It has been tried many times, by many folks. Boxing historians will remember “Leapin” Lou Messina, Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe and, most recently, Anna Beth Goodman, the wife of actor John Goodman. Throughout the colorful history of boxing in the New Orleans area, there have been many efforts to raise boxing awareness here and to develop national and world championship contenders.
When you have catchy nicknames, there is always a story.
Legend has it that Messina got his nickname by leaping into the ring to try to stop his fighter from taking a beating.
Legend has it that LaCombe got his nickname after a Willie Pastrano fight. Seems Lacombe went out of town watch Willie Pastrano fight a boxer from a town called “Cut and Shoot.” Figuring that no one from a town of that name could beat such a good boxer as Pastrano, Lacombe bet his plane fare back to New Orleans on Pastrano and lost. Lacombe had to hitch a ride all the way home, thus, the legend of the bad luck associated with “Black Cat.”
Undaunted, Pastrano went on to win world championship titles. In fact, June 1 was the 50th anniversary of Pastrano capturing both the WBA and WBC light heavyweight titles when he edged Harold Johnson in a split decision as the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada.
Along with Pastrano, New Orleans has produced some excellent fighters over the years. Ralph Dupas, Jerry Pellegrini, Chuck Mince, Paul Whittaker, Dominick Carter, Tony Licata, Melvin Paul, John Duplessis, Anthony Stevens, the late Jerry Celestine, Clifford Etienne, Ronald Weaver, James Scott and Philipp Brown. Many of those fought for some form of title.
Most were trained and/or promoted by one man.
Les Bonano lacks a nickname though he has helped provide nicknames for many of his fighters. Bonano is the most significant promoter in New Orleans boxing history, all things considered.
Now 70-years young and in his fifth decade of managing and promoting fighters and boxing cards, Bonano retains his love of the game and he returns to his hometown with a boxing card at the Best Western Landmark Hotel Grand Ballroom in Metairie (2601 Severn Avenue) this Thursday night, June 6 at 7:30 p.m.
The card features the main event, pitting Marcus McDaniel of New Orleans (8-0) against Tristan Todd of Memphis (8-2) in a middleweight tussle.
The co-feature features females Sydney LeBlanc of Gretna (2-0-1) against Latasha Burton of Houma in a four-round super middleweight bout.
In other matches, former area star Will McIntyre is making a return to the ring, along with three other matches. Mcintyre is a former NABA Super Middleweight champion.
James Harrison (2-2-1) of New Orleans takes on Asa Dalphone (3-0) in a four-round junior welterweight battle. Regis Prograis (4-0) of New Orleans takes on Adauto Gonzales (10-8) of Austin, Texas and in the heavyweight division, Bobby O’ Bannon (10-5) of Mobile battles Terrance Marbra (6-3) of Dade City, Florida.
“I really believe there are many exciting fights with guys trying to prove themselves and make a name for themselves,” Bonano said. “All should be highly competitive, tough fights. This will be the toughest fight for Marcus. if he wins, he has a chance to move up to bigger main events. Our women boxers are both ranked in the Top 10 in the WIBA (Women’s International Boxing Association).
Bonano frequently boxing gyms and hangouts at a young age with his cousin, Angelo Brocato, an amateur boxer. He got the fever.
Bonano got involved in the sport officially in 1974, when he saw an opportunity to offer troubled young adults a way out through the sport, getting inmates at Orleans Parish Prison to take up the art. Bonano was the chief investigator for the New Orleans Parish sheriff’s office. He created championships within the prison, a goal, something for young men to compete for.
By 1976, Bonano took his passion to the public domain as a promoter and match-maker. Bonano became prominent on the national scene, managing emerging fighters and he was named as a member of the USA coaching staff in international competition.
In recent years, Bonano teamed with former Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz to start an amateur boxing program in Kenner at the Old Wentwood Gym on Furman Street in an attempt to introduce young people to the sweet science and further the cause of the sport in the area.
Bonano has been involved with promoting cards on the Gulf Coast with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes and Roy Jones Jr. and Michael Nunn, to name a few. He staged a card at The Landmark in 1986, featuring future world champion Evander Holyfield, which I covered.
This is the first big card in the New Orleans area since October of 2012 at the Big Easy. Bonano put on a card featuring boxing and Mixed Martial Arts bouts on May 17, 2008, when Bonano put on a card at Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center.
“That is a great venue but there are cost issues,” Bonano said. “This is our first card at the Landmark in about 14 years.”
While MMA has taken a stronghold in the hearts and minds of many fight fans in America, Bonano is still bullish on the future of boxing in the United States.
“MMA is a good watch, a good discipline,” Bonano said. “Boxing is still the tradition, the purest form. Good boxing is interesting. Great boxing is compelling. We have put on cards with both disciplines. I don’t look at MMA as competition.”
The Best Western Landmark Hotel Grand Ballroom used to be the mecca of boxing in the New Orleans area, housing stellar fighters, including Holyfield, Paul, Celestine, Tyrell Biggs, Buster Drayton, Bonecrusher Smith, Whittaker, McIntyre, Aristead Clayton and Carter.
Bonano and boxing enthusiasts are hoping that Thursday night’s blast from the past is not the last of its kind.
“We are hoping it goes over big-time,” Bonano said. “We would love to put on many more cards here in the future. We’d love to find a home and have cards every quarter of the year and develop fights like we used to.”
Spoken like a man with a storied past who still has game.