The following is an excerpt from pages 74-76 of Shot at a Brothel: The Spectacular Demise of Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena, by Patrick Connor (Hamilcar Publications, August 2021)
Bonavena botched a proposed showdown with George Foreman, inconveniencing Boston promoter Sam Silverman in the process.
With the Foreman fight all but signed and done for October of 1972, Bonavena’s brother-in-law Roberto alleged the fighter attacked his wife Dora and subsequently punched Roberto on the street in Buenos Aires a month before the scheduled date. Bonavena later called it a “family discussion,” and Dora denied anything happened. But something happened substantial enough for Silverman to tell reporters Bonavena’s marriage problems killed the Foreman bout, and the couple quickly separated.
Bonavena then hooked up with promoter and manager Loren Cassina, a Canadian fight promoter with television and broadcasting experience, including involvement in arranging the WBA’s heavyweight tournament. Right on cue, six months later, Bonavena attacked a tourist and broke his jaw in two places in Mar de Plata, a coastal resort town. Witnesses told police Bonavena fled the scene, and gossip hit the Argentine tabloids quickly, saying he was old and not really a fighter anymore, just a celebrity.
Boxing, never short on predators or prey or predators who become prey, still had plenty to offer someone like Ringo. In New Jersey, Bonavena hooked up with trainer Jimmy De Piano and adviser Sid Peskin, a former fighter whose primary claim to fame was holding the New Jersey record for quickest knockout in a professional bout.
Bonavena then passed on an opportunity to face Jerry Quarry at the Garden when Earnie Shavers pulled out in 1973, claiming he needed more time to prepare, making for only the second time in a decade there was no July show at the famed venue. The truth was Bonavena’s legal issues and failure to pay taxes affected his visa in Argentina and authorities wouldn’t let him travel in time to make the fight. He faced four journeymen on a weak U.S. tour instead.
Ron Lyle’s handler Bill Daniels set up a Bonavena fight for Denver in 1974. Whether Bonavena knew it or not, this was his final big chance. Before Bonavena could leave Argentina this time, however, police apprehended him and threw him in jail for aggravated assault on that tourist. Bonavena claimed he simply pushed Norberto Bombicino, an architect, but witnesses told police the fighter harassed a young lady and Bombicino tried to defend her. So Bonavena walloped the man, injuring him badly enough to put him out of work for several months. Bombicino sued for $15,000 and Bonavena was let loose.
Lyle, two years older than Bonavena, had limited time to make an attempt at the heavyweight throne. He hired Chickie Ferrara, a New York-area cutman and trainer who worked Bonavena’s corner years earlier.
An undisclosed “liver ailment” sidelined Bonavena and postponed the fight, and the fight again almost derailed at the last moment when Oklahoma promoter Pat O’Grady claimed to have Bonavena under contract. He unsuccessfully petitioned the Colorado State Athletic Commission to have Bonavena suspended. It was Bonavena’s typical madness.
After far too many snafus, the fight went forward and the fighters delivered a spirited but sloppy battle to a record Denver crowd. Lyle walked away with a hard-fought decision victory and around $7,000 as Bonavena took a puffy eye and nearly $30,000 with him.
Ken Norton, the heavyweight division’s uncrowned champion who broke Ali’s jaw and handed “The Greatest” his second defeat, appeared likely to face Bonavena in 1974 and again the following year before injuries and wasted time ensured it couldn’t happen.
Apart from Patterson and Lyle, the fourteen opponents Bonavena faced after Ali combined for a 210-152-18 record. These fighters didn’t present the challenge Bonavena needed to truly improve in his late twenties and thirties, sixty-something fights into his professional career—all habits, good and bad, had been firmly established. His opposition wasn’t going to earn him great praise in the fight community either. That Bonavena remained in The Ring’s top-ten heavyweight rankings in 1970–71 and 1973–74 was due to a thinning, top-heavy division.
Whereas Firpo sought to share his glory with fellow Argentines, Bonavena wanted to escape to the United States. After facing Ali, Bonavena only fought twice more at Luna Park, and by then all his talk about leaving Argentina behind echoed far. He fought three times in Italy, the home of his ancestors, “gladiators in Rome,” he said.
Juan Perón had once again risen to power in Argentina, but as Bonavena fought in Italy, Perón died. His wife at the time, Isabel, assumed the presidency. The following year, Argentina’s military began planning a coup as rebel groups attempted to seize a portion of Northwest Argentina. The entire ordeal brought the country, and most travel to and from it, to a standstill.
By the time Oscar defeated Raul Gorosito in his final Luna Park appearance, De Piano remained the last holdout keeping Bonavena from utter collapse. The Argentine had become something of a womanizer in addition to a tendency toward chomping cigars and drinking booze.
“[De Piano] say, ‘no drink, no smoke, no women.’ Fifteen days before fight I no touch girls,” Bonavena told Washington Post writer Sally Quinn. And he meant girls; Bonavena liked very young women, right around eighteen or nineteen years old.
“I don’t understand [Aristotle] Onassis,” Bonavena said. “He got so much money. Why he got old girl?”
Bonavena scored a points win over Gorosito and stuck around just long enough to field what he said was a legitimate offer from promoter Don King to fight Ali in June of 1976, several months away. As soon as he could, Bonavena left Buenos Aires for the last time. He headed for Las Vegas, where George Foreman’s clash with Ron Lyle would take place in January, promoted by King.
The Confortes and Mustang Bridge Ranch were in Nevada, too.