Pellegrini, Pugh, Bonano represent triple crown of New Orleans boxing

  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon

The sweet science has not been so sweet in recent years in the New Orleans area.

Gone are the days of excellent local fighters and cards at Municipal Auditorium.

Gone are the days of world championship fights in what is now Caesars Superdome.

Gone are the days of full houses under the chandelier at the Landmark Hotel Grand Ballroom.

Gone are the days of nice crowds at the Pontchartrain Center and other venues.

The emergence of MMA and the lack of an outstanding promoter and champion of the sport, along with the lack of overall great interest in the sport has left the science in the lab, not seen or out in public.

The primary force in the sport over a period of four decades was promoter, trainer and manager Les Bonano.

Two of the pioneers of bringing the sport to relevance and notoriety locally were Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini.

Pugh passed away in January with his funeral taking place on January 27 at the age of 81.

Bonano passed away on May 22 at the age of 79.

Pellegrini passed away this past week on July 12 at the age of 78 from the effects of pulmonary fibrosis.

Les BonanoBonano was instrumental in starting a prison boxing program which produces many good fighters and helped provide an avenue back to society.

Les was a great friend who produced superb boxers, including Jerry Celestine, John Duplessis, Dominick Carter, Phillip Brown, Paul Whittaker, Melvin Paul and Anthony Stephens, among others.

Bonano staged cards throughout the New Orleans area and on the Gulf Coast for many years. As a result, he was honored with induction into the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.

Pugh was a lightning-fast welterweight.

“The Black Cobra” not only had fast hands but he was quick to defend and, in his prime, seldom got hit squarely due to his vast ability to avoid punches, making the opponent miss.

A pure boxer, not a fighter, Pugh’s style was evidenced by having just eight knockouts among his 47 wins.

Pugh finished an 18-year professional career (1957-1974) with a 47-30 record which was tainted by the fact that he lost his last 10 bouts, an indication that he likely hung around too long in the ring.

Percy Pugh

Trying to find opponents for Pugh was tough. Percy fought twelve opponents twice, sometimes three times.

As a youngster, I saw Pugh fight Billy Backus at the Rivergate. Pugh avenged a loss to Backus in Syracuse, New York by winning a unanimous decision in New Orleans on June 16, 1969.

The one other time I saw Pugh fight was on March 3, 1968 at Municipal Auditorium.

The opponent was Jerry Pellegrini.

Pugh had beaten Pellegrini by unanimous decision on September 21, 1967 at Municipal Auditorium.

Pugh and Pellegrini agreed on a rematch which clearly created interest in the sport from both the African-American and Caucasian population of the metro area.

At time of uneasy times racially, Pugh and Pellegrini helped bridge the divide rather easily with their character and easy demeanors.

They were both really fine men who respected each other.

They were both fine boxers who respected their craft.

They both went on to be fine in their respective workplaces, be that in the barber shop, driving buses, training boxers or in the automobile body shop.

In the ring, Pugh was clearly better, besting Pellegrini by unanimous decision in the rematch as well.

Pellegrini’s career spanned 11 years (1961-1971). He retired due to a hand injury which would have required hand surgery. Pellegrini opted to retire, instead, and concentrate on becoming a barber.

“The Barber” posted a solid 28-12 record, with most of his fights at Municipal Auditorium and at the St. Bernard Civic Center.

Pellegrini started his career incredibly well, winning 18 of his first 21 fights.

Then came Pugh, who clearly blocked Jerry from progressing further.

Pellegrini walked away from the sport in 1971, having lost four of his last five bouts.

Like Pugh, he remained in the community.

Like Pugh, he was loved and respected.

Bonano’s funeral was a celebration of life with so many prominent person of the sport and from the community paying respects to a wonderful man.

Pugh’s funeral at New Israel Baptist Church attracted many who loved and admired him.

One of those was Pellegrini, who wanted to honor his friend.

Pugh and Pellegrini were a perfect pair to bridge the divide of people of different backgrounds but truly had so much in common.

For the common good, they forged a great friendship.

If alive, Pugh would be at Pellegrini’s funeral which is set for next Tuesday, July 19 at St. Bernard Memorial Funeral Home at 701 West Virtue Street in Chalmette.

Public visitation is from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. with the funeral to follow.

If still with us, Bonano would likely be there as well.

Jerry PellegriniPellegrini leaves behind a loving family. He was together with the love of his life, his wife Helen Donnelly Pellegrini, since he was 14. They were married over 59 years and it would have been 60 years on January 19. Also left behind are children Jerry Jr., Kerry, Dawn and Tara as well as eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren with another on the way.

Dawn has tremendous emotional feelings about her father.

“My dad was unbelievable,” Dawn said. “He had a huge heart. He was a gentleman who was so good to others. He raised us right. He was very strict with us. He loved us all dearly. He was a bus driver, a barber, a boxer. He loved kids. He loved everyone. His passion for people was special. He loved his community. He cared passionately for St. Bernard and Orleans Parish.”

What will Pellegrini be remembered most for?

“His family always came first,” Dawn said. “He will be most remembered for his gentle kindness, his sense of humor and his selflessness. He was so special to so many people. He was so loved. He and Percy became good friends and so admired each other. Heaven gained three champions this year with dad, Percy and Les.”

While New Orleans has had its fair share of boxing greats, Pugh, Bonano and Pellegrini were the virtual triple crown of the sport here. They hit it out of the park and their presence will be missed but felt for many years to come. Pellegrini may have swung and missed Pugh but he stole every base of the hearts of those who knew him.

  • < PREV Alvin Kamara’s record-setting pace is unprecedented
  • NEXT > Recruiting: St. Augustine EDGE Jah'rie Garner commits to Tulane

Ken Trahan


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

Read more >