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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Review of Shot in a Brothel

Shot in a Brothel: The Spectacular Demise of Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena
By Patrick Connor
Hamilcar Publications, 2021

Oscar Bonavena, an Argentine heavyweight who fought in the 1960s and 1970s, faced the likes of Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, and Floyd Patterson. Often acting like a heel, Bonavena developed a reputation for spending other people's money and being difficult to work with. In the ring against a certain level of fighter, his power masked a crude style. His life outside the ring increasingly became unstable before his death.

Patrick Connor provides an informative and entertaining look at the man nicknamed Ringo, one free from the type of sensationalism or romanticism that can detract from such an eccentric subject. Part one is fast paced and organized like an octopus. Staring at the end of a tentacle may not make much sense until you trace it back to the body of the octopus. By the second or third tentacle, you know what you're looking at and where it's going. Italian immigration, Luis Firpo, and Juan Peron invariably trace back to Bonavena in creative and revealing ways.

Parts two and three cover fewer topics but each is described in greater depth. The stories of Joe Frazier and Joe Conforte are told in parallel in part two. By part three, Conforte, the corrupt man who owned the fateful brothel, Mustang Ranch, comes into full view.

At first glance, none of this seems particularly relevant to fans of Jewish boxing, but Jews are littered throughout the early stages of Bonavena's boxing career.

Ex-fighter Charley Goldman, a future Hall of Famer best known for training Rocky Marciano, took on the challenge of teaching Bonavena when Ringo first reached American soil. Bonavena thanked the elderly Goldman by purposely tripping the trainer while he was trying to show his Argentine charge proper footwork. Dr. Marvin Goldberg, an optometrist who could speak Spanish, became Bonavena's manager; Ringo repaid him by vacuuming up the doctor's money. Madison Square Garden's legendary matchmaker Teddy Brenner featured Oscar on a number of shows at MSG before deeming Bonavena too difficult to do business with.

Bonavena even fought a Jewish opponent. Dick Wipperman, a New York-based heavyweight, became the first fighter to go the distance with the Argentine who had knocked out his first six foes. The bout was the main event at the Garden on November 13, 1964. Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano sat ringside. According to Connor, "Wipperman avoided him all night." New York Daily News' Dick Young explains, "Oscar Bonavena, the muscle-bound Argentine goombah, wanted to fight, but doesn't know how. Dick Wipperman knows how, but didn't want to." Even Wipperman later acknowledged that he "ran like a deer."

Fans of boxing history, particularly of the 1960s and 1970s, will enjoy Shot in a Brothel. Bonavena is usually portrayed as a supporting character in the lives of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but with this book, Connor skillfully adds additional context to one of the most exciting eras in heavyweight boxing history.

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