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A Wide-Ranging Discussion with Manny Pacquiao Biographer Gary Andrew Poole

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Manny Pacquiao began his ring career in relative obscurity fighting at 106 pounds as a flyweight, but became a global sensation and arguably one of the greatest fighters of all time.

At the apex of his career and power, Los Angeles-based journalist and author Gary Andrew Poole followed Pacquiao around seemingly everywhere. The result was Poole’s critically acclaimed 2010 book titled, “Pac Man: Behind The Scenes With Manny Pacquiao – The Greatest Pound-For-Pound Fighter In The World.”

Exhausting no doubt, but what was it like shadowing the Filipino legend?

“In reporting my book, I was covering his fights but also his life outside the ring. I followed him around in the Philippines as he ran for political office. It really felt like I was covering someone who transcended his profession,” Poole said. “Think Elvis [Presley] or [Muhammad] Ali. He would show up in the middle of a jungle and thousands upon thousands of people would show up to see him.”

Poole said it was incredible watching Pacquiao interact with his fellow countrymen.

“The adoration was crazy. Many of these people were incredibly poor,” he said. “He was always incredibly generous to them, always making sure he was giving them money or food.”

Poole was positioned ringside for countless Pacquiao bouts and ranks him among the five best all-time at the welterweight division.

One caveat for Poole, who penned a 2008 book on Red Grange titled, “The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange – An American Football Legend,” is that he, of course, didn’t see every great welterweight in the ring.

“Since I didn’t see them fight, it’s difficult for me to rate Manny against fighters from earlier in the last century,” he admitted. “But I also think that in boxing (opposed to other sports), the fighters of yesteryear are more equivalent to modern fighters.”

Poole, who received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and his master’s from the School of Journalism at Columbia University, went on: “So I can’t rule out [Sugar Ray] Robinson or [Henry] Armstrong just because they fought so long ago. Manny’s ranked No. 5 and the reason is because I think his fights in so many weight classes help him to stand out,” he said. “Given that Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] beat Manny, and finished his career undefeated, I can’t rank Manny above Floyd, who I have at No. 4 (I have covered a lot of Mayweather’s fights, too.)” Poole has Ray Leonard No. 3, while Robinson is No. 1 and Armstrong No. 2.

Gary Andrew Poole

Gary Andrew Poole

Poole went on and explained why it’s easier to compare boxers over the decades versus other sports like football, baseball or basketball.

“In most sports, athletes have become more skilled and more athletic because of diet, weightlifting and the rest,” he pointed out. “Not sure that is necessarily the case in boxing. In fact, the opposite might be true. Pre-1980s, fighters were in the gym and fighting constantly. I think the trainers were overall better, too. So I think they might have had more experience and skill.”

The clash everyone wanted to see was Pacquiao versus Mayweather in their respective primes.

It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, When the two did step into the ring on May 2, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, both were past their prime. The result was a lackluster unanimous decision victory for Mayweather.

“It really sucked that the fight didn’t happen earlier. The world waited and then the fight wasn’t great because the fighters were so much older,” Poole offered. “The delay really took a toll on Manny. Manny’s style was relentless. He took some punishment from [Juan Manuel] Marquez and [Antonio] Margarito. Given who he fought and his never-get-hit style, Floyd was much fresher when the fight actually happened. If they would have fought earlier, we could have seen a trilogy. It would have been epic.”

The best fighting the best has been an issue for boxing and it continues to be a thorny problem.

“I love boxing. It’s the best live sporting event on the planet. The athletes are incredible. Every few years a writer will arrive on the scene and proclaim that boxing is dead. It’s never going to die,” Poole suggested. “While it gets overlooked in the mainstream, it’s incredibly popular in many communities around the world. But it should be a much more popular sport. It’s hardly scratching the surface of what it should be.”

Poole gets specific and points to Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., two extraordinarily gifted and undefeated welterweights, a match that everyone in the boxing community is drooling over.

“Boxing couldn’t get Manny and Floyd in the ring during their prime. The same thing is happening now with Crawford and Spence,” he said. “Unfortunately, boxing gets in its own way.”

“I realize that there are a lot of people who love the insider-ish aspect of boxing. The intrigue among promoters and fighters is interesting for insiders but it’s way too damn complex for most people to follow,” Poole said. “I think all of the confusion creates inertia; no one can follow the storylines. In American pro sports, you have a season, playoffs and a championship. In professional soccer, you have league play, domestic cups, a regional cup and international competitions. The UFC has one belt holder in each division. It’s all very logical for the media. You need that sort of logic for good story-telling. In boxing, it’s virtually impossible to set up a match with the two best fighters. It’s ridiculous. Average people can’t understand it. Boxing should wake up and do a better job of giving the paying customer what it wants.”

“I don’t have the answers except that people would like to see the best fighting the best for titles. They want to understand the sport, and get to know the fighters and the trainers,” Poole said. “Back in 2009 to 2011, Showtime organized the Super Six World Boxing Classic, a super middleweight tournament. Andre Ward won the contest, unified the World Boxing Association (super title), World Boxing Council and The Ring super middleweight titles. Showtime did a great job of taking you into the training camps and building the stories. I really think that sort of buildup is the model boxing should follow for every weight class.”

Poole has more thoughts on how to make boxing even more appealing.

“Eliminate sanctioning bodies. Unionize the fighters. Create a structure in which the best fight the best,” he said. “Take away the notion that if you lose one fight, you’re not a good fighter because that means there is no incentive to have well-matched fights.”

Pacquiao fought professionally from 1995 through 2021, carving out a 62-8-2 record with 39 knockouts while becoming the only eight weight division world champion. He did take his share of hits in the squared circle but still has his wits about him.

Does Poole think boxers contemplate the punishment they absorb across a career?

“Some boxers think about it; some don’t. Boxing is a sport of poverty. Most fighters come from nothing. It’s usually their only way out. As boxing people, we all love blood and guts fights, but I don’t always think we celebrate technical skills,” he said. “A skilled fighter is often seen as a boring fighter. For the long-term health of the fighters, I would like to see a slight culture change. Let’s appreciate the skill as much as the knockouts. If a fighter is getting damaged, it’s okay to stop the fight and let them move on to the next fight.”

Poole offered more suggestions on how to make the manly art better.

“Boxing is too decentralized. There are too many competing interests. Centralization in other sports creates big television deals and media contracts and fans and influencers talking about the sports on social media. All of those outlets create a widespread conversation,” he said.

“Without any centralization, boxing can’t compete and it loses fans. If boxing doesn’t pit the best fighters against each other, it will continue to become a sideshow. Right now, the most talked about fights involve Jake Paul. I don’t have a problem with Paul and other reality stars getting in the ring – there is a long history of these kinds of fights – but boxing isn’t in a powerful position if those are the fights that the average sports fan is most passionate about.”

Another problem is that many people don’t even know who the champions are.

“Yes, it has way too many champions. Imagine if you had this same argument in basketball? It’s dumb and hurts the sport,” Poole said.

“I think [another] thing that hurts the sport is the judging,” Poole said. “Fans are cynical because the judges score fights poorly, but they continue to get assigned big fights.”

All of these negatives don’t outweigh why boxing still appeals to Poole.

“The people, from the fighters to the promoters, are incredible. I love how technical it is,” he said. “I’ve been to big events – the World Series, The Super Bowl, World Cup – but the atmosphere at a championship fight is really the best of them all.”

And that’s the glue that keeps the sweet science together and helps a virtual unknown go on to become a legend.

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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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