BLH interview: Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini discusses 'The Good Son' and his boxing career

Ryan Bivins speaks with former WBA lightweight champion Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, the subject of the new documentary 'The Good Son.'

Ryan Bivins

I'm on the phone with Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, former WBA lightweight champion, back when the division only had two recognized world champions and the WBA only had one title. After retiring for a third time in 1992 he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005, and has since been featured in two acclaimed documentaries. There was 'Triumph and Tragedy,' which came out in 2007, and now his latest documentary titled 'The Good Son,' which we'll be focusing on today and is available to the general public on iTunes.

So before we get started, Ray, how's it going? How's life in Youngstown?

Ray Mancini

Ryan, everything's going good, thank God. Things back in Youngstown right now are pretty good, though right now I'm mainly in southern California. Things are very good there.

Ryan Bivins

Before we move off of Youngstown--

Ray Mancini

Born and raised, from the womb to the tomb!

Ryan Bivins

I wanna know, like, what was it like to be an Italian-American boxer brought up in Youngstown?

Ray Mancini

Well, first of all, boxing in Youngstown, it's one of the things we're known for. We're the second-biggest steel-producing city in the world. Everyone knows us as a steel town. Steel and sports are the two things we're known for. Growing up in Youngstown, hearing stories not just about my father, but the great Tony Janiro, Joey "Red" D'Amato, Jack Trammell, all the great fighters that came out of there, and I got to know these guys and meet them when I was younger and through the years. It was a great honor for me. For me, it was ingrained. That's all I ever wanted to be. Not because my father wanted me to be that, because he tried to talk me out of it in the worst way. He told me, it was the Depression, he had to eat. He had to fight. For me, I had other opportunities. I had an academic scholarship to go to college. I had a professional baseball offer. I had other opportunities. But I wanted to be a professional fighter for (my father). I wanted to win the world title for him. So he couldn't say a whole lot to that. We're known through our history in boxing. It's been a very strong tradition.

Ryan Bivins

Your Italian heritage alone combined with your fighting style has often had you compared to the likes of Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, and others. Did you ever feel pressure to live up to their standards?

Ray Mancini

No, I never thought of that, to be honest with you. All you can do is be the best you can be and be who you are. But of course, don't get me wrong, I tried to emulate some of these guys. Growing up people would say, "Who are your boxing heroes?" I'd say other than my father, my boxing heroes were Tony Canzoneri, Rocky Marciano, Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio, and of course, the great Roberto Duran. Those were my boxing heroes. When you become a fighter, you try to emulate these guys and get the best out of them, but you gotta make it your own. That's the bottom line, you gotta make it your own, you know? Thank God, I had a natural aggression to come forward. I had natural power, I could punch a little bit. Those are things that helped. You realize you can't be Rocky Marciano, you can't be Jake LaMotta, but you could take pieces of them and try to make it your own.

Ryan Bivins

Like you said, your true motivation to box came from your father, Lenny Mancini. He was a top-rated lightweight contender in the early '40s who never got a shot to fight for the championship. Your relationship with him has a lot to do with this latest documentary. In your own words, what makes you 'the good son'?

Ray Mancini

The title, I wasn't really comfortable with the title. Mark Kriegel told me that was the name of the book, and I said, Mark, I had a brother. What does that make him, the bad son? "Aww, you don't get it, you don't get it. It's something you said, I read it in an article." I said, what'd I say? After I won the title, Bob Arum and Rodolfo Sabatini sent me to Italy to do a promotional tour and to meet my family in Sicily for the first time. And I said, sitting in business class, watching my parents, every time they'd come by with a drink or food, my father would be like, "No, no, no! I didn't order this! I didn't order this!" They'd say, no, no, sir, it's complimentary. And I could see that he was so happy and excited. Watching him and my mother sitting and enjoying that, I thought, "Wow, I finally feel like the good son." That's where Mark got the title from. When he told me, I said, OK, OK, I'll buy that.

But I dunno, "the good son," there's a lot of guys I think can identify with being the good son for their parents for whatever reason, how they identify with it. I'm very proud of the title, and the connotation and meaning behind it.

Ryan Bivins

You mentioned your older brother Lenny. When he was reportedly accidentally shot and killed by his new girlfriend on Valentin's Day in 1981, you and your father helped each other get through it. I apologize if I'm opening any old wounds--

Ray Mancini

That's OK, that's OK.

Ryan Bivins

Have you ever struggled with how your brother could be accidentally killed? As you know, writer and producer Mark Kriegel showed his skepticism of the accidental nature shooting in "The Good Son" and based on where the fatal shot occurred, an inch behind and an inch to the right, an inch and a half or so above the right ear. And then there was her relation to a biker gang, so what do you have to say about that?

Ray Mancini

To be honest with you, immediately after the funeral, I talked to the local police, some detectives that were on the case that said, "Ray, look, we can investigate this. We can go further. We can do whatever you want to do." I said, no. No, I'm not interested. It doesn't bring him back. No matter what, it wouldn't have brought him back. I didn't want to put my parents through that, and my sister concurred with that. I never thought about it. Yeah, whether it was fishy or it wasn't fishy, it doesn't matter. My brother was living a rough life at that time, and I accepted it. No matter what, it wasn't gonna bring him back. There was no reason to put my parents through that. I've made peace with it and I've moved on.

Ryan Bivins

Less than a month after your brother died, you were back in the ring. This time you were making your cable television debut against Norman Goins. You stopped him in two rounds. Then a month later you're making your network TV debut on CBS against Al Ford, and this time you won a 10-round unanimous decision. Your manager David Wolf pretty much sold television rights to your fights to CBS, and the rest is history. Nationwide, Americans fell in love with you as you transcended the sport of boxing. Chuck Wepner aside, you were portrayed as a real life Rocky. Back when CBS was still building you, you made a fraction of what some of these guys headlining HBO events make, but unlike the vast majority of them, you were genuinely famous. If you had to choose between fame and money, which would you pick?

Ray Mancini

Ryan, I'm glad you asked that question, because I get that asked to me a lot. "I bet you wish you were fighting now?" I say yes and no. If I could make the money according to the people I put in seats and the ratings that I did, yes, of course. But you have to understand, I was in front of over 60 million people domestically, over 100 million people worldwide on network television. Now with pay-per-view, I think there's 35 million homes capable of pay-per-view. If you get a two percent buyrate, like a half a million people, they consider that a success. I would never change what I went through.

But the years I went through were considered the golden age of boxing over the last 50 years. We had Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Wilfredo Gomez, Hector Camacho, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello, all those great fighters. It was the first time in history that the lighter weights were actually more popular than the heavyweight champion. In the boxing industry that was the first time that ever happened before. I would never change the era I came in. Even though those guys are making more money now and they get paid a hell of a lot more to do a hell of a lot less, going 12 rounds instead of 15, and the weigh-ins the night before as opposed to the morning of, I would never change the era I fought in. I fought in a great era, and I'm very proud to be part of that era.

Ryan Bivins

A month after the Ford win, you retired NABF lightweight champion Jorge Morales in his corner after nine rounds and took his title. Then you immediately defended it against fellow World Boxing Hall of Famer Jose Luis Ramirez, which I personally consider your career-best win. You won a lopsided decision over a man that was 71-3 and it was only your 20th fight. Just the previous year, Ramirez had dropped the great Alexis Arguello and took him to a split decision. Were you surprised by how easily you beat Ramirez?

Ray Mancini

I wouldn't say surprised at how I beat him. I trained hard. Ramirez is a very difficult fight for a lot of guys, but I was trained by the great Murphy Griffith how to fight a southpaw. People don't understand, when you fight a southpaw, it's gotta be a disciplined fight. And Griff said, every fight, every day man, it's gotta be a disciplined fight. We gotta do this, over and over, the same. Make sure we keep our left foot outside his right foot, keep pushing him to his left, things like that. I prepared very good for it. The funny thing is, watching the tapes of Ramirez, especially the fight where he dropped Alexis and in actuality he beat Alexis, but he got a split decision loss in Miami. He beat Alexis. That's why I said when they offered me Alexis after I beat Ramirez, I felt very confident. I'd seen him fight Ramirez and Alexis looked like he was on the downside, and I thought we were catching him at the right time.

But the goal for Ramirez, he's a difficult guy and strong. But I never gave him an opportunity to set up. I kept him guessing the whole time with my foot movement. I think they thought I was gonna come forward, but as a fighter you have to be able to adapt. And I think in that fight I showed I could box a little bit, too. I was in and out on him, and I was keeping him guessing like I said. That is one of my greatest wins. I don't even think Vegas would take a bet on it. I was such a big underdog, I don't even think they put it on the board.

Ryan Bivins

Team Ramirez complained that the canvas was slippery, that their fighter couldn't get proper footing. He had leather shoe soles whereas you had better traction with rubber soles. How much of a factor do you think that played into the outcome?

Ray Mancini

I don't think it had a whole lot to do with it. The fact that they couldn't get settled, maybe that's true, but to be honest with you if you're still wearing leather soles in the 1980s, man, come on. You deserve to -- I shouldn't say deserve to lose, but you gotta catch up with the times. No matter what he had on, it doesn't matter. I think I just was too sharp for him that day. No matter what he had on, I would have beat him. No matter what. It was just a good day for me. It wasn't his best day. Believe me, I know how good a fighter he is. He showed that when he beat (Edwin) Rosario for the (WBC) title, and even when he fought (Julio Cesar) Chavez, a determined guy. He was a terrific guy. Being in the Hall of Fame shows what a great fighter he was. But that day, that just was my day. It wasn't what he had on. Look, when we get beat, we all wanna use excuses when we get beat, but the fact of the matter is I was just a better man that day.

Ryan Bivins

Coming off that great win over Ramirez, you immediately got a world title shot against reigning WBC champion Alexis Arguello. You did a great job but came up a little bit short in the championship rounds back when the distance was 15 and you had never been past 12. Many say you were rushed into that fight, but what do you think?

Ray Mancini

I get that all the time. I was never rushed into it. I had just beat the the number six contender, I had just beat the number three contender in the world who had just fought Alexis earlier that year and dropped him twice. I thought we were catching him at the right time. I saw him when he won the world title against Jim Watt, he didn't look particularly sharp. He looked like he was aging. He looked like he was just a good champion, a fading champion though.

But, you know, that just proves the true championship distance is 15 rounds. It's 12 rounds, I'd have won the title. I was beating him after 12. But Alexis is one of them guys who sets traps early and goes back early to get them traps. He set traps all fight and I fell into it and he caught me. After that fight, I knew I'd be world champion. I knew I had what it took. Alexis is one of the great fighters of all-time, and I was a round away from winning the world title. I knew I had what it took to be world champion.

Ryan Bivins

Three fights later, you got another world title shot against WBA champion Arturo Frias. He hurt you with a left hook seconds into the fight and he went for the kill. He didn't get it, and instead you rallied back and took him out with six seconds left in round one. It's one of the great single round fights in boxing history. You became world champion and your father's dreams were finally realized through you. In that moment, what went through your mind?

Ray Mancini

That's a euphoric feeling. When the referee Richard Greene stepped in, that was the greatest feeling in the world. It's a euphoric feeling. You can never explain it. I never had that feeling again in my life, other than seeing each one of my children born. Except for that, there's no greater feeling that I would have. Certainly nothing in my business life. It's just, you finally reached your lifelong dream. Anybody who's done it knows what I'm talking about. It's just a feeling you can never express.

Ryan Bivins

You made the first defense of your WBA crown against Ernesto Espana, and then there was Duk-Koo Kim. Both of your marquee documentaries spend a lot of time covering the tragedy surrounding that fight, and in "The Good Son," you actually get a chance to meet Kim's family. You talk to his fiancée Young-Mee and the son he never got to meet Jiwan. In many ways Jiwan is the good son, too. How important was this meeting for you? How relieved were you that they didn't blame you for what happened?

Ray Mancini

I had made peace with them many years before. But when Mark Kriegel told me that Jiwan wanted to meet me, I said absolutely. Because that was important for him, hopefully it would give him some type of peace. I think it was important for him to meet the last man that was in the ring with his father. I was more nervous about meeting Young-Mee than Jiwan, because Young-Mee, the fiancée, was planning to spend the rest of her life with this man, and he passed at my hands. And when I met her, she was so gracious, so wonderful, it made me feel so loving, that it let me know that she never held anything against me. She was always hoping I would find peace, and be able to live with peace. It was just wonderful.

It was the best thing that could have happened. I couldn't expect anything better. And Jiwan is such a fine young man. He's gonna be a veterinarian, and he's such a great young man that he's done his father proud. He made his father proud, that's for sure.

Ryan Bivins

Many times you've said the only time you've ever thought about quitting in the ring was against Duk-Koo. I realize this is a difficult question to answer, but in hindsight would you quit if you could do it all over again, knowing now what could have been avoided?

Ray Mancini

No. When I say that, it's because every fighter, every athlete at some point in his career, sometime says man, I just don't wanna go on. But I wasn't gonna quit. My body wanted to shut down, my body wanted to stop, but my mind wouldn't allow it. That's the old saying, the body's the army but the mind's the general. The body will do whatever the mind tells it to do.

But no, no. It was my title. I was defending my title. I'll do whatever it takes to defend my title. He was going after the title, he was gonna do whatever he could to take the title. That's why it made such a great fight. Other than the outcome, it was a great, great fight. It would be one of the fights you watch on ESPN all the time. But because of the outcome, there was nothing good about it.

Ryan Bivins

Something most people don't know is that your trainer Murphy Griffith is the uncle of the great Emile Griffith. Emile's third fight with Benny "Kid" Paret in many ways parallels your fight with Kim. What kind of guidance has--

Ray Mancini

I met Emile after. We spoke and not a lot of words were said. We just hugged, and he said, "I know what you're going through. You'll get through it. Just have faith in yourself. Find your peace." But other than (the outcome), the fight was not in any way shape or form (similar). When he fought Benny "Kid" Paret, he had Paret hung up in the ropes. His arms were hung up in the ropes, and Emile was doing his job. (Referee) Ruby Goldstein didn't come in to jump in until twenty-something unanswered punches. Emile did nothing but just keep laying 'em in because that's his job until the referee comes in.

My fight with Kim, it was a toe-to-toe fight. He was backing me up at the end of the round at the end of the 13th. Beginning of the 14th, he comes running out after me, we had an exchange, I caught him with one shot and he went down. That was it. That's what the doctor said, it had to be that last punch. Because the way the brain stem was damaged, he could have never fought through it. He could never have went on and fought if it had happened previous in the fight. The fight wasn't similar--

Ryan Bivins

I agree, I agree. It wasn't the same kind of fight.

Ray Mancini

Right, exactly. Other than the ending, the fight wasn't similar. But you're right, because of the ending, because of the similarities, that Murphy Griffith, his uncle was my trainer, yeah, of course there's a connection. I did speak to Emile afterward. There wasn't a whole lot of words said, just basically a look and a hug. We understood. We both understood.

Ryan Bivins

Somebody on Twitter wanted to ask you how does Livingston Bramble's power compare to Alexis Arguello's?

Ray Mancini

Oh, there's no comparison. Livingston Bramble was a good puncher. He wasn't a big puncher, but he was a good puncher. He hit you a lot. They were stinging punches. But Alexis far and away was the greatest puncher I ever fought. He's one of those guys, he'd knock a building down if he hit it. They were different styles. Bramble was one of them guys, he had stinging punches, but he wasn't a big puncher. He was a good puncher, he would sting you with punches, but not a one-punch guy. But Alexis could take you out with one punch.

Ryan Bivins

Alright, Ray, thanks for the interview.

Ray Mancini

Thanks you for your time.

Ryan Bivins

For everybody listening, be sure to check out "The Good Son," a documentary from SnagFilms on the life and career of Ray Mancini. Visit thegoodsondocumentary.com for details on how to order. It's based on a 2012 book by Mark Kriegel, who is also one of the producers of the film. Anything else you'd like to say?

Ray Mancini

Just thank you to all the people listening and I appreciate your time and appreciate your interest.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"The Good Son" makes its way to theaters August 9th.

(Interview transcribed by Scott Christ.)

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Bad Left Hook

You must be a member of Bad Left Hook to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bad Left Hook. You should read them.

Join Bad Left Hook

You must be a member of Bad Left Hook to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bad Left Hook. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_5349_tracker