|The Good Son is now a Boxing Hall of Famer|
The wait to enter the Hall was longer than his career and by his own admission, Mancini wasn’t exactly pacing by the phone waiting for the call. But this is the Hall of Fame, and few fighters achieved the level of recognition that Mancini did in the 1980's. As one of the final matinee idols on network TV in boxing, the Youngstown born and bred brawler reached a level of stardom that extended beyond the numbers on his 29-5 record. His career was rather short (he retired for the first time at 24), he only held one world title belt, and his lone victory over a Hall of Famer came against a watered down Bobby Chacon. Some will dispute his merit for induction, but he doesn’t particularly care what they think.
Mancini always cared what his father thought though. Behind Boom Boom’s career lies a deep bond with his father Lenny. Seeking to bring home the world title his World War II veteran father could not, his journey to the championship was one of great personal triumph that cannot be fully be put into perspective by the numbers. The infamous 1982 bout with Deuk-Koo Kim cast a tragic shadow over his career too, one which has lingered through the years. By now, Mancini seems to have outwardly reconciled the event and has even met with Kim’s family in his own home (though not in Korea as erroneously believed). The impact of that fight on boxing reforms in the mid to late 1980's can be disputed, but as title bouts eventually shrunk to 12 rounds and the sport slipped away from network TV, Mancini stands out as being one of the last members of an important, bygone era in boxing.
At 53, "Boom Boom" is still as charismatic as ever and he has plenty left to accomplish beyond boxing. Finally back home in Youngstown, Ohio again, he’s focused on family and a new passion in film. Come induction weekend though, Mancini the fighter will step into the afternoon spotlight once more, a fitting time to honor one of the sport’s most popular midday mainstays.
|Mancini is back in boxing on TV|
Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini: Before the big fights, they ask me to give analysis about how I think the fight will go and who will come out victorious, and then we do a post-fight recap after the fight, like whether or not it went as I expected it to go. I really enjoy it. I enjoy talking about something I know about—or at least I think I know about it! It’s been very good so far.
KOD: The boxing world wants to know, who wins Mayweather or Pacquiao?
RM: Both fighters are special. What both have achieved is remarkable. But I believe Mayweather wins in an exciting fight, because he is bigger, faster and stronger. That is the trifecta in boxing. Having those advantages over your opponent is usually the difference.
|Mancini hopes CBS will follow NBC's boxing comeback|
RM: Yes. I’ve been around boxing for a long time now, but if Haymon walked into a room, I couldn’t tell you who he was. Here’s a name I’ve been hearing and reading about forever but I couldn’t tell you who he is. He has this mystique about him. Nobody knows where he’s at. There’s a few pictures of him online and I think I know the face, but friends say “Ray, you know who he is!” and I say “No, I couldn’t pick him out of a crowd!” That’s intriguing to me. You’ve got a guy who is as strong as he is in the business, who has as many fighters as he has, but you never see him in the corner or in the ring, and he stays out of the public eye. There’s something about that I like. Haymon is pulling the strings, yet he stays in the background. He’s the puppet master.
KOD: This deal with NBC could be huge for boxing. It has been awhile since there has been boxing consistently on network TV. Do you think that boxing as a whole should take a look at Haymon’s approach and try to tread further into network TV waters?
RM: I’ll be able to answer that after the first couple of fights. I certainly like the business model. He’s taking a hell of a chance to buy the time, pay the network, and sell it for promotional time. I admire that very much. It takes chutzpah. If it hits, he looks like a genius. So far, it seems to me that anything he touches turns to gold. You’ve got to admire that. What’s more amazing to me is how does he get these fighters to sign with him? How? What does he offer them? As far as I know, he hasn’t offered them a whole lot. He promises fights. Does he deliver? I don’t know. I’m interested to see, but it’s a great thing for boxing. I’ve said this for a long time. People often ask me, “what does boxing have to do to get back to where it was?” And I’ve said, without network television, we’ll never have the same popularity we once had. Never. Now that NBC is back in the game, maybe my old network, CBS, will do the same.
RM: People often ask me “don’t you wish you were fighting now as opposed to then?” And I say yes and no. If I got paid according to how many people I put in seats and the TV ratings I did, yes. I got exposed to over 6 million people domestically, over 100 million people worldwide on network television. With pay-per-view and cable, there are 30 million homes capable but with a two percent buy rate considered a success, it’s only half a million people. The visibility is much less. I’m a fight fan, but I can’t tell you half of the guys. I know the names, but I can’t tell you the faces. That’s what network television does. That’s why it will benefit these guys fighting on network television now. Going back to what you said about boxing popularity, here’s what you need to know. In 1985, network television was paying a half-a-million dollars rights fee to show a fight. In 1995, they were paying $80,000. A little different. Why? Because there’s a lot of bad fights. Corruption has always been a part of the game, but it started coming out. People got exposed, fighters had blown up records, Don King got exposed for putting mismatches on to get fighters on TV. When that came out, sponsors did not want to touch it. Since then, it’s hard to get back in again. Part of it is that they want to know what they’re buying. That’s why this deal with Al Haymon is a great deal for them. They’re just getting paid and if he hits the lottery, great.
If not, they still get paid. It’s a win-win for everybody.
KOD: You were managed by Dave Wolf during your career. He was a very smart guy who managed Donny Lalonde and others, making an impact on the sport both as a manger and a writer. He passed away in 2008, but what do you recall about Wolf?
RM: Dave was the best. I loved Dave Wolf. I know how he felt about me. When I met Dave, the fact that he was a writer and had so many other interests, he came to boxing from a different route. He wasn't difficult. I liked that about him. He was very educated, very, smart, a brilliant man. He looked at boxing differently than most. That’s what I loved about Dave. He was a salesman who invested in me. I’ll never forget what he told me. I got offered some money by some local wise guys to fight with them. They were going to rent me a car, an apartment, give me a weekly salary. I asked what they’d do for me and they told me they’d get me an agent to book my fights—Dave said, “look, I’m not going to offer you anything. You’ll have to move to New York, and you’re going to have to sleep on the couch until you make enough money to get your own place. I’ll loan you money, but eventually when you start making money, you’ll have to pay it back. The bottom line is, I don’t want you to have to owe me anything and I don’t want to owe you anything. You do your job and I’ll do mine, and I’ll get you the world title.” I said “that’s all I want to hear.” And that’s how we did it.
|A great man and his good son|
RM: My father is the one who never wanted me to fight. He tried to talk me out of it in the worst way. He told me, “Raymond, I had to fight, I had to eat, but you have so many other opportunities.” I had an academic scholarship for college, I had a professional baseball offer—I had other opportunities. But I said, “I want to win the title for you.” That’s always been my dream, my goal. People always ask me when I wanted to become a fighter, but that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.
I’ve been very fortunate to live out my dream and share it with my father. I always heard about how my father should have been, could have been, would have been world champion if not for World War II. I wanted to be champion for him. He was a hell of a father and a hell of a fighter.
|Times change and so do people|
RM: My father didn’t like Ali for that reason. I didn’t either until I got to meet Ali. When I got older, I realized how brave it was of him to do what he did. Whether you agree with him or not, it was incredibly brave. I admire the man. He has his principles and he stuck with them. Whether I was OK with it or not is irrelevant. My father thought that everybody should serve their country when called upon. Whether it’s right or wrong, he believed that. World War II was quite a bit different than the Vietnam War, and a lot of the old timers have that against Ali. There are all these reasons I didn’t like Ali, but I was a Joe Frazier fan. I like that style of fighting, I love to see a guy come forward. I don’t want to see guys taunting and all that, doing the rope-a-dope. He’s the only one that has ever been bigger than the sport. He’s a cultural icon. Now I understand, he was the first to bring psychological warfare in the game. He beat guys down mentally before he beat them physically. He was so far ahead of his time, but as a kid, I was a Frazier fan so naturally I didn’t like him. When my father met Ali, he really liked him. He thought Ali was an interesting character and they got along great. My father developed a great fondness for him.
KOD: In terms of making your Dad proud of you and living the boxing life that he could not live because of his service to America, which was the bigger achievement: winning the WBA world lightweight title or reaching the International Boxing Hall of Fame?
RM: I think winning the world title. I would never have been in the Hall of Fame if not for the title. One precipitates the other. Winning the title was everything, my lifelong dream. When I got the call about the Hall of Fame, I was totally surprised. I didn’t think I fought long enough to warrant it. It didn’t concern me. I don’t mean that in a flippant way, but if it happened it would be a wonderful dream come true, but it didn’t consume me. I never thought about it much. When I got the call that I made it, I said “wow, that’s something.” I told the reporter like I'm telling you, I didn’t think I fought long enough to warrant it, but he told me “look, you’re one of those guys from the early 80's. Without you, boxing wouldn't be what it is. Without you, Sugar Ray, Ali, Marvin, Duran, Pryor, Camacho, I don’t think HBO or Showtime would be where they are today. It’s not the quantity of the career, it’s the quality of the career.” I’ll buy that, I'll take that. I’m very flattered. I know my parents are smiling and I know my family and my city is very happy. When that day comes, it's going to be wonderful, something I can’t explain, a dream come true.
KOD: Have you heard much controversy about your election to the Hall of Fame?
|Mancini is in the company of greatness|
|Duk-Koo Kim fights for his life in the championship rounds|
RM: No. A lot of people say my fight with Kim changed it, but I say it didn’t. They started talking about it then, but it took four years before the WBC pulled the trigger on a knee jerk reaction. If my fight changed it, then it took a long time to come around. That was a TV decision, not a medical decision. I’ve talked to neurologists and brain surgeons and I’ve found out that there is no substantiating proof—none at all whatsoever—that more damage is done in the last three rounds as opposed to the first 12. There have been fatalities in 12 round fights too. It was a TV decision not a medical decision. They wanted 12 rounds fights so they had an opening and a closing if a fight went the distance so it wouldn’t go over into the local newscast. They had to finish and say “that’s it ladies and gentlemen, goodnight.”
Once people understand that, then they’ll understand why it’s 12 rounds now.
|Reno was a favorite of Ray's|
RM: I know I didn’t fight Bobby when he was Bobby, I beat an old version of him. I know that, trust me. But he had enough when he beat Boza and Bazooka Limon in their fourth fight. Look, I love Bobby, he was one of my favorite fighters. Just like when Rocky Marciano fought Joe Louis. He loved Joe Louis. I loved Bobby Chacon, so it was hard for me to fight him. But, it’s a business, what was I to do? I know I didn’t get vintage Bobby, trust me, I know that.
KOD: Three years after that fight, rocker Warren Zevon wrote a song about you called “Boom Boom Mancini.” I’m sure you’ve heard it, but did you play any role in its production?
RM: The song was written and it had already come out when I got a call from Chris Mancini, Henry Mancini’s son, who was an executive over at the record company. He called me to see if I had any problem having a song named after me and I said no. Zevon was one of the original alternative artists and I loved his music. He had so many great hits. The fact that he thought of me to write a song was incredible. I was very honored.
|Mancini's first title shot|
RM: No, I would never have taken the fight if I couldn’t put on a good show. I was in it to win the world title. I never thought I'd get another shot, just ask my father how many shots you get. I went there thinking I caught him at the right time. I was such a fan of Alexis, I loved him. I saw him when he fought Jim Watt, and he didn’t look very sharp. Now, Jim Watt is an awkward guy, but he didn’t look sharp. Alexis had a lot of wear and tear on him at that time. I fought Jose Luis Ramirez in the fight before and so I watched tape of when he fought Alexis. Ramirez fought Alexis in Miami in a non-title fight and dropped him twice and he should have gotten the decision but he lost a split decision. So with my strength and my enthusiasm, I really though I'd catch him at the right time and that’s why we took the fight. Experience took over.
KOD: As soon as the fight was over, Arguello exchanged some very heartfelt words with your father. What do you remember about that moment and what did it mean to you to hear this great champion say these things not just to you, but to your father as well?
RM: It meant the world. I tell people that if you look up the word “champion” in the dictionary, it’s Arguello's picture. Alexis exuded class inside and outside the ring—he was the personification of a champion. For him to do that was a beautiful thing and I appreciate it so much. He won the crowd and he won America over with the way he was. I’ll forever be indebted to him for that. Even though I lost, he took me to another place, to another level, and after that fight, I knew I’d be a world champion.
|"Boom Boom" beats Frias for the title|
RM: That fight is everything to me. That fight let me know I could be the world champion. Sometimes one round can teach you more than all the other wins. I went 14 rounds with Alexis but if was 12, I win the world title.
KOD: A fight that many fans would have loved to see was a super fight against Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor. What derailed that fight from ever happening?
RM: I wanted that fight so bad. Aaron did too. That’s a perfect example of styles make fights. If I fought Alexis the same time I had fought Frias, I think I would have won that fight too. I was hoping for a rematch with Alexis but he moved up. But the fight against Pryor, perfect styles. Strong guy, but I didn’t think he was going to be much stronger than me, and we both come forward. People seem to forget Aaron Pryor got dropped when he fought ordinary guys because he walked in with his chin up in the air. He’d get up and knock them out, but if he did that against me, I'd test that chin, knock him down, and keep him down. That fight would have been perfect for me. We almost had it made, but then the WBA made me fight Bramble. Instead of taking step aside money, which a lot of people would do at the time, they put pressure on the WBA to make me to fight Bramble right away. The WBA said “if you fight Pryor, we’re going to strip you of the title.” Without the title, the fight doesn’t mean as much. That world title was my baby. That meant everything to me. That’s how I made my money. And that’s why it didn’t materialize.
KOD: All in all, it turned out great for both of you and you’ll join him in the IBHOF this year. Do you have any other career regrets?
|"Bang Bang" Bogner was one that got away|
After I lost my title to Bramble, we were going to fight again in New Orleans. About ten days before the fight, I got a little cut over my eye. I laid off of sparring for a couple days, but the doctor said that after the first punch, it was going to open up. He said, “do you want to take that chance?” We already had the fight with Bramble lined up. At that point, the referees were pulling the trigger quick because of the fight with Kim. These guys were panicking, these referees, and a lot of them still do. So they said, “do you want to take the chance to give him a beating, or do you want to be a good business man?” my manager asked me. We just let it heal and went right to Bramble. Bogner kept talking about how I was ducking him, this and that, but I would have beat him like I owned him. I would have beat him good. That’s the one regret I have, not getting him in the ring and giving him the beating he deserved.
|The Good Son is a passionate film|
RM: If you get a chance to read the book “The Good Son” or see the documentary, they tell the story. Of course the fight bothered me. I had no love for the game anymore. I had no love and I wanted to get out, and once I had financial security, I got out. Any passion I had for it was gone.
KOD: Have you gotten that passion back in the years since?
RM: I don’t have a passion for too many things other than my wife, my children, and their pursuits. I’ve been producing films. I enjoy it, but for me, the passion is making something from nothing, seeing it come to fruition and come to screen. I have a passion for that. I’m not so sure I have a passion for the business or for acting, but I have a passion to create. That I enjoy doing.
KOD: Have you maintained any relationship with Kim’s family?
RM: A lot of people thought I went over there for his funeral but that did not happen. I didn’t go to Korea until 2005. They made a biography on him called “Champion” and the producers asked me to come over. I felt that the timing was right. His wife and son wanted to meet me. But when Mark Kriegel went there to do his research for the book, he said “I’m not leaving here until I speak to this kid.” Mark Kriegel was headed to the airport and they said the kid had finally agreed to meet with him. So he met with Mark at the airport in Seoul, Korea. Mark interviewed them and the son asked if he could come to meet me in America. If they would be willing to do that, I said “absolutely.” So they came to America and met me and we filmed that when they came to my house. What you see on screen is exactly how it happened because I told them, “you’ve got one shot. I can’t do this again. I can’t do this a second time.” I’ve read that too [stories about going to Korea for the funeral]. I wanted to, but we had people from the Korean embassy who said it wouldn’t be a good time. They couldn’t guarantee my safety.
|Mancini thinks he beat Camacho|
RM: It wasn’t hard for me because I retired when I was 24. I was able to comeback because I was still young enough. I was 28 when I came back to fight Camacho. I was 32 when I fought Haugen when I hadn’t fought for another three years. If it wasn’t for the Camacho fight, I never would have come back. That was the one fight I always wanted. When I got offered that fight, I said “yeah!” Plus, I knew I wasn’t fighting a world beater. He was no puncher. If it was a puncher, I might have said no. But, he wasn’t a puncher and it was a fight I always wanted, so I said that I’d live with the result but I don’t want to wonder “what if?” That’s why I came back, and I beat Camacho. It wasn’t a great fight, but it was a good fight and I beat Camacho. And then, when that fight was over, I was content and living my life with my two children.
I was doing an off-Broadway show in New York when they offered me Greg Haugen. Acting is a challenge mentally and emotionally, but not physically. I was only 32 but I was working out and in good shape. I wanted to see, for me, if I could train for a fight and get up for a fight the way I once did. As I found out, I could train the same way, but the training is just a dress rehearsal. I was beaten before I got in that ring. I felt so guilty about leaving my wife and my children and going to training camp. I used to go in the ring saying that one of us is getting carried out of here. Now I went in with the mentality, “please don’t let me get hurt.” My wife, my baby, they need me. I was in the dressing room with my assistant trainer Chuck, and I told him “Chuck, I don’t to be here. I don’t want to do this.” He said “yeah, it’s a hell of a time to tell me now, isn’t it?” Walking to the ring that night, I was like a dead man walking. I was beaten before I got in the ring. If it wasn’t for Camacho, I wouldn’t have come back. It was never something that I wanted. The Haugen fight was an ego thing. I didn’t know if I could still compete. But if I didn’t get offered the Camacho fight, no matter who they offered me, I wouldn’t come back. Even after the Haugen fight, I got offered another fight to fight for the WBO junior welterweight championship. This was one month later and I said to the guy “didn’t you just see me fight?!” And he said “yeah, yeah, yeah, but that wasn’t you.” I said “what do you mean it wasn’t me? If it wasn’t me, who was it then?! No, that’s me now. No, that’s it.” Ray Leonard retired three times. Look, he’s the greatest fighter of my generation. But are we going to remember him for the Camacho fight? I tease him all the time and say “Ray, you know it's time to retire when Camacho knocks you out because Camacho ain’t knocking nobody out.” Was that the real Ray Leonard that fought Camacho? The real Leonard would have slapped the shit out of Camacho, there you go.
KOD: We think of Las Vegas as the boxing capital, but 4 of your last 5 fights were in Reno.
How did you come to be fighting in Reno and whatever happened to boxing there?
RM: It’s a great fight city. The Corona family who owned the El Dorado Hotel and now they own the Silver Legacy, they owned the casinos and wanted to get Reno on the map. They’re the ones who bid hard to get me there. I don’t know whatever happened to it. It’s one of the best fight cities I’ve ever been to. They deserve it. They’re good fight fans and it’s one of my favorite cities.
KOD: It’s one of your favorite cities, but I’m sure another one has to be Youngstown, Ohio.
|Mancini has a passion for creating film|
KOD: You earned the nickname “The Good Son” because of your devoted relationship to your father. Are your kids carrying on that moniker in the next generation? Tell fans a little about your own children.
RM: I’ve been very blessed. I have two boys and a daughter. They’re great kids. They were asked when they were kids if they wanted to be a fighter, but I never told them what to say. It had to come from them. My oldest son said “No, I’m very proud of my father, but I want to make my name in a different field.” And my youngest said “no, my father did it because he had something to prove. I’m going to be successful in my own line of work.” They both set out on their own but they’re both proud of me and love me. They’ll be successful in whatever they do. My older son is an actor. You’ll be hearing about him, Leonardo “Leo” Mancini. My youngest son, Ray, is at Colorado State. He’s a very progressive kid. He has a lot going on for himself. He’s taking a fashion course, he loves fashion. He went on a basketball scholarship, but he got there and said “Pop, I don’t want to play. I don’t have the love for it like I need.” The fact that he was able to recognize that made me very proud of him. It takes a lot for a young kid to say that. I’m in love with my kids. Hopefully they feel the same about me. It's more important for me to be their champion outside of the ring than inside of the ring.
|The Future of Boxing|
KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli
Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.
Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli