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The Hauser Report: A Club Fight Card in Philadelphia

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The Hauser Report: A Club-Fight Card in Philadelphia

Prentiss Byrd worked as a trainer with Emanuel Steward at the Kronk Gym in Detroit from 1978 to 2001. Long ago, Byrd voiced the view, “Boxing has been dead for years. We’re just walking through the graveyard.”

I’ve written at length in this space about the reasons for the decline of boxing in the United States. Phony championship belts, a pay-per-view economic model that separates fans from attractive fights, the failure of the sport’s power brokers to make the fights that the public most wants to see, incompetent and corrupt officiating that mars the viewing experience (to say nothing of undermining the integrity of the sport).

In recent months, I’ve been involved in the making of a documentary that will examine the current state of boxing. On February 26, that project took me to Philadelphia to explore boxing through the prism of club fights.

There was a time when club fights were the lifeblood of professional boxing. Watching a fight live from up close is different from what most fans experience in a big arena. The only way to get close to the ring at a big fight is to be a member of the media or a child of privilege with a thousand-dollar ticket. At a club fight, spectators are close to the action. They hear punches land and see the pain etched on a fighter’s face. It’s a unique experience that can’t be fully understood unless one has been there. Television cosmeticizes the violence and falls short of fully capturing the atmosphere at a fight.

Once upon a time, the Blue Horizon in North Philadelphia was the most famous club fight arena in the United States, The Ring called it “the number-one boxing venue in the world.”

The building was constructed in 1865 as a row of three adjoining homes for the super-rich. In 1914, it was altered and became the Philadelphia home for a national fraternal lodge known as the Loyal Order of Moose. The first fight card contested there was held on March 1, 1938. In 1961, the building was sold to a new owner who named it The Blue Horizon and, after further renovation, began hosting regular boxing shows. Marty Kramer, Herman Taylor, and Russell Peltz are among the promoters who made their name there. The arena closed in 2010 and is now awaiting redevelopment.

Philadelphia gave boxing Joe Frazier, Bernard Hopkins, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Harold Johnson, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Meldrick Taylor, Tim Witherspoon, “Gypsy” Joe Harris, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Bennie Briscoe, and Jeff Chandler. Also Michael Buffer, Artie Pelullo (seen above with the author last Saturday on the famed Blue Horizon balcony), and (one might say) Rocky Balboa.

On arriving in the City of Brotherly Love on February 26, I went with the film crew to the Blue Horizon. The building is padlocked. A caretaker brought us inside. Prentiss Byrd’s ghosts were in the house. Beyond that, it’s difficult to describe what I saw.

The once-grand building where capacity crowds of 1,346 gathered for fights is now a monument to urban decay. A wreck, a ruin. Parts of it are structurally unsound. Clumps of plaster have fallen from the ceiling and litter the floor. The walls look like they’ve been torn apart by an explosion. Going anywhere inside requires walking through rubble. Twelve years of grime on the windows keep the sunlight out.

Hauser2

From that sad reminder of boxing’s past, we went next to boxing’s present.

The 2300 Arena is located in an industrial area of South Philadelphia beneath an overpass for Interstate 95. Built as a warehouse in 1974, it has been known at various times as Viking Hall, Alhambra Arena, The Arena, Asylum Arena, ECW Arena, and now 2300 Arena (a reference to its location at 2300 South Swanson Street). In recent years, it has been the site for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events. After winning the Super Bowl in 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles received their rings in a private ceremony there.

The 2300 Arena is also home to club fights promoted by RDR Promotions (named for its founder Rodney Rice).

Rice, age 55, grew up in South Philadelphia. His mother was the rock of the family. His father (in Rodney’s words) was “in and out of the home.” Mostly out.

Rice is open about past mistakes. He fought a lot on the streets when he was young and looks back on that time, saying, “I had a lot of anger issues.” From ages ten through fifteen, he was in a child guidance program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia but was still “getting into bad things.” There was a conviction for burglary. He was “moving toward drug dealing.” Then “my sister, Dionne, pushed me into the Army.”

Rice served in the military from 1988 to 1999, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. After leaving the service, he took a job with Terminex (a pest control company). “But I didn’t know how to act out of the military,” he acknowledges. “I got into drugs to cope. For a year, it was bad. I knew I needed help.”

In 2000, Rice entered a drug rehab program. Then he returned to the pest control business. That was followed by a job in vector control with the City of Philadelphia. Since 2012, he has worked for the United States Environmental Protection Agency in its Inspector General’s office. He balances the requirements of that job with the demands of his promotional company.

Rice’s introduction to formal boxing began with sparring after he left the military (“I got my butt kicked”). Then he began helping trainers work with their fighters. The first pro fight that he remembers being at was Hank Lundy vs. Reggie Sanders at the Blue Horizon in 2007. After that, he says, “the evolution to being a promoter was natural for me.”

RDR Promotions promoted two fight cards in 2020 and ten in 2021. The February 26 show was its first of 2022 with the next two scheduled for March 25 and April 30. Rice has a few fighters under contract but, for the most part, fills out his cards with fighters who are independent or made available to him by other promoters on a fight-by-fight basis.

“I like building and rebuilding fighters,” Rice says. “I love what I’m doing. The worst thing about the job is some of the people you have to deal with and the secrets you have to keep. I don’t know where I’ll go from here. There’s no great plan. If I keep having fun, I’ll keep doing it. If I’m not having fun, I’ll stop.”

Generic boxing doesn’t sell well to the public at large anymore. That’s why TV ratings are low for most bouts and arenas are largely empty during the undercard for big fights. But the sport has a hardcore fan base, and RDR Promotions has tapped into it.

The 2300 Arena is a barebones facility with the feel of a former warehouse. It has a high ceiling, plain walls, and concrete floor painted black. Tickets for the February 26 event were priced at $150, $100, and $75. RDR’s shows are building a following, in part because matchmaker Nick Tiberi makes pretty good fights and in part because each card has a half-dozen or so Philadelphia fighters who are ticket sellers. The shows are also available via pay-per-view stream on BXNG.TV for $19.95.

Greg Sirb (executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission) does a hands-on job of overseeing combat sports in Pennsylvania. And for a fraction of what it costs to regulate boxing in nearby states like New York. Four hours before the bell for round one of the opening bout on February 26, Sirb was checking in fighters and their camps in addition to performing chores like carrying chairs into the technical zone at ringside for fighters’ seconds to sit on between rounds during the fights.

Upstairs, sixteen fighters and their teams were crammed into two dressing rooms on the second floor. There was no music, just quiet conversation with each camp respecting the others’ space. The vibe in the “blue” dressing room (which housed the underdog fighters) was far less optimistic than in the red.

At 6:40 PM, the doors to the arena opened and the crowd began filing in. It was a good turnout. Most of the fans were in their seats when the first bout began at 7:20.

The fighters on the card were a mix of prospects, ticket sellers, and opponents. Being an “opponent” in boxing is one of the most painful, thankless jobs imaginable. Why do they do it? Wrigley Brogan answered that question several years ago when he wrote, “A few extra bucks, a chance to be admired for a few minutes, to be something uncommon, to know they have had a real life rather than a safe one.”

The first bout of the evening was a mismatch between local prospect, 22-year-old Jabril Noble (2-0, 2 KOs) from Philadelphia and Joseph Santana (0-4, 3 KOs by) from Providence. Rice is an advisor to Noble. Santana was a last-minute substitute after Darnell Jiles (who’d won once in nine fights dating back to 2008) fell out. Noble KO’d Santana at 2:01 of round one and, in an in-the-ring interview afterward, declared, “He was scared. He didn’t want to fight. I want a better opponent next time than the one I just fought.”

Bout number two was equally predictable. Edwin Cortes (1-0) fought Jerrod Miner, who was introduced to the crowd as “a seventeen-bout veteran.” Miner’s actual record (two wins in those seventeen fights) was left unspoken. Cortes prevailed on each judges’ scorecard by a 40-36 margin.

That was followed by another mismatch. Nineteen-year-old Philadelphian Isaiah Johnson (3-0, 3 KOs), with whom Rice has a promotional contract, showboated before, during, and after his fight against Dieumerci Nzau, who lasted 72 seconds and has now lost twelve fights in a row.

Philadelphia boxing fans are knowledgeable. They understood what they were watching. Then they saw the sort of upset that makes going to club shows worthwhile.

Robert Sabbagh (3-0, 2 KOs) from Brooklyn was matched against North Carolinian Joel Caudle (8-6-2, 5 KOs, 2 KOs by) in a scheduled six-round heavyweight bout. Caudle, age 31, is listed as 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighed in at 283 pounds. “Blubbery” doesn’t begin to describe him. He’d lost his most recent five fights dating back to 2018. Sabbagh was expected to make it six losses in a row. But whatever Sabbagh might bring to the table, high-level boxing skills aren’t on the list. Against Caudle, he seemed intimidated from the opening bell by the massive presence in front of him, took body shot after body shot, and never really fought back. His corner stopped the beating after four rounds.

Next up, 25-year-old Dominique Mayfield (0-1, 1 KO by) from Philadelphia fought 36-year-old Daryl Clark. Mayfield had been knocked out in the first round by a 3-11 fighter in his only other pro fight. Clark, from Houston, had a 1-1 record but that win came against a fighter who hurt his shoulder in the second round and had been unable to continue. Mayfield decisioned Clark by a 40-36, 40-36, 40-36 margin.

Mexican Oscar Barajas, who hadn’t won since 2017 and had been brought to the 2300 Arena in the hope that he would lose to Philadelphian Jerome Conquest, turned the tables with a 58-56, 58-56, 57-57 majority decision triumph.

Then the third prospect on the card, 28-year-old cruiserweight Muhsin Cason (9-0, 6 KOs) from Las Vegas knocked out Louisianian Steven Lyons (winless in six fights dating back to February 2019) in five rounds.

Finally, the main event matched Ray Robinson (24-3-2, 12 KOs, 1 KO by) against Silverio Ortiz (37-28, 18 KOs, 6 KOs by). Robinson, age 36 and from Philadelphia, was once a prospect. But he couldn’t beat the world-class fighters he faced and was winless in three bouts dating back to 2017. Ortiz, age 39, a last-minute substitute, had lost his last seven fights and 14 of 17 dating back to 2015. To be fair, the 14 guys Ortiz lost to during that stretch had a composite ring record of 230-13-5 at the time he fought them. He’s a classic “opponent.” KO 3 Robinson.

And that was boxing in Philadelphia on February 26, 2022.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. 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.

 

 

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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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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