Shot at a Brothel: The Spectacular Demise of Oscar ‘Ringo’ Bonavena
By Chris Akers
Oscar Bonavena, alongside the likes of Carlos Monzon and Nicolino Locche, was one of many world-class boxers in the 1970s from Argentina.
‘Ringo’, called because of his resemblance to the Beatles drummer, was also a maverick who walked his own path, said what he thought, paid little deference to nobody, and was determined to be paid his worth.
Like several boxers during that period, his life outside the ring was as destructive as the punches he threw outside it and his demise was as sudden as it was unconventional.
His most well-known fights against Joe Frazier, who he fought twice (he nearly stopped Frazier in the first fight), and Muhammad Ali were preceded by insults towards both men – insults that occasionally bordered on the racial. He also lost to Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis and Ron Lyle.
Yet victories over Karl Mildenberger in the WBA heavyweight tournament, George Chuvalo, and Zora Folley in their rematch (after losing to Folley in his 15th fight) demonstrate that he was more than capable of holding his own against high calibre fighters in arguably the greatest era in heavyweight history. He was tough too, with Ali been the only man to stop him, and that was in the final round.
Disputes with his trainer and manager were common, and for a guy who at times used his fists on others outside, he hated to be touched himself, injuring trainer Charley Goldman as an elderly man because Goldman had tripped him.
Although the title of this biography by Patrick Connor (published by Hamilcar) gives away how his demise came, the story is no less compelling. The book is just over 100 pages, which considering how remarkable Bonavena’s life was, could be seen as not enough content to fully describe the richness of the life Bonavena led. However, Connor does a good job of describing the many memorable aspects of his life without the story feeling too rushed when you read it.
Something that the book does well is juxtaposed the story of Bonavena with the history of the man, Joe Conforte, and the brothel that would play a role in his death. Telling both stories side by side gives a sense of inevitability as to the outcome of both stories. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t surprises throughout, such as Conforte’s interest in promoting fighters.
In short, Shot at a Brothel is a good telling of a boxer who sometimes gets lost amongst the more glamourous names of 1970s heavyweight boxing. Yet his story is as shocking and has as many twists and turns as the fights that took place between the big men during that period.
It is a quick read, but it doesn’t mean it’s a cheap read, and Shot In a Brothel, even to those who know about Bonavena, will be a satisfying read.