The Good Interview

By Robert Ecksel on September 6, 2013
The Good Interview
“I wasn't the most talented fighter, but I beat guys on will, determination, and desire.”

“My father never wanted me to be a fighter. He said, ‘Raymond, it was the Depression, I had to fight, I had to eat. You have other opportunities…’”

We all like hearing ourselves talk. To varying degrees, there’s no sweeter sound than the sound of our own sweet voice. Whether that voice is profound or banal is of no concern, especially to the person doing the talking.

The same applies to the authorial voice. It can be bold or mousy. It can be highfalutin or lowdown. It can be informed or clueless. As long as it’s assertive, nothing else matters.

But rarely does the author’s voice play second fiddle to that of the subject, no matter who the subject is or how verbose the subject may be.

Things have never been better for Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Thirty-one years after winning the WBA lightweight title from Arturo Frias, he is once again at the center of attention. His recently released biography, “The Good Son” by Mark Kriegel, and the documentary of the same name have thrust a ready-for-primetime Mancini back into the spotlight.

I recently spoke with Ray and he was as gracious as could be. Talking a million miles a minute, barely pausing to catch his breath, his enthusiasm is infectious. It wasn’t just what he was talking about that got him enthused. It is life itself, in its many permutations, that excites Ray Mancini.

The essence of “The Good Son” is Ray’s relationship with his father, former lightweight contender Lenny Mancini. Wanting to cut to the quick, I asked Boom Boom about that relationship and when he was first aware of his dad’s connection to boxing.

“The age of reason,” replied Ray, “when I was able to understand things. Because I was sifting through his scrapbooks since day one, since I can remember. I always knew my father coulda been, woulda been, shoulda been champion if not for the war. That’s all I ever heard growing up, from friends, from relatives, that he would’ve been world champion if it wasn’t for the war. He always wanted to defend his country. He said it was the most honorable thing he did. ‘I just wish I had a chance to fight for the title.’ He never talked bad about not getting the title shot, but I could see that it bothered him when it was brought up. I could see the pain it brought him that he never got the opportunity. There were times we’d be sitting back watching TV and he’d say, ‘Ah, Raymond, if I’d had that opportunity I’d have won that title.’ I’d say, ‘Jesus.’ That’s when I realized it bothered him. He’d bring it up out of clear air.

“So I knew all these things about my father. And then looking at all these pictures and reading all these articles, knowing his career, I would hound him. ‘Dad, please let me see your scrapbook.’ He had it hidden away. ‘Please, not again.’ ‘Dad, please, let me see it.’ For me, it was a special occasion when he brought it out for me to look at those pictures. It wasn’t like it was sitting out on the coffee table. It was hidden away. The scrapbook was old. My father retired in 1947. I wasn’t born until 1961. The pages were tattered. And when I got old enough to realize where he hid it, I was around eight, nine, ten years old at the time, I used to go downstairs to the basement with a flashlight, it was on the second or third shelf, and climb up and pull it down and read these things on my own. It was very heavy. It weighed three or four pounds. And I got to know his career better than he knew it.”

Ray not only read about his dad’s exploits in the ring. Lenny would also tell him stories.

“He would tell me stories and I would say, ‘But Dad, you forgot about this one. Tell me about the time you visited Henry Armstrong.’ Things like that. I’d ask him to tell me stories about Tony Canzoneri. My father loved Tony Canzoneri. My father only had one boxing hero. It was Tony Canzoneri. I eventually met Tony Canzoneri and they actually looked quite a lot alike. It’s uncanny. So I became a fan of Tony Canzoneri and I learned about his career. These are the things from my life, learning from my father.”

Many sons have followed in their father’s footsteps, usually with limited success. It was different with Ray and Lenny Mancini, and the father-son dynamic played itself out in unusual ways.

“My father never wanted me to be a fighter, to be honest with you, in the worst way. He said, ‘Raymond, it was the Depression, I had to fight, I had to eat. You have other opportunities,’ because at the time I had an academic and sports scholarship to go to college and professional baseball to play and he wanted me to pursue those. But I said, ‘Dad, I know I want to be a fighter. I know I want to win the title for you.’ What’s he going to say? It seems kind of funny. It seems kind of out there. But it’s all I ever knew. I was a good student, but I never thought of going to college to be a doctor, professor or lawyer or anything in the professional world. All I ever wanted was to be a fighter.”

There’s nothing like accomplishing a long cherished goal. And insofar as the fights are concerned, where everything is magnified to the nth degree, the achievement, to become a world champion, is that much greater.

“It was unbelievable,” Ray told me. “We were in the middle of the ring, hugging and kissing and crying with my sister and mother and the city of Youngstown. The ring was overwhelmed with people and it was the most euphoric feeling in the world for me to finally be able to accomplish that. It had been so many years. You have to sit back and let it happen.”

Although Ray, like his father, made his bones in boxing, his connection to sport is more peripheral than he might like.

“I’m a fan. That’s it. I’m not promoting, not managing, not training. I’m just a fan. I’d like to get back in boxing in some way, some capacity. I’m just not sure how. I’ve done commentary through the years for every major network. I’d like to get into commentary again. It’s easy to talk about something you know about. I was fairly good at it. People ask, ‘Are you training people?’ They don’t understand. To be a trainer, that has to be your life. You have to be there for that fighter on a day in and day out basis. You can’t be there for one or two days and all of a sudden take off for a couple of weeks or a month. I never wanted to do that. It takes a special person to want to be a trainer, because very seldom do you make money as a trainer. You have to do it for love of the sport. Most of these guys start off and don’t make any money until later. Guys like Freddie Roach, who’s a dear friend of mine, Freddie for years struggled, years, until he got a shot with a couple of fighters. Virgil Hill was his first fighter he made any type of money with. Freddie was hanging around the business for a long time before he got an opportunity to make any money.”

The clock was ticking. Before letting Boom Boom go, I offered a quote by the legendary trainer Gil Clancy. “Boxing isn’t a strength sport. It’s a skill sport.” I asked Ray what he thought about that, and if will vs. skill also plays a part in a successful ring career.

“I’m a firm believer that in life in general, and boxing specifically, character always beats talent. I wasn’t the most talented fighter, but I beat guys on will, determination, and desire. Character will always be tough, and boxing’s a sport where it’s been shown through the years. My father used to tell me, ‘Raymond, you’ve got to have a good chin and a great punch. A lot of heart and a good chin—one doesn’t do without the other. If you have lots of heart and no chin, you’re never going to go anywhere. If you have a good chin and no heart, you’re going to take a lot of butt-kicking.’ I call it intestinal fortitude, that thing inside that’s like a motor that drives you lots of times lots further than your body wants to go, but you dig out, you keep moving forward. Intestinal fortitude is all about character.

“My father used to tell me, ‘Are you born with a good chin? Yes, you are.’ And I believe that. The same thing with heart. Either you’re born with heart or not. Character’s the same thing. Either you have it or you don’t. Either you’re born with it or not. Like a punch, the same thing. Fighters are born. They’re not made.”

I liked “The Good Son,” both the film and the documentary, but there’s nothing I like better than The Good Interview.

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  1. Travelling Man 05:34am, 09/10/2013

    Met Ray at a Banquet on Sunday. Very personable and accessible and in super shape, Bramble was there as well and it made for some great memories,

  2. Magoon 01:53pm, 09/07/2013

    Very good article/interview, but nice catch by Bob. Hope Boom Boom clarifies.

  3. Bob 09:05am, 09/07/2013

    Canzoneri died (1959) before Mancini was born (1961); they could not have met as Mancini claims.

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