Ray Mancini fought like a spring storm sweeping across a prairie. He was always moving forward, fists pumping as if they were swirling relentless hail, rain and wind.
They called him “Boom Boom,” the nickname of his beloved father, Lenny, a former boxer whose championship dreams were derailed by wounds suffered in World War II. His son picked up the calling, climbed through the ropes to honor him, and carved out a legendary career.
Ray Mancini poses with his dad, Lenny.
Mancini not only made his father proud, he caused all of his hometown of Youngstown to rejoice during a time of otherwise miserable news for the industrial area in the early 1980s. The widespread loss of steel mill and auto plant jobs caused the Mahoning Valley to suffer from a nation-high unemployment rate of 22 percent. Boom Boom was a rare ray of sunshine punching through those clouds.
Mancini carries a plaque from Youngstown’s “Ray Mancini Day” in 1982. Credit: Getty Images
From May 1982 until June 1984, Mancini reigned as the World Boxing Association lightweight champion. He eventually left the fight game with a 29-5 record (23 of the wins by knockout) and good health and financial standing. In 2015, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015.
Mancini’s ferocious attacking style made him a favorite among fight fans. Outside the ring, his modest and endearing personality––along with the backstory about his father and hardscrabble hometown?––gave him crossover appeal. He was one of the marquee names in boxing’s last great decade.
Mancini trains for a fight against Alexis Arguello at Grossinger’s gym in the Catskills, New York in 1981. Credit: Getty Images
Triumph and Tragedy
Mancini faced an unexpected challenge on Nov. 13, 1982 when he defended his title in Las Vegas against Duk-Koo Kim, an unheralded challenger from South Korea who also only knew how to move forward in the ring. Mancini won that rugged outdoor bout in the parking lot of Caesars Palace with a knockout early in the 14th round, but Kim was immediately taken to the hospital. Four days later, he died from a brain hemorrhage.
After Kim’s death, Mancini grappled with whether he was fighting for honorable reasons. Boxing changed, too. All championship fights were reduced in length from 15 rounds to 12. Network television, for the most part, fled from the sport.
Although history has linked him to the Kim fight, Mancini will forever be remembered in Ohio for his humble and charming personality and the courage and heart he displayed throughout a 13-year boxing career. His Buckeye legacy has endured since his third and final retirement in 1992 at age 31.
In Youngstown, they’ll forever recall Mancini winning the WBA lightweight title with a first-round TKO of Arturo Frias. They’ll retell stories about how two years later in 1984 he collected his biggest payday of $2 million by stopping Bobby Chacon in a three-round bout that inspired Warren Zevon to write the song “Boom Boom Mancini.”
One of the biggest days in Mahoning Valley sports history will always be July 24, 1982. Mancini successfully defended his title for the first time with a sixth-round knockout of former champ Ernsesto Espana in front of more than 20,000 fans at Mollenkopf Stadium in Warren, Ohio, about 10 miles from Youngstown.
Ray Mancini lands a punch against Ernesto Espana during the bout at the Mollenkopf Stadium on July 24, 1982. Credit: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images
It felt like one big family that day, everyone gathered to wrap their arms in a group hug around the boxer who always moved forward.
And that love is why the retired boxer moved back.
Mancini lived in Santa Monica, California for 30 years after quitting the fight game. He dabbled in the wine business, and worked as an actor and independent producer of low-budget films, including a documentary about his hometown called “Youngstown: Still Standing.”
In November 2014, Mancini moved back to Youngstown with his second wife, Tina Rozzi. Two months later, he formed The Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini Foundation, which has since sponsored events to benefit other charities or individuals and families in need.
So now Boom Boom Mancini is trying to move the Mahoning Valley forward with the same determination and passion that made him one of Ohio’s greatest champions.
Todd Jones was a sportswriter for The Columbus Dispatch for 20 years and for the Cincinnati Post for 10 years.