By Tom Donelson, BASN boxing writer
Updated: September 4, 2012
IOWA CITY, IOWA (BASN)–Mark Kriegel tells the story of Ray Mancini in his book The Good Son, The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini. Mancini was a fighter who truly belonged in the 1940′s just like his father, but found himself fighting in the roaring 1980′s. It was also a story of a changing America as Mancini’s hometown of Youngstown was moving from a blue collar town to a hollow out city in decline plus Kriegel wrote about Mancini’s major defining moment in boxing, his bout with Duk Koo Kim.
Boom Boom, Champ or Chump...
The story begins talking about Mancini’s father who was pretty good fighter in his own right and a contender but World War II interrupted his career and he suffered a near fatal wound that ruin his chance for a comeback when he got back to Youngstown. When he return home, he was not the same fighter and found himself fighting in a higher weight division. Ray moniker Boom Boom came from his father, whose fighting style was charge ahead and kick butt but his dad never got his shot as a title. His straight ahead style would be adopted by his son forty years later, whose goal was to win that title for his dad.
Ray was an athlete who excelled at all sport but boxing remained his first love as Kriegel noted that there was limited market for 126 pound running back in Ohio. Ray began boxing in earnest at the age of 14 as his hometown Youngstown declined to poverty status not seen since the Great Depression when the Steel factory close down and gambling became the biggest industry left in town; much of it illegal. Boxing was Mancini ticket out and he had the skills to make it happen.
David Wolf became Mancini manager and he was the most unusual fight manager, a trained journalist who wrote of sports and he was a quick study in the sport and along with Bob Arum, they promoted Mancini to contention as the All-American kid.
Arum viewed the lower weights as the new path in boxing as the Heavyweight division suffered a decline in interest after the Ali era ended. In the 80′s the superstars of boxing included Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “The Hit man” Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Ray Mancini, and all of these fighters belong to division below heavyweights. These were the Marques names of boxing and even today, Arum vision has proven to be correct as the lower weights continue to carry boxing in the United States.
Kriegel discussed the state of boxing in the 1980′s contrasting the days when the mob ruled the sport to the present era in which sanctioning bodies replaced the mob as the controller of the sport. Kriegel noted that while the sanctioning bodies were corrupt they resembled banana Republics and added that many of these bodies had ties to promoters like Arum and Don King. Bribery still worked as bagmen would get their cut to set up fights. Mancini got his first title bout when one challenger favored by one of the bag guys got a bigger pay day to “step aside” than Mancini got for fighting for the title. Mancini stopped Art Frias in one round and won the title denied his dad while becoming a superstar in the sport. An interesting note was his fight with Ernesto Espana.
Espana managed to get some big pay days, first for stepping aside to allow Mancini to fight Arias and another big pay day for the privilege of getting clobbered by Mancini.
The defining fight of Mancini’s career was his fight with Duk Koo Kim. Kim was a tough fighter who didn’t take a step back and for fourteen rounds, both fighters pounded each other. Mancini knocked down Kim down in the fourteenth round, but Kim collapsed as he struggled to get up and died a few days later. This fight affected Mancini, who was never the same fighter and this fight even ruined Ray’s public image. The great Sugar Ray Robinson admitted that his style was affected after he killed a man in the ring, so Mancini reaction was not uncommon. Kriegel followed Mancini rest of career including his victory over Bobby Chacon, his two losses to Livingston Bramble and his failed comeback after his first retirement; his attempt to establish an acting career.
Kriegel weaves a story that covers a fighter who fought to redeem his Dad and made it to the top as one of boxing popular star plus he added stories about Kim, who fought for his pride and family. Kim own story was a rise from poverty to being a boxing star but in the wake of his death; his mom committed suicide and his pregnant girlfriend own difficulty in collecting a portion of his pay. This fight affected two families who lived with the consequences. The book began with Bobby Chacon suffering from dementia meeting with Mancini and ended with Kim’s son who met with Mancini. Kriegel concluded with Kim son’s forgiveness of the man who killed his dad in the ring as he told Mancini, “Maybe now your family will be more happy.” Mancini, the Good Son, finally found his peace.