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The Hauser Report: The Return of Deontay Wilder

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The Hauser Report:  The Return of Deontay Wilder

Deontay Wilder, as expected, confirmed his status as a major player in the heavyweight division with a one-punch, first-round round knockout of Robert Helenius at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

Wilder, age 36, had fought twice in the preceding 34 months and been knocked out each time by Tyson Fury. Those fights showed that Deontay is exciting to watch, brave, and tough. They also showed that, while he takes a good beating, he doesn’t take a particularly good punch. And his defensive skills, such as they are, are rooted in his offense.

In some ways, Wilder’s irrational, mean-spirited response to his first defeat against Fury caused as much damage to his image as Fury’s fists did. After that loss, Deontay claimed that the costume he’d worn during his ring walk was too heavy and had robbed him of his strength. Then, without evidence, he accused Fury of fighting with loaded gloves and referee Kenny Bayless of either being drunk on fight night or taking part in a conspiracy against him. Finally, again without evidence, he claimed that Mark Breland (his trainer at the time) had tampered with his water bottle and prematurely stopped the fight.

All of that ran counter to the narrative that Premier Boxing Champions (Wilder’s promoter) was trying to build in support of the notion that Wilder is a role model. After Deontay’s second loss to Fury, in the pursuit of image control, PBC issued a statement in his name that read in part, “I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed in the outcome. But after reflecting on my journey, I now see that what God wanted me to experience is far greater than what I expected to happen. We didn’t get the win, but a wise man once said the victories are within the lessons. I would like to congratulate Tyson Fury for his victory and thank you for the great historical memories that will last forever.”

That was preferable to the diatribe that had followed loss number one. But then, when asked by Brian Custer during a September 2022 interview whether he would consider a rapprochement with Fury, Wilder replied, “Nah, never, because I know the truth behind that. I don’t condone cheating and shit like that. I know that no matter what people say. You got analysts that say, ‘If he did have something in his glove, why did you not go to the authorities?’ Why the f*%! would I go to the authorities when I have an opportunity to release my own energy and put my hands up on him in the possibility of trying to kill him and get paid millions of dollars doing it. Okay, go to the authorities and they lock him up. Then what’s next? That’s it. We proved our case. Nobody getting fed. What justice has that done? That don’t make no sense.”

In sum, people have grown accustomed to strange ramblings from Wilder. Indeed, in a February 2022 podcast with Byron Scott, Deontay addressed his decision-making process regarding his ring future with the advisory, “I’m thinking about doing Ayahuasca [a psychedelic tea that originated in South American religious rites]. That’s gonna be my decision-making process. Boxing’s put a bad taste because of what it’s done to me. It’s dangerous, politics, cheating.”

Here, one might note that Healtline reports, “Those who take Ayahuasca can experience symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, feelings of euphoria, strong visual and auditory hallucinations, mind-altering psychedelic effects, fear, and paranoia. Some experience euphoria and a feeling of enlightenment while others go through severe anxiety and panic.”

Sounds like a plan.

Then, in May, Wilder announced during the unveiling of a statue in his honor in his hometown of Tuscaloosa that he would fight again and proclaimed, “I’m coming back on popular demand because that’s all I’ve been hearing from high and low. From homeless people all the way up to millionaires. You feel me? It’s just been an amazing feeling. So many people reaching out, telling me it’s important because, without an American, heavyweight boxing really isn’t exciting.”

Later, Deontay augmented that sentiment to include, “I knew that I had to come back because I motivate and inspire so many around the world. What really got me back to this point was like, damn, the world really needs me.”

The designated victim for Wilder’s comeback fight was Robert Helenius. Born in Sweden, now living in Finland, Helenius had compiled a 31-3 (20 KOs) ring record marked by two victories over Adam Kownacki and marred by stoppage losses at the hands of Gerald Washington and Johann Duhaupas. During the Wilder-Helenius promotion, he was hyped as “Finland’s finest” (which is a bit like being a snowball’s warmest).

Helenius had never beaten a world-class fighter and wasn’t about to start on October 15. If one were to take a computer and design a perfect opponent for Wilder to stop in two rounds or less, Robert would be the guy. Years ago, I described him as having the movement of a stalagmite. Now 38 years old, he had gotten slower and easier to hit since then.

Wilder had sparred with Helenius numerous times preparatory to fighting Tyson Fury. That experience confirmed that Helenius was a “safe” opponent. Very safe. The feeling was that this would be a payday for Deontay, not a test.

Neither Wilder nor Helenius attended the August 30 kick-off press conference at Barclays Center, addressing the media electronically instead. Later, Deontay declared, “October 15 is the return of the king. My second reign is going to be filled with joy and excitement for me and those who support me.” Wilder also advised, “I want to get back to the big fights and to giving the fans what they want to see. I’m doing it for the people this time.”

One might question whether charging $74.99 to see Deontay fight Helenius on pay-per-view was doing it for the fans or to the fans.

October 15 promised to be a long night at Barclays Center with eleven bouts on the card. The first fight was scheduled to begin at 5:00 PM. The four-bout pay-per-view telecast didn’t start until nine o’clock.

The early undercard bouts were contested in a virtually empty arena and distinguished by the fact that, in one of them, both fighters (Keeshawn Williams and Julio Rosa) wore pink trunks.

In the first pay-per-view bout of the evening, Emmanuel Rodriguez dominated Gary Antonio Russell throughout the fight. Then, in the latter stages of round nine, Russell headbutted Rodriguez, who suffered a cut beneath his right eye and fell to the canvas, stunned. Rodriguez appeared to be in no condition to continue. But inexplicably, referee Benji Esteves (who has Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Michael Perez and Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache on his refereeing resume) allowed the fight to go on. Fortunately, there were only fifteen seconds left in the round. Rodriguez survived those seconds, after which Nitin Sethi (chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission) stopped the bout. The fight went to the scorecards because it had been terminated as the result of a headbutt (ruled “accidental” by Esteves – a questionable determination) and Rodriguez won a lopsided unanimous decision.

Then Frank Sanchez stopped Carlos Negron in round nine of a predictably one-sided fight that referee Ricky Gonzalez stopped at precisely the right time.

That was followed by the co-featured bout of the evening – Caleb Plant vs. Anthony Dirrell in a fight styled by the WBC as a 168-pound title-elimination contest.

One year ago, Plant had a 21-0 record with 12 knockouts and was the IBF 168-pound beltholder. Then he learned the hard way in a knockout defeat that Canelo Alvarez is better than Caleb Truax, Vincent Feigenbutz, and Mike Lee (the guys Plant had defended his title against).

Dirrell, who came into the bout with a 34-2-2 (26 KOs, 1 KO by) ring ledger, is seven years older than Plant. Eight years ago, Anthony held the WBC 168-pound belt before losing to Badou Jack in his first title defense.

At the August 30 kick-off press conference, Dirrell had played the role of loud-mouthed instigator, calling Plant a pussy, etcetera, etcetera, and so forth. His infantile behavior continued through the final pre-fight press conference.

Plant took it all in stride, responding, “I definitely feel there’s a lot of jealousy there. I don’t give a fuck about where he’s from or what he says. That don’t mean nothing to me. When I beat him, it will be because I’m better than him. But he already knows that.”

Plant was an 8-to-1 betting favorite.

The fight began with Dirrell, the quicker man, looking to counter. Plant kept trying to get untracked and make something happen but couldn’t. Dirrell fought a chippy fight, fouling repeatedly in the clinches. That should have earned a warning followed by a point deduction but didn’t. Finally, in round eight, Plant took matters into his own hands and threw Dirrell to the canvas during a clinch.

Meanwhile, Dirrell had slowed down and was posturing more than fighting. The boos from the crowd were raining down.

In round nine, the boos turned to BOOM!

Plant hooked to the body and followed with a hook up top that landed flush on Dirrell’s jaw, rendering Anthony unconscious. Immediately after the knockout, with Dirrell still out cold, Caleb pantomimed shoveling dirt onto his grave.

Bad feelings between the two? Absolutely! Dirrell had been shooting off his mouth throughout the promotion as though he were to have the final word on the subject. He didn’t.

Then it was time for the main event. Wilder was a 7-to-1 betting favorite. His presence at the top of the card made the evening a happening even if Wilder-Helenius didn’t shape up as a competitive fight. That said; ticket sales had been slow. It took steep discounts and a lot of freebies to fill in the lower regions of Barclays Center. No celebrities were shown on the big overhead screen at ringside.

It should also be noted that no sport other than boxing starts its signature competitions a half-hour after midnight. Fans who had arrived at Barclays Center when the doors opened had spent more than eight hours in their seats when the bell for round one of Wilder-Helenius sounded.

They didn’t have to wait long afterward.

Wilder is a vicious puncher with an aura of menace about him. Opponents know that he wants to hurt them, short-circuit their brains. And with a single punch delivered at any time, he can do it. His record (now 43-2-1 with 42 knockouts) stands testament to that fact.

This was the first time since 2019 that Wilder had fought someone other than Tyson Fury. It had to be a relief for him to see someone other than The Gypsy King standing across the ring from him when the bell for round one sounded. Helenius had promised to bring his A-game. And maybe he did. But the fight was about Deontay, not Robert.

Helenius moved forward clumsily at the opening bell behind a pawing jab that he brought back slowly and low. Wilder bided his time; waited until Helenius leaned forward head-first while overreaching with a lunging left to the body that fell short; and closed the show with a compact righthand that landed smack in the center of Robert’s face at 2:57 of the first stanza. Referee Michael Griffin didn’t bother to count. Helenius was unconscious before he hit the canvas.

As for what comes next; on September 6, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman announced that the winner of Wilder-Helenius would face Andy Ruiz in a final elimination bout to determine the mandatory challenger for Tyson Fury’s WBC title. If Fury were to retire, presumably Wilder-Ruiz would then be for the WBC belt. Or the WBC might engage in some sort of slight-of-hand nonsense, designate Fury a “franchise” champion, “super” champion, or some other kind of champion, and proclaim that the winner of Wilder-Ruiz will be the WBC “world” heavyweight champion.

Twenty-nine men held a recognized version of the heavyweight championship between 1885 (John L. Sullivan) and 1979 (Larry Holmes). Then the world sanctioning organizations and their enablers took control of boxing. There have been 53 claimants since then. That’s 29 champions in 94 years as opposed to 53 “champions” in 43 years. Those numbers speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, a lot of knowledgeable people think that Deontay Wilder is the second-best heavyweight in the world today. I’m one of them.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. 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.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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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