Article written by Thomas Rogersmay. Originally ran in The New York Times May 23, 1976.
Oscar Bonavena of Argentina, once a serious contender for the heavyweight boxing championship, was shot to death yesterday at a brothel a few miles east of Reno, Nev. He was 33 years old.
Bonavena’s body was found outside a locked gate of the Mustang Ranch Brothel, legal house of prostitution, where the fighter had been residing in a mobile home since coming to the United States last year. Joe Conforte, the owner of the brothel complex, said he had planned to promote Bonavena in a series of fights in Reno.
Sheriff Bob Del Carlo said that Willard Ross Brymer of Lockwood, Nev. a security guard at the ranch, was being held without bail for investigation of homicide. He said the suspect had made no statement.
“It will take us several days to piece this thing together,” said the sheriff.
Mills Lane, a deputy district attorney, said that Brymer faced charges for a previous incident in which he allegedly stopped passersby at gunpoint, forced them to lie on the ground and kicked them. Lane said that Brymer had three prior convictions on marijuana and assault charges. The sheriff said that Brymer hid inside the brothel for more than an hour before surrendering to the police.
The boxer’s death came one week after he complained to the police that his mobile home had been broken into. Bonavena said that personal effects, including his passport, had been destroyed.
In Buenos Aires, Bonavena’s widow, Dora, said that her husband had recently received death threats and that he told her by telephone on Friday that he planned to return home tomorrow.
“He asked me to pray for him and to understand that he could not flee like a coward,” she said, adding that she alone knew who had been causing his problems and that she would reveal the names “at the right moment.”
Sheriff Del Carlo said that Brymer lived in the same mobile home park as Bonavena.
Bonavena, the seventh ranked heavyweight contender according to the World Boxing Council, was “shot once in the chest with a high‐powered rifle. The weapon, a 30.06 caliber rifle, was found inside the ranch. The sheriff said he had been shot from distance of about 20 or 30 yards. The body was taken to Washoe Medical Center, where an autopsy was to he performed.
Bonavena, whose last fight was a 10 round victory over Billy Joiner in Reno last Feb. 26, won 56 of 65 fights during a 12‐year professional career. He scored 43 knockouts and was knocked out only once—in the 15th round by Muhammad Ali. After the fight at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 7, 1970, Ali said, “Bonavena is the toughest man I ever fought.”
Although he fought most of the prominent heavyweights he never was in a world championship fight. He gained the South American crown on Sept. 4, 1965, with a 12‐round decision over Gregorio Peralta in Buenos Aires.
In the ring, Bonavena was a rugged, wild swinging puncher with few boxing skills. He was usually well conditioned at about 205 pounds and was able to stand up to the hardest punches. He was well paid for his ring appearances and looked closely over his financial affairs, investing in a clothing store, a restaurant, a nightclub and a barbershop in Argentina. He was an immensely popular figure in Buenos Aires, where he was born on Sept. 25, 1942. He was married and had two children.
He scored victories over Billy Daniels, George Chuvalo, Karl Mildenherger, Zora Folley, Leotis Martin and Larry Middleton. He never lost two fights in a row. His nine ring losses were all to quality boxers. He dropped two decisions to Joe Frazier, although he knocked Frazier down a total of three times. He also lost to Folley, Jimmy Ellis, Floyd Patterson and Ron Lyle.
Special thanks to Roy Bennett of Vintage Boxing Archives