The game of boxing has a protracted historical past in New Orleans. The Crescent Metropolis equipped many greats to the game — 10 boxers are members of the Better New Orleans Sports activities Corridor of Fame, in addition to one legendary coach and one boxing official.
Whereas success within the candy science is usually outlined by victories within the ring itself — world championships, title belts and Olympic medals — none of that success could be potential with out the help of a staff of execs: managers, promoters, trainers, minimize males and extra. And in New Orleans over the previous 50 years, no single particular person has had extra of an affect on the game and the person contributors than Les Bonano, a person who has held all of these roles for prizefighters of all ranges.
“I’ve had the chance to work with lots of nice individuals in boxing,” Bonano mentioned. “And I used to be a sponge. I needed to know the whole lot. I discovered from everybody that I may — Vincent Arnona was an important New Orleans coach and a legendary minimize man — he taught me the whole lot he knew. I feel I had success as a result of I integrated strategies from all of the totally different those who I met and labored with.”
Bonano has managed, skilled and promoted excellent skilled fighters all through his profession. Dominick Carter gained the IBA mild heavyweight world championship with a first-round knockout in 1996; Paul Whittaker was a two-time NABF tremendous middleweight champion (1989, 1990); John Duplessis rose to No. 1 on the planet as a light-weight within the late Eighties beneath Bonano’s promotion; Anthony Stephens, who was a Golden Gloves champion, fought three totally different instances for world titles. The record goes on, however the important thing level stays — any top-notch fighters from the Louisiana area have Bonano connections.
Born and raised within the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, Bonano joined the New Orleans Police Division in 1965. He earned levels from Loyola College and St. Mary’s Dominican School whereas finding out part-time and dealing as a police officer.
In 1974, whereas working as an investigator within the Orleans Parish sheriff’s division, he was assigned to the Orleans Parish Jail, which was in important disarray on the time. Bonano began an athletic program, primarily targeted on basketball tournaments, in hopes of relieving stress throughout the jail. This system labored, and inmates approached him about further choices, together with boxing.
Rising up, Bonano participated in a variety of sports activities, together with taking part in soccer at Fortier Excessive College. Whereas he was not formally a boxer, his cousin Angelo Brocato was a outstanding beginner boxer, and he commonly introduced Bonano to the boxing gyms on the town. To not point out that his hard-scrabble neighborhood necessitated him growing abilities together with his fists.
“I in all probability had extra fights beneath my belt than any of the boxers, however they have been all road fights,” Bonano mentioned. “However yeah, I knew boxing once I began this system on the jail.”
His inmate boxing program proved immensely profitable. A kind of impacted by this system was heavyweight Philip Brown, who developed so shortly that Bonano obtained particular permission to carry him off jail grounds for beginner fights. Brown later superior to the nationwide Golden Gloves finals (dropping to George Frazier’s son Marvis Frazier) and the nationwide AAU finals. Brown’s spectacular performances earned him a spot on the USA nationwide staff that fought a Russian squad within the Superdome — and he gained his bout.
“After that, we took Brown to Cuba in 1979 for a combat in opposition to the legendary Teófilo Stevenson [a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist],” Bonano remembered. “No one needed to combat this man. He was an animal! However Philip went down and put up an important combat however misplaced on a choice.”
One other “graduate” of the inmate program, Jerry Celestine, would discover skilled boxing success with Bonano in his nook. He shocked Vonzell Johnson, the No. 3 mild heavyweight contender on the planet, in a 1977 combat at Municipal Auditorium and went on to a really profitable professional profession. He additionally fought for the WBA world mild heavyweight title in opposition to Michael Spinks in 1982.
The success of the inmate program led to Bonano opening a health club on Broad Road. Along with coaching fighters, the health club had a profitable youth program, giving younger individuals alternatives in basketball, baseball and boxing.
One in every of Bonano’s early fighters, Melvin Paul, had a nationally televised combat in opposition to Héctor “Macho” Camacho in 1982. Two years later, Paul fought for the IBF World Light-weight Championship in Atlantic Metropolis the place he floored Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown with a giant punch within the fifteenth spherical.
“Melvin thought he had the combat gained,” Bonano remembered. “He ran to the opposite facet of the ring and was calling out to his spouse and celebrating on the ropes. The gang was going loopy, however Brown was one way or the other standing up. I used to be screaming at Melvin to knock him out, however he couldn’t hear me. Brown wobbled on his ft for about 30 seconds and was saved by the bell. Melvin was robbed on a break up resolution.”
Bonano was ubiquitous in space boxing, managing and coaching fighters in any respect ranges and selling boxing occasions all through the area. He labored with legendary promoters Bob Arum and Lou DiBella to carry among the greatest boxers on the planet, together with Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, Jr., Larry Holmes and Roberto Duran, to the Gulf Coast area for fights at On line casino Magic in Bay St. Louis.
“De La Hoya and Jones fought on the identical card in a 5,000-seat tent at On line casino Magic in 1993,” Bonano mentioned. “Arum pulls me apart and provides me De La Hoya’s verify for the combat. He tells me I would like to offer it straight to Oscar and never his supervisor. His supervisor tried the whole lot to get the verify from me, however I gave it to Oscar. I discovered later that De La Hoya was firing his supervisor and Arum knew it — he additionally knew that no person would bully me into giving them the verify.”
Now 78 years previous, Bonano has stepped again from selling, however stays concerned within the combat recreation. After greater than 50 years of working behind the scenes and bringing recognition to others, Bonano is now receiving well-earned recognition for himself as an inductee into the Better New Orleans Sports activities Corridor of Fame.
“That is such an incredible honor,” he mentioned. “I’ve gained some awards, however this would be the biggest in my life. I’m very excited. It means a lot to me; it’s laborious for me to clarify. I can’t put it in phrases.”
The Better New Orleans Sports activities Awards Committee started in 1957 when James Collins spearheaded a bunch of sports activities journalists to type a sports activities awards committee to immortalize native sports activities historical past. For 13 years, the committee honored native athletes every month. In 1970, the Sugar Bowl stepped in to sponsor and revitalize the committee, resulting in the creation of the Better New Orleans Sports activities Corridor of Fame in 1971, honoring 10 legends from the Crescent Metropolis in its first induction class. Whereas including the duty of choosing Corridor of Famers, the committee has continued to acknowledge the highest beginner athlete within the Better New Orleans space every month – the honors enter their sixty fifth 12 months in 2021. To be eligible, an athlete should be a local of the larger New Orleans space or should compete for a staff within the metropolitan area.