‘A Pit Bull in Braids’: The Life of Livingstone Bramble

By Brian D'Ambrosio on May 8, 2014
‘A Pit Bull in Braids’: The Life of Livingstone Bramble
Rasta was my belief, my salvation, my life. It promotes clean living and living off of the land.

“When you come to America, what do you learn? Like a lion, a tiger, or a praying mantis, you learn to kill, and when boxing, it was okay…”

Livingstone Bramble seared his image into public memory as the enigmatic native of the Caribbean who bested Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini twice.

Bramble, 53, requests little these days.

He has spending money and enjoys the company of his children and grandchildren. He relishes the dry Nevada climate, which mitigates the lingering soreness of past injuries. The villain’s role that he had handled with so much assurance is behind him.

One thing he would appreciate, though, is a little more acclaim.

“I want credit for what I did,” said Ras-I (Livingstone) Bramble. “I did all the stuff I had to do, and everyone was against me. I had nothing — and I wanted something. And I gave it my super all. That’s all I want right now — credit.”

Born on September 3, 1960 on the West Indies island of Saint Kitts, he grew up in the ruins of sugar cane plantations in Saint Croix. Hurricane Donna walloped St. Kitts at the same time the future WBA lightweight champ was born.

“For my whole life, people have been asking, ‘why is this guy alive? He should’ve been damaged from the hurricane, and all the damage it did. From St. Kitts to a world title, it will never be duplicated in a million years.”

One of eleven children of Henry and Carmen Bramble, his father worked as an oil refinery foreman, and his mother, a retirement home worker.

“I was a boxer who loved the game — I wasn’t hungry as if I wanted to put money on the table. Never ever. When I was boxing, I had a home. In the Virgin Islands, my mother had a home. I was doing it because I did it good in the amateurs. But, still, you wouldn’t believe the money they stole from me — wouldn’t believe the numbers. I put my retirement away. Not one boxer I know has a retirement. How many get robbed? Get robbed blind? Those guys ain’t got nothing. I do have a lot of issues with that.”

Scuttle to Mainland

As a teenager, Bramble joined the Rastafarians, the religious sect that follows the teachings of Hailie Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. He started eating vegetarian meals and favoring camouflage pants and braided corn rows. Later, he designed a multicolored ‘Bramble brim’ — in recognition of the flags of St. Kitts, Ethiopia, Jamaica and the Rastafarian culture.

“I became a Rastafarian in the early 1970s, and on the islands, there is a separation between Rasta and non-Rasta. I began training with a Rastaman, named Rudolph Joseph, who passed away six weeks ago. I started wearing different clothes and living off of the land.  I did one fight with him. Rasta was my belief, my salvation, my life. It promotes clean living, clean eating, and living off of the land. It never pointed fingers at someone — didn’t matter if you were black or white or purple or green. The majority of those Rastas turned out good.”

Bramble left high school in his junior year to focus on his amateur career. In 1979, to get ready for a 1980 Olympics visit that ended with a political boycott, Bramble came to the mainland.

“In 1980, I beat every hopeful in New Jersey in the Golden Gloves,” said Bramble. “I beat them sick in the nationals, beat them bleeding out of the mouth, with their girlfriends crying. I was tough. Floyd Mayweather. Oscar De La Hoya. Bramble. All 125 pounds in the nationals. Boxing was real in the amateurs. You don’t pick your opponent, the strongest picks you, the best picks you. You didn’t pick a certain style, like in the pros.” 

Bramble lived in Passaic, New Jersey, where he received his high school equivalency diploma, then attended Bergen Community College. He left school after one semester to look after his son Aluja, and began boxing professionally in October of 1980.

“With boxing, you know, I lost a lot, and I gained a lot. If I didn’t have boxing, who knows? I wouldn’t be doing robbery or anything. But, still, I respect the choice I made to box, and I’ve seen a lot, learned a lot. And I couldn’t say I’d be in a better position without it. When you see that punch and get that feeling — it’s crazy. The first time I put on those gloves was before 1971, maybe 1968, and I put on gloves and sparred in the Virgin Islands.”

Bramble’s first 23 fights included victories over top ranked fighters and just one loss (Anthony Fletcher).

“Early on, they put me in there with Jerome Artis (boxrec.com lists Artis as Bramble’s 11th opponent). At the time, I thought, ‘Are they crazy?’ Jerome Artis — a tough boy from Philadelphia. The same guy who fought Alexis Arguello? And they say they loved me? They didn’t care. I felt lucky that I didn’t get killed.”

Bramble-Mancini: “I Did It Myself”

Despite more than 60 professional bouts, Bramble’s legacy is attached to the psychological operations he did on WBA lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, which included taunts, teases, and his old basketball coach who he brought to a press conference dressed up as a voodoo witch doctor. He once said that he beat Mancini first with his mind, then with his fists.

More or less an unknown club fighter at the time, Bramble’s title shot against Mancini took place on June 1, 1984, in Buffalo, New York.

“Mancini was so prepared,” said Bramble. “There was no bluffing about him. But going in, I tried to break him down mentally and take control of the fight before it started. I tried to get in his head and make him think about things.”

Perhaps Bramble’s own mental condition heading into the fight has been a topic that has been somewhat under-discussed.

“People were thinking and talking about death,” said Bramble. “That’s how people approached you. I had to black that out. I was fighting a guy who had just killed a guy. I was fighting a tiger that had just killed another tiger. I had to get in there and survive — that was a battle.”

Bramble became an instant star by stopping Mancini in 14 rounds in front of 14,500 shocked spectators. He thoroughly dominated the action at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, fighting intelligently. (Two judges, however, did have Mancini leading at the time of the stoppage.)

“I was a 4 to 1 underdog,” said Bramble. “I was one of the roughest 4 to 1 underdogs. Lou Duva, he took a $100,000 off the top, and Bob Arum gave him $250,000. Mancini made millions. But Duva, he pocketed $100,000, plus 33 percent. He took off. We all get robbed. I’m lucky, though, because I didn’t come out of a housing project, and I didn’t have the money thing going in.

Bramble slit Mancini’s right eyelid in round one and deflected the vast majority of Mancini’s body shots. He utilized his nine-inch reach advantage on the inside and countered with combinations powered by right uppercuts. Come round 14, Mancini was trapped close to his own corner and referee Marty Denkin jumped in and stopped it. 

Bramble shifted naturally from his orthodox stance to southpaw, something, he said, Lou Duva falsely received credit for.

“My trainer, manager, nobody knew I was switching. Think about it, Lou Duva always said, ‘Bramble never listened to the trainers or no one.’ So why the fuck would he listen for the Mancini fight, right? I don’t listen to these motherfuckers. I did it myself. I switched on my own.

“I had the chance to overcome all that, with proper training, the right discipline, and believing what my trainer, Tommy Parks, taught me. He was dead before I even lost the title. But everything that old man taught me, that’s all I ever did in the ring. If the old man said kiss the ground, I kissed the ground. I should enjoy those wins more than I do. In me, my heart is satisfied. I could’ve retired after the first Mancini fight, because that was the happiest time of my life.”

After defeating Edwin Curet in a non-title bout, Bramble met Mancini in a rematch of record-setting attendance in Reno, Nevada, on February 16, 1985. Bramble earned a unanimous 15-round decision to retain his title. He trained in the company of chickens and snakes. Prior to the bout, a relaxed and confident Bramble scratched the eyes of a voodoo doll — indicating Mancini’s fate — and handed Mancini a ceramic skull made in Taiwan.

“It was a legendary fight, and that fight won’t ever die. I saw it the other day, it’s amazing. He came to grips with that. He did a great fight, no matter who won. We are beyond friends now. At the time, I didn’t understand the background of his family and father. But, man, you have to have a good guy and bad guy. That’s all good and plain, and I was good at it. We are older. He’s over what we had to do to sell the fight.”

One year after the Mancini rematch, Bramble defeated the WBA’s number one challenger, Tyrone Crawley, by knockout in round 13. At a pre-fight press conference Bramble tossed a stuffed chicken toward Crawley.

“Those fifteen rounders, they were something,” said Bramble. “I’m realizing that there are no big finishes in fights now. It’s not happening — they don’t have the extra three rounds. No more big finishing. Boxing is nothing like it was. Tyrone Crawley — what a night. I worked the body. No Duva. All up to me.”

In September, 1986, Bramble was knocked out in two rounds by the quick, powerful left-right combinations of Edwin Rosario. After this loss, Bramble never regained his stardom; he fought on until 2003, losing to several familiar names. 

“James McGirt. Roger Mayweather. Kostya Tszyu hit like a mule, but I didn’t think I did terribly bad for my age. With Mayweather, I guess Bramble was fighting but his eye was not.”

“With me, injuries are an issue,” continued Bramble. “I may have a memory issue. I still go through high medical bills, it’s still a killer. I wish I could trim them a little bit. But I do the best I can. But you got to be strong or you get into bad habits. I got the birds, and I raise the birds, and I give the babies away. I worry about that — the birds — more than I worry about me.”

Bramble: “I Have to Watch It Now”

Bramble moved to Las Vegas a few years ago from Saugerties, New York; he works as a personal trainer at a friend’s gym. He stays physically fit and said that, until recently, he “ran all of the time.”

“I’m in Las Vegas for the weather. I couldn’t stay in New York because it’s too cold. Trust me. I had to leave. I was falling down on the black ice, and I’ve had two surgeries on my neck. My shoulder was freezing up in the cold. I came here (to Las Vegas) for the shoulder replacement and the healing.”

“My story is bound to come out,” continued Bramble. “I’ve got the last 30 years in my head. When you come to America, what do you learn? Like a lion, a tiger, or a praying mantis, you learn to kill, and when boxing, it was okay.”

He said that his future vitality will be predicated on the wisdom of his present life choices.

“I have to watch it now, stay in the gym, and I always have to do something. My destiny is to stay in shape for the rest of my life. After all those punches, you need to eat right, eat proper, and take care of your body, or you will hardly make it to 70. The older guys — older fighters from the past — made it farther. If you have brain damage, you can’t just go and drink a vodka. You got to do it different if you were a fighter. Those are things I’ve been avoiding.”

Strong Man, Strong Beliefs

He is still a strong man with strong beliefs. Bramble has not eaten meat since 1970. He has always loved certain animals — boa constrictors in particular, because they exhibit no sign of fright or alarm.

He once shared living quarters with four pit bull terriers, two alligators, eight exotic birds, one iguana, a monkey, and a 5½-foot boa constrictor named Dog. 

“I still take care of birds, a snake and fish,” said Bramble. “Dog was a hero in that time. Right now, I’m going to adopt a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a service dog. Maybe I will get two of them. I have a beagle right here. I’ve been fostering him. I want to give the dogs a chance to have a life.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of “Warrior in the Ring: The Life of Marvin Camel,” available Fall 2014 (Riverbend Publishing) and is currently at work on a biography of Livingstone Bramble.

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  1. Mike w 04:08pm, 09/13/2015

    Ras-I was a lot of fun to hang out with when he would come to Pechanga as a trainer. I always remember him as a class act

  2. Dave Kaplan 09:18pm, 05/26/2015

    i met Livingstone in person today… He is a class act… I wish him the best… He is in great shape
    Dave

  3. Tija Stanley 10:39pm, 05/05/2015

    Hello my name is Tija Stanley
    I would like the chance to talk with Mr. Livingston Bramble personally.
    I will be making my pro boxing debut on May 30th 2015 at the Eruption in Paradise.
    Being held at the L.B Scott Sports auditorium St.Maarten West Indies Caribbean islands. Boxing has died in our home country and I’m looking for inspiration to help kick start a new love for boxing here in St.Kitts. It’s hard being the only active Pro MMA fighter and soon to be Pro Boxer here. Just looking for Wise words from a man that has come from there.
                  Thank you for your time

  4. Joe 02:06pm, 05/08/2014

    Nice story.  Bramble was another good one back in the day.  Gosh it’s a shame these youngsters don’t have the pleasure of watching real fights and fighters on CBS, NBC and ABC.  Those were the days!!!  Bramble vs. Mancini, classic.

  5. Bob Canobbio 12:25pm, 05/08/2014

    Nice to hear from Bramble, whose decision win over Mancini in their rematch was the first fight worked by CompuBox.  Here we are nearly 30 years later.  Thanks for the memories Livingstone….

  6. Pete The Sneak 10:09am, 05/08/2014

    Nice write up Brian on one of my 80’s fave Boxers, Livingstone Bramble. I remember seeing the first Bramble/Mancini fight believe it or not on NYC’s Channel 5, WNYW (Free TV of course) with a Sportscaster named Bill Mazer announcing it. It was a really good fight and yes, Bramble definitely got into Mancini’s already distracted head. There was one interview before the fight where Bramble is speaking to a reporter while Mancini was within hearing distance and Bramble shouted out “His belly full, mine empty. I’m Hungry and I want to eat.”...LOL…Glad to hear he’s hanging on and for the most part doing well…Peace.

  7. Eric 09:28am, 05/08/2014

    A person that loves animals can’t be all that bad. I’m an animal lover, especially dogs, but I could never get into the snake thingy. Snakes are just too damn creepy and disgusting. Didn’t realize that Bramble was backing as late as 2003.

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