Best of Both Worlds: A Life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini

By Brian D'Ambrosio on July 3, 2013
Best of Both Worlds: A Life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini
Duk Koo Kim prophesied before the fight that one of them would perish in the ring.

“What’s the sense of having three million, if you don’t know your own name, and if you can’t count it afterwards?”

Even with his WBA world lightweight title and 23 knockouts in 29 career wins, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini’s existence is eternally linked with his bout that preceded the death of Duk Koo Kim.

His name is tied to that fatal match on November 13, 1982, and the 14th round, when the South Korean dropped and lost consciousness soon afterward. It is attached to Kim’s death four days later from a blood clot in his brain.

To be associated with Kim’s death is one matter, but to be characterized by it is another.

Mancini’s life tale is too inspirational, too redemptive. There are too many storylines of loyalty and reincarnation, faith and forgiveness.

Retaining the vestiges of his boyish Italian good looks and steel city Rust Belt charm, Ray still has it all. As his documentary, “The Good Son,” displays on screens across the country, a new generation gets to know him.

A new generation gets to know the unquenchable battler, a man who preserves the essence of a sport’s glory days.

Perhaps no great art has ever been made without the subject having experienced bona fide danger. Mancini’s danger made compelling theater in the ring—and same now on the big screen.

“People approach me all of the time and say, ‘Hey, Ray, you’ve lived an interesting life,’” says Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, 52. “But I always say, ‘but, yeah, what’s the hook?’ With a lot of guys, they have books and stories, but what’s the hook? Cinderella Man and James Braddock’s life and movie, well, it’s not that interesting. Everyone has a story, but the people decide whose story is interesting and whose isn’t. I’m not saying mine is interesting. What’s the hook? Well, it’s that everybody has a book, but not everyone has a story.”

Great art has picked up where a great boxing career ended in 1992. The film is the expression of a solution of the conflicts which have eaten away at Mancini’s core for far too long.

“The Good Son” is based on the similarly-titled book by author Mark Kriegel. Kriegel found his swift hook in the particulars of Mancini’s enduring relationship with his father, his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and how he since has coped with Kim’s fatality.

Mancini says he had misgivings about the viability of his life story.

“The book and the documentary have been well-received,” says Mancini. “What could be better than that? To me, a documentary is much better than a feature film. It’s real. Everybody has a book on the shelf. But who gives a shit? Now, that’s what I thought 20 years ago. What can be told that hasn’t been told before? Then Kriegel comes along, and he’s an artist. He showed me the father and son angle, and I bought into it. So now the story is there. I never thought my life would make it as a book or movie. I was sold on the concept.”

Mancini says the main questions of his everyday life have all been answered in a pure definitive sense; the book and movie should provide a certain sense of closure, a satisfied level of certainty.

“No one is going to wonder about ‘Boom Boom’ anymore,” says Mancini. “See, I’m a pretty private person. It’s all in there, you know. It would be arrogant not to cover the good and bad in you. I’m very proud of them. For someone like Kriegel to take what you’re telling them and make it resonate, that’s powerful. It has to have a certain style. If not, you just have air.”

“The Good Son” has its share of poignancy: there is a suitably emotional first-time meeting between Mancini and Duk Koo Kim’s fiancée and son. Lee Young-Mee had been pregnant with the couple’s son, Jiwan, at the time of Duk Koo’s death. Ray harbored enormous guilt for Kim’s death, as well as for the effect it had on his family. The interchange includes Jiwan informing Mancini that the death of his father was a shared liability. Mancini and Jiwan were able to find healing.

While not exclusively a boxing film, Mancini knows that if he weren’t a boxer the book and movie would have never been made. 

“A guy called me recently about making a play about boxing,” says Mancini. “And I told the guy, ‘Don’t you know that more movies have been made about boxing than all of the other sports combined?’ Boxing is on parallel with life, and every cliché comes from boxing, like rolling with the punches. It’s parallel to life. Boxing resonates with people. Boxers live their lives, and movies live vicariously through them.”

Ray Mancini’s life is absolute Hollywood.

His father Lenny Mancini, “Boom Boom” the first, had been a top-ranked, cusp contender; shrapnel from a German mortar shell in World War II ended his ring dreams. Mancini was raised on Youngstown, Ohio’s tough streets, in a beat-up blast furnace of a city where high unemployment, moribund factories, and mafia-influenced car bombings were commonplace. Under still hazy circumstances, his brother Lenny was found shot in the back of the head in a hotel room, a .38-caliber slug an inch and a half behind the right ear. Its violent underpinnings earned Youngstown nationwide nicknames such as “Murdertown” and “Crimetown USA.”

“I’ve always represented Youngstown, Ohio,” says Mancini. “My style was indicative of the town, you take some shots, and you give more than you take, and you are still standing—and that’s what the town is all about. My town was holding onto something, what I did resonated.”

Mancini traces the trajectory of his boxing career back to a photo of his pop. That black and white image—Lenny with his eyes slit by leather, his mouth pouring blood, victorious, exhausted—that beautiful photo. Mancini decided on the spot, he would fight out of love and a desire to win the championship that his father never could. He decided to fight to satisfy his father’s dream.

“Boom Boom” was not an elegant fighter, but he was a spark plug of sheer aggression and power: he made his debut in October 1979, and two years later, at the age of 20, he challenged Alexis Arguello for his WBC lightweight crown. Mancini lost a legendary 14-round crusade.

Three fights later, on May 8, 1982, Mancini knocked out WBA titleholder Arturo Frias at 2:54 of round one.

His second title defense would change his life unalterably. 

Mancini scored a knockout victory in the grueling, nationally televised 14-round encounter with Duk Koo Kim. At one point Mancini hurled more than forty unanswered punches, forcing the referee to the stop the bout after a knockdown. Mancini and Kim shared the same warrior soul. Kim even prophesied before the fight that one would perish in the ring.

Mancini attended a Mass the day after the fight, where a priest asked attendees to pray for the dying Kim. Kim died four days later from his injuries. 

Mancini was never the same insatiable brawler again, though he was back in the ring a few months later against unknown Englishman George Feeney, whom he went the full ten rounds with.

Three fights later, he dispatched Bobby Chacon in three rounds. That January 1984 contest would be the last win of Mancini’s career.

He lost his title to Livingstone Bramble in his next fight, and then dropped a hard-fought fifteen-round decision to Bramble in the rematch. He then retired, but he would come back several years later, losing to Hector Camacho, and then to Greg Haugen.

“My style did not make for a long career,” says Mancini. “I sacrificed longevity for some financial success. At least I can still spell the word fight. I get testing and the MRI shows no effects. I go to the neurological center and do the MRI and get the tests. You know how many fighters won’t? To me, that’s stupid. No fighters come away unscathed, but I would have a lot of more damage with a longer career. Why risk more long-term damage? I fought five and a half years, not as much accumulation. Guys now are in their 30s and they are still fighting. Why? What’s the sense of having three million if you don’t know your own name, and if you can’t count it afterwards?”

Lenny instructed his son to always move forward. “Boom Boom” is doing just that. His wine company, Southpaw, introduces three new 100% Napa wines this summer. 

“I just started a website,” says Mancini, who left Youngstown for New York at age 18 and has spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles. “There was so much bullshit and bogus stuff, and I try to combat that. You can order wine, t-shirts, and memorabilia.”

Mancini admits that he likes being remembered more than 20 years after his retirement.

“My lady says that I need to have drama,” says Mancini. “She says that I always have to have action or stimulus going on. But you’ve got to pace yourself in life, and there is a lot I want to accomplish.

“When Kriegel wrote the book, I only asked him to change one word, one single word. And that was that I don’t need acclamation and attention. It was the word need. I enjoy it and I have fun with it, but I don’t need it.”

Mancini realizes that change only comes through nonstop struggle, and he understands that curiosity will always be one of the rhythms of his presence.

“The light is only there for a short period of time,” says Mancini. “The light moves. Right now, I have the very best of both worlds. I’m asked to be around just enough to feed my ego, and not enough to disrupt my life.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

The Good Son - Trailer

Arguello vs Mancini

The Good Son Documentary

Ray Mancini vs Duk-Koo-Kim

Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini speaks about Duk Koo Kim fight

ESPN Triumph and Tragedy The Ray Mancini Story

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Chris Giudice 04:47pm, 07/12/2013

    Great piece!

  2. Eric 12:46pm, 07/04/2013

    Considering Hagler reached his peak of popularity in the mid 80’s and Leonard retired in late ‘82 for the first time, there probably was a very brief period where Mancini was the most marketable fighter and/or popular fighter for a year or so. Duran was of course popular, but Duran suffered from not being “the boy next door” and was a “foreigner.” Holmes, surely wasn’t that popular, Michael Spinks was great but very boring, Saad was on his way out, and Hearns despite his thunderous punching power was as bland as plain oatmeal. I personally don’t know or have never met Mancini and you sure can’t judge people by their public persona, but he seems like a genuinely nice person. Had no idea that his brother was shot, even though I followed boxing passionately back in the day, either that or I just forget hearing about it. Next to Camacho, Haugen, and Pazienza, and Bramble, Mancini comes off as a boy scout.

  3. Pete The Sneak 10:53am, 07/04/2013

    Eric called it right. Boom Boom was indeed as popular as Ray Leonard back in the 80’s. The guy was an all heart action fighter with a great story behind him (his dad), good looks, well spoken and classy. He was a must see fighter when he came on CBS and Mancini never disappointed. Yes, you can see how the Kim fight took the wind out of Boom Boom’s sails (geez, how could it not) and despite some good wins after the Kim fight, he was never the same. I’m glad to see, however that he is doing well and I will make every effort to acquire this book and devour it. This article was an absolute great read. Thanks Brian. Peace.

  4. raxman 12:22am, 07/04/2013

    haven’t had a chance to read this and wont til tomoz but thanks for writing. although just before my time -i started following boxing in 85, by then he had started the 4 or 5 fight losing streak that would bring about his retirement - but despite that i love everything about boom boom. in addition to his in ring style i’m told at his peak he was a super star of the sport.
    did you guys see his role in david mamets MMA themed film Red Belt? apparently he is a more than handy exponent of BJJ - imagine what a prime Boom Boom would do to the UFC ?

  5. nicolas 08:21pm, 07/03/2013

    The tragedy of the Mancini-Kim fight had a great impact on boxing. Kim’s mother took her own life, and Richard Greene the referee did one more fight before also taking his own life, perhaps this fight being a contributing factor to other issues that may have haunted his life. It was the start of the end of the 15 round world title fights, and within some 8 yrs, boxing would have no longer 15 round title fights. While economics has certainly played an issue in this, boxing in Korea is a ghost of what it once was in South Korea. The Kim death in 82, the Korean Olympic boxing disgraceful behavior in 88, the rise of democracy and economic growth in South Korea, and the rise of other sports has certainly impacted boxing in South Korea, a sport that was probably number one in that country, and now appears practically nonexistent.

  6. Ted 12:48pm, 07/03/2013

    Eric, Harry was one tough cookie and had the two met, who knows what might have happened. But Harry stayed too long and paid the price, His definitive effort was against Terrence Alli and though he won the battle, he lost the war,

  7. Mike Schmidt 11:32am, 07/03/2013

    Great write up—the book is a very very good read—Ray, if your are reading this, its the big bald guy that delivered Marv’s book to you down in Vegas while you were doing book signing with Christian—Sorry I missed dinner with you guys—One thing that amazed me, as I mentioned when I got back home—was how HUGE your popularity remains—good guys don’t always finish last!!! Nice article—good guy—and always a class act in the ring and after the fight—wish we had more of those now. Adios

  8. Eric 11:19am, 07/03/2013

    Mancini might have been the second most popular boxer during the early 80’s behind Sugar Ray Leonard. Mancini was truly a warrior and he was always in fantastic physical condition, and always gave his best. However, I can’t help but to believe Mancini was also overrated to some degree and I question if he was even better than fellow Youngstown lightweight Harry Arroyo. Sure, Mancini had an epic battle with Arguello, but by 1981, Arguello had probably lost a little bit. Mancini’s handsome features and his tale of “winning the title for dad” insured he would capture more than his share of interest from the media and public. The Duk Koo Kim fight was a two edged sword for Mancini, it helped garner him even more attention but for all practical purposes took a large chunk out of his boxing career, Mancini was never the same afterwards. The talk of a Pryor bout was interesting at least considering it could probably be billed as a sort of battle of Ohio, and both fighters were non-stop punching machines. In reality though, Pryor was a level or two above Mancini and would have given Mancini a significant pounding, even worse than he received from Bramble. Mancini was a fighter with tremendous heart, durability and conditioning, but had he fought in the Duran or even Pernell Whitaker era, you wouldn’t have heard much about him.

Leave a comment