Author Patrick Connor lays out the promise of all three right there in the title of his first book, “Shot at a Brothel: The Spectacular Demise of Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena,” before delivering on the promise in a breezy, entertaining one hundred pages.
When boxing fans think of the golden ages of the sport, it never takes long for the heavyweight division of the 1960s and 70s, headed by Muhammad Ali, to join the conversation. Part of what rendered the era remarkable was the depth and variety of talent through the Ali years. Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, and Larry Holmes were all part of the era at different points and all accompany Ali on the walls of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Argentina’s Bonavena represented the hazards of the next tier just below the championship level and moves from colorful co-star to full lead in Connor’s drama. As the title indicates, “Shot at a Brothel” is as much about where Bonavena ended up as it is about how he got there. Connor still makes the journey worthwhile while constructing a parallel narrative to set the stage for the finish.
As much as this is a biography of Bonavena, it is also a bit of a biography of the founder of the infamous Nevada brothel, The Mustang Ranch, Joe Conforte. Connor makes that clear early in the text when he notes:
Deep insight isn’t necessary to understand the rough path that led Bonavena to Reno and into the contractual grip of local sex kingpin Joe Conforte, whose able goons guarded his beloved Mustang Ranch. Boxing has always been filled with unsavory characters; it’s a world fighters are comfortable operating in. “It’s the flame,” Bonavena told Reno reporters...
Divided into three parts, Connor starts in the early 1960s and the beginning of Bonavena’s career while also painting a picture of boxing in Argentina. The legacy of 1920s heavyweight challenger Luis Firpo and the contrast of flyweight Pascual Perez with a heavyweight hopeful like Bonavena are well contextualized. Names like Tito Lectoure and places like Luna Park are a rich piece of boxing’s global history that may be new to readers who haven’t explored that corner of the game deeply. Bonavena might have been a co-star on the global heavyweight stage, but he was all of the star at home.
Connor fits all of this in while still managing to capture the heavyweight era as well. The second stripping of Ali by the WBA and subsequent tournament to replace him creates space to explore fights that might not otherwise get a second look. There are also solid looks at the Bonavena’s stumbles against Joe Frazier, lone knockout loss to Ali, and the careful game of rebuilding Bonavena between losses.
The difficulty experienced in managing Bonavena comes across strongly in the book. Bonavena’s monetary demands and temperament cost him big fights along the way, including what would have been a showdown with George Foreman.
In constructing the book, Connor makes a wise choice in how he introduces Conforte to the story. His story only gets a couple pages in the book's first part, gets larger chunks of the second, and then takes the lead as part three unfolds. His establishment is where Bonavena met his fate at the hands of one of the Mustang Ranch security guards.
How Bonavena came to be there is worth the read. Connor doesn’t draw unnecessary conclusions or offer unfounded inference; instead, the author opts for providing the facts, what isn’t known, and lets the story rest where it finishes. Readers who want to see the Ali era from a less explored angle, with a story that stands on its own, are well served with this read. It can be found on Amazon or at www.hamilcarpubs.com.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com