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For Whom the Bell Tolled: 2021 Boxing Obituaries PART TWO (July-Dec.)

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Here is the second and final installment of our annual year-end report in which we pay homage to those for whom the final bell tolled.

July

2 – Lehlo Ledwaba – He won the IBF 122-pound title in 1999 and made five successful defenses before losing the belt on a sixth-round stoppage to Manny Pacquiao in what was Pacquiao’s U.S. debut. He trained and managed several fighters after leaving the sport with a record of 36-6-1. At age 49 of Covid complications at a medical clinic in his home province of Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

12 – Conroy Nelson – According to various sources, Nelson spent the last 20 years of his life living in a bamboo hut with no electricity on a family farm in his homeland of Jamaica. Fighting out of Canada, he compiled a 21-24-2 record during a 20-year career during which he was fodder for the likes of Mike Tyson, Herbie Hyde, and Riddick Bowe. He was battling pancreatic cancer when he died of a heart attack at age 62.

22 – Andre Thysse – From the Gauteng province of South Africa, Thysse answered the bell for 221 rounds during a 10-year career that began in 1999. He finished 20-8, but was stopped only twice and reportedly never knocked down. In retirement, he owned several businesses and promoted a few fights in Johannesburg. At age 52 of Covid-19.

August

10 – Stanley “Kitten” Hayward – He was right in the thick of things when Philadelphia was a hornets nest of rugged welterweights and middleweights and had one crack at the 154-pound world title, losing a 15-round decision to underrated Freddie Little in Little’s adopted hometown of Las Vegas. After leaving the sport with a 32-12-4 record, he spent 33 years as a Court Crier in Philadelphia where he died from complications of a stroke.

21 – Jarvis Astaire – A Hall of Fame boxing promoter with a wide range of business interests, he was the man most responsible for bringing U.K. boxing into the closed circuit and pay-per-view age. The Astaire Alliance, which included matchmaker Mickey Duff, ruled British boxing with an iron thumb for decades beginning in the late 1960s. At age 97 in London.

23 – Giovanni Pretorius – A former OIympian, the heavy-handed Johannesburg bomber challenged Robin Reid for the WBC super middleweight title in 1997, succumbing in seven rounds. He finished 28-2-1 (24). At age 49 in a hospital in Alberton, S.A., a victim of Covid.

September

1 – Jeanette Zacarias – Only the second known female ring fatality following South Africa’s Phindile Muelas (2014), Zacarias collapsed after the fourth round of an Aug. 28 bout in Montreal and died four days later without regaining consciousness. It was her sixth pro fight. A native of Aguascalientes, Mexico, she was only 18 years old.

2 – Doyle Baird – A brawler from Akron, Ohio who turned pro at age 28, Baird turned heads in 1968 when he held middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti to a draw in a non-title fight. Benvenuti stopped him in 10 rounds in the rematch. He went on to challenge Vincente Rondon for the light heavyweight title (L TKO 6) and retired with a record of 34-7-1. At age 83 in Akron.

10 – Manuel Calvo – Fighting almost exclusively in Spain, Calvo compiled a 54-18-6 record in a 12-year career that began in 1963. Both he and his son of the same name won European featherweight titles. At age 79 in Madrid where he was battling a heart condition.

October

9 – Keitaro Hoshino – Active from 1988 to 2003, Hoshino engaged in six world title fights in the smallest (105 pound) weight class and was a two-time world title-holder. He finished 23-10, somewhat misleading as he was on the wrong end of several razor-thin decisions. At age 52 in his native Yokohama after a long but unspecified illness.

11 – Tony DeMarco – Born Leonardo Liotta, DeMarco won the world welterweight title in 1955 with a 14th-round stoppage of Johnny Saxton, but lost it 10 weeks later in the first of his two sizzling matches with Carmen Basilio. Ushered into the IBHOF in 2019, he finished 58-12-1. An impressive bronze statue of him sits near his boyhood home in Boston where he died at age 89.

31 – Tommy Thomas – Born and raised in Clarksburg, West Virginia, Thomas compiled a 34-8 record during a 10-year career that began in 1977. He tangled with the likes of Michael Dokes, Leon Spinks, and Pierre Coetzer. In retirement, he worked as a police officer in Clarksburg and ran a boxing gym. At age 67 after a long battle with Parkinson’s and dementia.

November

4 – Jerry Martin – Born and raised in Antigua, Martin, nicknamed “The Bull,” turned pro in Philadelphia in 1976 without the benefit of any amateur experience and compiled a record of 25-7. He went inside Rahway prison walls to upend inmate James Scott in a big upset on NBC, but failed in three cracks at the world light heavyweight title, losing to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Matthew Saad Muhammad, and Dwight Muhammad Qawi. At age 67 in Philadelphia of an undisclosed illness.

6 – Steve Lott — A protégé of the noted boxing historian and memorabilia collector Jim Jacobs, Lott was swept into the world of boxing when Jacobs and his business partner Bill Cayton took to managing prizefighters. Closely allied with the young Mike Tyson, he handled the daily affairs of several other world champions and went on to curate a vast library of boxing ephemera at the popular website Boxing Hall of Fame Las Vegas. At age 71 in a Las Vegas hospital after suffering a head injury in a fall at his home.

9 – Loucif Hamani – Hamani turned pro in Paris after representing Algeria in the 1972 Munich Olympics and compiled a record of 24-3. He out-pointed a faded Emile Griffith, but was no match for Marvin Hagler who wacked him out in the second round in his lone U.S. engagement. At age 71 in Paris after a long illness.

13 – Jeff Wald – A powerful Hollywood talent agent whose clients included Sylvester Stallone, Wald was the co-creator and co-executive producer of “The Contender” series and had a financial stake in George Foreman’s last two fights. At age 77 in Los Angeles.

17 – Johnny Gant – A welterweight contender in the 1970s who finished 45-15-3, Gant battled such notables as Esteban De Jesus, Hedgemon Lewis, Hector Thompson and Sugar Ray Leonard and went 15 rounds with Angel Espada in Puerto Rico in a failed bid for Espada’s world title. In retirement, the Washington DC native founded a boxing academy in Atlanta for at-risk youth. At age 70 of an undisclosed illness.

17 – Johnny Sarduy – The Cuban featherweight, who finished 33-7-4, closed out his career with two fights in Miami Beach, the second of which included Cassius Clay on the undercard. Sarduy left boxing to join the anti-Castro, CIA-sponsored “Bay of Pigs” invasion and in retirement became a wealthy drywall contractor. At age 85 in Miami.

23 – Paul Cardoza – A two-time New England Golden Gloves champion who served in the Navy and the Marines, Cardoza, a light heavyweight, was 23-9 as a pro in a seven-year career that began in 1969. He split two fights with two-time world title challenger Richie Kates and hung up his gloves after getting stopped by future belt-holder Marvin Johnson. At age 78 in New Bedford, MA, where he was a lifelong resident.

December

13 – Gaspar Ortega – A staple on the small screen during the golden age of TV boxing, the colorful, iron-chinned Ortega, part Zapotec Indian, had 176 documented fights, finishing 131-39-6, and remarkably was stopped only twice, the first coming in 1961 in a failed bid for Emile Griffith’s world welterweight title. The father of world class referee Mike Ortega, “El Indio,” a longtime Connecticut resident, passed away at age 86 at the home of his daughter in Naples, Florida.

14 – Tony Perez – He refereed dozens of world title fights beginning with Joe Frazier vs. Jimmy Ellis on Feb. 16, 1970, and including Muhammad Ali’s first post-exile fight against Jerry Quarry later that year. At age 90 in Barnegat Township, New Jersey. His survivors include his wife Barbara, a former boxing judge who likewise worked many championship fights.

24 – Danny Kelly Jr – A 30-year-old heavyweight with a 10-3-1 record, Kelly was fatally shot in an apparent road rage incident while driving with his girlfriend and three young children on a busy roadway in Saint George County, Maryland, late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. None of the other occupants of the vehicle were injured. His assailant remains at-large.

28 – Harry Reid – A five-term U.S. Senator from Nevada and the Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2015, Reid was an amateur boxer who officiated at approximately 100 pro fights as a ringside judge. He introduced legislation to strengthen the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act and was named to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport. At age 82 in Henderson, NV, after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

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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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