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Home Boxing A Diplomat in a Sport of Takers and Fight Makers
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A Diplomat in a Sport of Takers and Fight Makers

 

bonano_marks_mcintyre[1]GROWING UP...IN ”DEVIL'S ELBOW”

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in a neighborhood called ”Devil's Elbow,” Les Bonano learned young how important sports and their related counterparts, youth activity leagues and clubs, were to impressionable, vulnerable kids growing up.

The ”Devil's Elbow.” Those words may have immediately conjured up an image or two in your mind's eye. And you are probably not that far off. A rough area, riddled with crime, provided plenty of opportunities and invitations to become involved with undesirables and illegal activities. Luckily, Bonano was far too busy with school, sports and family to have time to waste on anything else. He went to Catholic school, attended the church in his town and always had access to good influences and people he enjoyed being with.

However, nobody's perfect in an imperfect world and sometimes you have to fight. Sometimes, you don't have a choice. Bonano had his share of neighborhood scuffles and troubles, but no more than the average kid. He credits his parents strength and moral fortitude for keeping him focused and on the right path.

“ That's what people need today. The majority of people don't have that. A lot of kids don't have it at home – tough love. That's why I think there is so much crime and so many problems.” -Les Bonano. 

It's true.The roles of parents and children have been diluted through the years. This has much to do with the development of numerous media sources such as television, Internet and wireless communication, thus giving kids more information, more independence and, consequently, more power over their environments. But a child is a child and, no matter the generation, there needs to be a positive and strong parental presence at home. Bonano Sr. was from a different school and knew what hard work and discipline gained; being a carpenter and construction worker. Les’ mother was a homemaker who, along with Les’ father raised two more sons and a daughter. 

Growing up, Les was active in all the sports programs that were offered during his years of schooling. Bonano was involved in baseball, basketball, football and track and field and on the weekends, he was always at a boxing gym with his cousin Angelo Brocato.  Angelo was an amateur boxer and also boxed in the military where he won a lightweight title in 1958. He broke his eardrum during that time which prevented him from entering the professional ranks in boxing. Two of Brocato's more notable contemporaries, also from Louisiana were Willie Pastrano (WBC/WBA world light heavyweight champion) and Ralph Dupas (WBC/WBA world light middleweight champion).

”I got out of school around 3:30 pm and then ball practice until 6:00 pm.” said Bonano. ”By the time I got home, I had to catch three different buses and do homework. By then, there was no time to go to the boxing gym. I didn't have my own transportation. It was impossible to train on a regular basis but on the weekends, I was a gym rat!“ Brocato took Bonano to just about every gym in the New Orleans area.

Les has been married for 48 years (to the same woman) and has a family of his own. The Bonano's have two sons and two daughters as well as nine grandchildren." My wife is a Homemaker and Mother of my children and she spends most of her time caring for her nine grandchildren; her mission in life. His son Deano, much like his father, has taken a responsible role in his community as well. Deano is the Director of Emergency Management for Jefferson Parish; working in other capacities as well. Les’ other son is an electrician. His daughters are a career nurse and a child psychologist in her own practice, respectively.

THE POLICE ACADEMY...THE LAW ENFORCEMENT YEARS

“I always wanted to help people. I was always involved in the community and I got involved in law enforcement out of a sense of duty.” continued Les. And just like Les, a lot of the kids he went to school with then became involved in law enforcement when they were older.

In 1965 Les entered the New Orleans police academy and  thereafter was assigned to the districts in the New Orleans area. Several years in the district lead to Bonano’s transfer to the detective bureau. As a detective, he was detailed to the criminal sheriff’s office where gaining information on violent street crimes was a priority. In 1981, Bonano retired from the New Orleans police department. Bonano was then hired at the New Orleans Parish sheriff’s office as chief investigator. The sheriff’s office was responsible for the care, custody and control of the New Orleans prison which grew to a population of over 6,000 inmates.

Bonano made an obvious decision to pursue his education in law & criminal studies. He completed his post secondary degrees while working in the police department during the day and pursuing his studies on a part time basis in the evenings. First at Loyola college in New Orleans (1969-71) , where he received an associates degree in corrections and then at St. Mary's Dominican in New Orleans (1971-75) , where he got his bachelor of science degree in criminal justice.

Initially, Bonano's involvement with boxing started from a need to develop a boxing program for the inmates (while detailed to the criminal sheriff’s office in 1974) in an exceptionally violent and problematic facility. The program enabled inmates to channel their anger and frustrations into a physically competitive endeavor. What started out as a sports program within the prison turned into an inter-institutional boxing association. Now there are boxing programs in many prisons across the United States; some competing with each other for prison association titles.

Two fighters that were former inmates of New Orleans Prison and products of the boxing program, Jerry Celestine and Philipp Brown, were examples of the positive influence of boxing on inmates. From 1982 on, both men stayed out of trouble and neither were repeat offenders. Bonano went on to promote both fighters (Celestine died in 2008).

James Scott and Clifford Etienne were not rehabilitation success stories. After turning pro and fighting for a few years, Scott ended up back in prison. He fought Jerry Celestine and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (formerly Eddie Gregory), beating both as well as Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Yaqui Lopez while incarcerated in Rahway State Prison, New Jersey (the Celestine and Muhammad fights were on national TV). Etienne competed with a great amount of success but succumbed to the perils of drugs and alcohol and went on a crime spree. He was back in prison by 2006. Bonano and Etienne had already parted ways in 2003 after ”The Black Rhino’s” knockout loss to Mike Tyson. Even at that point, Bonano says , “He (Etienne) lost his focus and dedication. He wasn't showing the kind of commitment that's needed to compete at that level. I didn't want to deal with it anymore. I had to let him go.”

PROMOTING AND THE FUTURE

Bonano has been involved with boxing in New Orleans since 1976, with both amateurs and pros. By the early eighties, he was already involved with boxing on a part-time basis. Whether he was helping to develop a prison boxing program or developing the largest amateur program in the state of Louisiana, he has always been a dominant and positive force in boxing in Kenner and in Louisiana as a whole. While participating in other capacities, such as a trainer, cut man, manager or promoter, Bonano was named a member of the USA coaching staff in international competition. With such a proud distinction, Bonano states that he was very fortunate in being trained by Vincent Arnona who was probably the best cut man and trainer in the New Orleans area; learning from the best in the process.

Bonano has put on cards throughout the Gulf Coast; More recently, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi at the Hollywood Casino (formerly Casino Magic), where fighters the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes as well as countless others have headlined.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, Bonano's boxing shows on July 24th and July 25th, 2009 were the first events of any kind to be held in the venue since it was re-opened. The shows were appropriately called ”The Return to the Ring.”  Bonano has held shows at Lakefront Arena, Municipal Auditorium, the Best Western Landmark Hotel in Metairie, The Theater for Performing Arts, Mudbugs (Gretna) and the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. The Belle of Baton Rouge, the Grand Casino in Marksville and the Grand in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi were also many of Bonano’s favorite locations for his promotions. Bonano promoted Michael Nunn in the last four fights of his career before Nunn went to prison. Two were at the Grand in Gulfport and Biloxi and two in Elizabeth and Bridgeport, Indiana at Caesar’s Casino. Nunn won all four fights.
 
As you can imagine, Bonano has worked with numerous fighters in all walks of life. The following are just a few of the names of professional boxers that Bonano has promoted (Les Bonano INC./ ”Brawlin' in N'awlins”) and worked with over the years. Some of his fighters fought for national and/or world titles while others were successful in their bids to become champions.

Dominick Carter, Louisiana: 1996, IBA world light heavyweight champion, knocking out Rocky Gannon in the first round (up until Carter, Willie Pastrano was the last fighter from Louisiana to become light heavyweight world champion.). Carter also fought for the WBU intercontinental light heavyweight title, the IBA cruiserweight title and the NABF light heavyweight title.

Phillip Brown, Louisiana: Won national titles as an amateur and his fight in Cuba on ABC against Teofilo Stevenson was probably the crowning point while representing the United States. Bonano promoted Brown for his first eight professional fights in which Brown went unbeaten.The two separated and Brown went on to prosper as a pro under the direction of Phil Daley of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Jerry Celestine, Louisiana: Fought for the WBA world light heavyweight title in 1982 against Michael Spinks on network TV (following the fight, Spinks declared , ”That's the hardest I've been hit in my life!”). Celestine fought Eddie Mustafa Muhammad in Lake Tahoe on an ESPN special in Sylvester Stallone's first boxing promotion and faced  James Scott in Rahway Prison, New Jersey on national TV. Celestine fought light heavyweight Marvin Johnson in the Superdome. Johnson won a decision and went on to fight Mate Parlov for the title.

Paul Whittaker, Louisiana: 1989/90-NABF twice NABF super middleweight champion and fought Christophe Tiozze for the WBA world super middleweight title in Arles, France. Whittaker fought Wilfredo Benitez in 1986 at the Superdome and lost a very controversial decision.

John Duplessis, Louisiana: 1987-WBA Continental Americas lightweight champion. While promoted by Bonano, Duplessis rose to the number one ranking in the world.

Anthony Stephens, Louisiana: 1985-National Golden Gloves welterweight champion.  Professional titles won: 1993-IBC world light middleweight title, 1994-USBA welterweight title, 1995-WBA world light middleweight title, Stephens fought Felix Trinidad (IBF world welterweight title), Raul Marquez (IBF world light middleweight title), Luis Ramon “Yory Boy” Campas (IBF world light middleweight title), Martin Verdin (Louisiana state light heavyweight title), other notable opponents: Fernando Vargas and Will McIntyre and Livingston Bramble.

Will McIntyre, Louisiana: (law enforcement officer in Folsom/Los Angeles) 2000-NABA super middleweight champion. 2008-IBA Americas light heavyweight champion.(“Brawlin' in N'awlins ”-Pontchartrain Center, May 17, 2008.). Fought for IBA Continental Americas super middleweight title (against Dana Rosenblatt at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut) and the WBO super middleweight title (against Joe Calzaghe in Denmark). Won the Louisiana state super middleweight title (against Ronald Weaver). Also faced Omar Sheika.

Aristead Clayton, Louisiana: 1991-National Golden Gloves bantamweight champion, 1992-National Golden gloves flyweight champion, 1992-U.S. amateur bantamweight champion. Professional titles won: 1995-WBU international super bantamweight championship, 1996-WAA  world super bantamweight championship, 1996-lost a 12-round decision to Mbulelo Botile from South Africa for the IBF world title. 1997-IBA Continental Americas super bantamweight championship, 1998-NABF super bantamweight champion, fought Willie Jorrin in 1999 for the NABF super bantamweight title but lost.(was featured in THE RING magazine’s “New Faces” column in 1996)

Clifford Etienne, Louisiana: While serving time in Louisiana State Prison, he boxed for the “Gunslingers” team), 2000-IBA continental heavyweight champion, 2000-NABF heavyweight champion (KO Nation-HBO), 2001-IBA Americas heavyweight champion and fought for the WBA  intercontinental heavyweight title in 2005 against Nikolay Valuev but lost. More notable wins: Lamon Brewster and Lawrence Clay-Bey on HBO.  Other opponents of note: Francois Botha, Mike Tyson, Calvin Brock and Fres Oquendo. In 2006, was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Ronald Weaver, Louisiana: 1997-IBA world light middleweight champion, 2001-IBA continental light middleweight champion. Fought for WBF world light middleweight title, NABF light middleweight title, IBA continental middleweight title, Louisiana state super middleweight title (twice).

Melvin Paul, Louisiana: Four-time Southern AAU gold medalist , three-time Louisiana Golden Gloves champion, 1978 and 1980 National. AAU lightweight champion, 1980-National Golden Gloves lightweight champion, 1978-represented the U.S. in world amateur championships (lightweight). Professional titles fought for: IBF world lightweight title, WBC Continental Americas lightweight title and notable opponents : Hector Camacho, Vinny Pazienza.

Jeanne Martinez, Louisiana: heavyweight, 14-6, 1999-WIBA lightweight champion. Opponent of note: Christy Martin.

Rodney Moore, Houston: 17-6, 2002-NABA light heavyweight champion.

Steve Martinez, Houston: 1997-NABF light middleweight champion (successful defense against Ronald Weaver), 2004-NABF welterweight champion and fought for WBU world light middleweight title, NABF welterweight title (against Vernon Forrest), IBA  Americas welterweight title.

After an approximately 10-year stint in boxing, Bonano returned to law enforcement in 2003 as chief investigator for the State’s Attorney’s general office. During his tenure, the state of Louisiana was hit with the largest hurricane disaster in U.S. history in August of 2005: Katrina. As chief investigator, his role was investigating as well as prosecuting price and gas pump gouging, illegal activity such as looting and burglary of businesses and residences. Today, he is involved in security consulting.

“In 2007, I was back promoting. But after Katrina, everything shut down as boxing goes, up until May of 2008 (May 17, 2008, Pontchartrain Center, Bonano Promotions), there were no fights, no fighters, no shows...there was nothing happening.“ said Bonano. His first show back was at the Pontchartrain center, which is very fitting, because as a promoter and boxing historian, the city of Kenner is his most favorite place to hold shows. The center is his favorite because of its location. The facilities are intimate and the neighboring casino make it an ideal place to hold fights. “Brawlin' in N'awlins”, Bonano's promotion, has staged both boxing and MMA fights on his cards in Louisiana.  He has held shows this past year at the center in Kenner, Louisiana and at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi on July 24th and July 25th, 2009. These events were very well received and standing-room-only sell out shows. Bonano's next fight card will be October 3rd at the Hollywood Casino.

BRINGING BOXING BACK TO KENNER

Ed Muniz, mayor of Kenner and director of the largest carnival association in New Orleans (New Orleans Mardi Gras captain/founder) and founder of the largest carnival group in 1966, “Krewe of Endymion” (more than 2,100 maskers are members and participate), has been involved politically and culturally in Louisiana for a lifetime and, more specifically, Kenner. Who better then to help breathe life back into the great sport of boxing? And what better place than the city that hosted the first sanctioned world heavyweight championship fight, under the "Marquis of Queensbury" rules.

History of boxing in Kenner, Louisiana.

“Carnival of Champions”- ”Gentleman” Jim Corbett vs. John L. Sullivan – September 7, 1892: Was three days of boxing culminating with the Corbett/Sullivan fight. At the “Olympic Club” in New Orleans, Louisiana. The legendary lawman ”Bat Masterson” was timekeeper for the event. It was the first gloved ( 5oz. ) world heavyweight championship fight under the  “Marquis of Queensbury” rules.

A historical event for prizefighting, the three-day boxing festival at the “Olympic Club “ in New Orleans, Louisiana, was a fully sanctioned boxing event (no police interference). Although there were still anti-pugilism laws in place in Louisiana, the stage was set for change. It set the precedent in favor of boxing as a legitimate sport and business venture. 10,000 fans came to the newly-erected, electric-lighted, professional sports arena and a national network of media was set up to capture each blow and consequence of the biggest sporting event of it's era. Telegraphs, telephones and newspapers sent results to saloons, clubs, theaters and newsrooms around the country. Boxing had now become big business and a part of civilized society. Corbett knocked out Sullivan in the 21st round.

(Unverified boxing lore: a bare knuckle championship fight was held in Kenner, Louisiana in 1870. It was held on the banks of the Mississippi River in the southern part of the city. According to the news media at that time, there were over 1,000 people in attendance. The match was between two British boxers.)

Mayor Ed Muniz and Les Bonano have combined their efforts and experience to start an amateur boxing program in the Wentwood Adult Complex (the old Wentwood Gym, #2 Furman St., off the corner of Emerson St., Kenner, New Orleans, Louisiana). Paul Whittaker, a former amateur and professional fighter, who was promoted by Bonano, runs the daily operations of the gym and the Kenner youth boxing program. Johnny Powell, a former fighter, and restaurateur Joey Labella round out the committee for Muniz and Bonano. They believe that the new complex and programs will revitalize boxing in Kenner as well as the greater New Orleans area. Bonano goes on to say, “Introducing the sport of boxing to a new generation of athletes and developing the amateur ranks will ensure that the professional ranks will always be full of talent and, hopefully, future champions!”  Bonano is also an amateur boxing consultant for the Kenner recreation department; which is headed by Ken Maroccoli.

”P.A.L. will, no doubt, be present and accounted for. The Police Athletic League has always been a strong and guiding force in boxing; whether it be in youth centers, sponsored boxing tournaments or the professional ranks,” informs Bonano. ”It also gets kids informed and involved at an early age in a responsible capacity while helping to safeguard their own communities. It will give them something to do in the afternoons and it has been a great success so far. It has only been up and running for four months now and there are already kids training and boxing in the amateur program. It's more than just a training facility. It will have educational programs and medical services and there will be a game room for the kids who just want to hang out somewhere safe and have fun.”

“I had a great day yesterday. I was fishing all day.”

Still residing in Kenner, Bonano has dedicated his entire life to the state and the town he grew up in. Still making a difference in the community, making it a safer and better place for families, kids and everyone. Shortly after finishing this interview, I spoke with Les and we talked about the article and more about Louisiana and boxing. While I was listening and still writing things down, I think I got the answer to the question I always ask when I talk to people like Les. People you read about or hear about that have tirelessly pursued and accomplished so many important and wonderful things for our communities and ultimately, for the greater good of society. The question being: How? (It makes me tired just thinking about it; never mind writing about it!) The answer in this paragraph’s bolded header lies within something he said simply in conversation with confidence and ease.

E-mail Margherita at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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