championship against Germany’s Nina “the Brave” Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs).

Once again Serrano and Paul will share a very good fight card that also features female super flyweights Krysti Rosario-Ortiz (2-0) and Gloria Munguilla (5-0).

Others on the card include Javon “Wanna” Walton, a featherweight out of Atlanta, Georgia. If he looks familiar there is a reason. He was featured in the Sylvester Stallone film Samaritan and also appeared in the HBO series Euphoria.

Walton has always boxed and now will be a part of the Paul and Serrano team.

Paul has that magic touch for attracting fans to boxing.

Just today Most Valuable Promotions signed Indian prizefighter Neeraj Goyat. The welterweight fighter was recently seen on social media approaching Paul in his training camp and daring the fighter to meet him in the boxing ring. The short video clip attracted more than 150 million views.

Paul, ever the think-out-of-the-box promoter, signed Goyat immediately.

“In just 2.5 years, MVP has organized some of the world’s most significant boxing events, and I’m excited to work with MVP to elevate the status of professional boxing in India and bring attention to boxers from India globally,” said an excited Goyat.

“His viral callouts of Jake Paul certainly got our attention,” said MVP co-founder Nakisa Bidarian.

Out-of-the box thinking.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Sat. DAZN 1:30 p.m. Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Nina Meinke (18-3).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:10 pm Otabek Kholmatov 12-0, 11 KOs) vs. Raymod Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs); Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) vs Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs)

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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