Mancini: 'It is all about the journey'

Former lightweight champ took pride in winning and putting on a show for fans

Originally Published: August 7, 2013
By Brian Campbell | ESPN.com

Hailing from the fighting city of Youngstown, Ohio, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini might have been the most exciting fighter of the 1980s.

The former lightweight champion (29-5, 23 KOs), who originally retired at age 24 in 1985 before making two unsuccessful comebacks, has been through myriad ups and downs in his 52 years. From his two-year title run and growing celebrity to the tragic death of opponent Duk Koo Kim after their 1982 bout, Mancini's life and career has been profiled in the new documentary "The Good Son," inspired by the 2012 biography of the same name.

Mancini recently stopped by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to talk about a number of topics, including the infamous Kim fight and whom he favors in the Sept. 14 showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez.

What can we expect from your documentary "The Good Son"?
I hope what comes out of it is that people have an understanding of who I am and what I am -- meaning, the city I come from, why I wanted to become a fighter for my father, the type of man he was, my hero. But Mark Kriegel [the author of Mancini's biography] said other than me and my father, the city of Youngstown is the most important character in the book and in my life, and I believe that it is. I'm very proud of [the documentary]. It's a very special moment for me to see that up on screen, but I think it's just that after this I don't think anyone will have any questions about my career or my life.

You've been through a lot in your life, and a quote I've often heard you use to describe it is, "It's all about the journey." What does that really mean to you?

We all know the destination. We all know what's going to be at the end! It is about the journey. I learned that early. So many things in life I've heard through the years, all clichés, that have so much more meaning now and are more truthful now than ever. You always hear that you've got to enjoy life. What does that mean? Well, it's the truth. Life's too short. You'll hear all those things, but it is about the journey. Look, I've made a lot of mistakes in my personal life. I made a lot of mistakes when I was married. I made a lot of mistakes with my children. But I hope and pray to God that I've done more right than wrong. And that's what I hope that comes out to my children, and I've tried to explain that to them. We do a lot of wrong in life, but hopefully all the right overcomes that.

A fight that played a major role in your career was your 1982 victory over Duk Koo Kim, in which he tragically died in the aftermath. What was it like for you as a 21-year-old champion to go through something like that?
Look, I was on the climb. I was riding the wave, and it all came crashing down. We had just agreed to do an endorsement for a national cereal company, a national soft drink company and a national apparel company. So everything was on the horizon. After this fight, everything went away and I was avoided like the plague. I understand that now, but I didn't understand that then. I was sensitive to a lot of things at that time. That's life, but that only helps build character. But just like the boxing clichés, you have to roll with the punches, get hit with a couple shots and come back stronger -- all that kind of stuff. That fight changed me as a fighter and obviously changed my life. But when I say it changed me as a fighter, it changed the sense of how I looked at the sport. When I first started fighting, I fought for honorable reasons. I fought to win the world title for my father, for the honor of my city of Youngstown, to be the best champion possible. After that fight, there's nothing honorable about it. It took away all of my love for it. As a fighter, though, I fought the same way. I still went in there to knock guys out. That didn't stop me from that. What it did stop me from is that I was looking for the door. I was already looking to get out. I asked and my business manager told me I had enough money for my security for my life. That's all I wanted to know, that I had enough money for security to retire and I'll get out. And that's what I did. So I was 24 when I retired, which is very young, obviously. But I had 32 fights at that point, in 5½ years. I was active. I think a lot of people thought I fought longer because I was active and fought a lot on TV.

Speaking of that television boom, you came in at the perfect time, right after Sugar Ray Leonard turned pro and when smaller weight classes were suddenly getting a big push on TV in the early 1980s. What was that period like for you?
Oh, I hit the juggernaut. In 1981, CBS wants to get into the fight game and wants to showcase the lightweights. Oh, man, I hit the juggernaut! But I was just very fortunate. People say, 'Oh, TV made you.' And I would say, sure. But I'd like to think that I was also a winning fighter, because it doesn't mean nothing if you aren't a winning fighter. Yeah, I was exposed to over 60 million people domestically and over 100 million people worldwide. You can imagine that. So if you look at the ratings that we were doing, we were seen by millions of people around the world.

Well, you won a lot, but you also had the style to go with it.
Yeah, I'd like to think that I was fan-friendly. I was good for TV and good for the fans. You have an obligation to the fans to give them the best show possible. I tried to do that every time, and I'm very appreciative that the fans still remember my fights.

[+] EnlargeRay
AP PhotoRay "Boom Boom" Mancini won a lightweight championship in 1982, was shaken after Duk Koo Kim died following their bout later that year, then retired in 1985 at 24.

You were just 20 years old when you had your first title fight, against Alexis Arguello in 1981 [ending in a 14th-round TKO defeat]. What was that like for you?
People often say to me exactly what you asked me. Look, Alexis was one of my heroes. He was one of the greatest fighters ever. I saw when he beat [Alfredo] Escalera for the junior lightweight championship, and I know I read about him when he beat Ruben Olivares for the featherweight championship. I knew what kind of great fighter he was. He had the great name, "El Flaco Explosivo," which meant "The Explosive Thin Man." That was his great nickname because he was knocking guys out dead with the way he hit. Ping! But I saw him win the world title when he fought Jim Watt in June of 1981, and he didn't look that impressive. We thought we were catching him at the right time. Plus, I was a natural lightweight, so I didn't think he was going to be stronger than me. I was aggressive and I really thought my youth and enthusiasm were going to be enough to overcome him. I had a great training camp, and if it's a 12-round fight, then I win the title because I was winning after 12. That's why the true championship distance is 15. But Alexis -- and that's what made him great -- his whole thing was to take guys in the later rounds. It's something that I learned to do later on. Alexis was one of those guys who sets traps early in a fight and then goes back later to see if any of those traps caught. I made him miss with a thousand right hands. But it only takes one, and he caught me with a right in the 12th and I went down to one knee. I got up, and in the 13th round my trainer told me just to move around. In the 14th, I was backing him up and I felt good. But he caught me with another shot. He stunned me and dropped me. When I got up, I was hurt, but obviously the referee stopped it and he did a good job. I have no qualms; that night wasn't my night. But I knew after the fight that I would be world champion. I knew I had what it took.

What was that feeling like when you finally did win a world title with a first-round TKO against Arturo Frias in May of 1982?
It was euphoric. I tell people that there's nothing in my life, other than my two children being born, that will ever compare to that moment.

Are there any fighters today that remind you a little bit of yourself?
I don't want to compare myself, but there are certainly fighters that I enjoy seeing. I love this kid Nonito Donaire. I love Abner Mares. I love Lucas Matthysse. I love these guys that are action fighters and come forward and put on a show. I think a lot of fighters forget that you have an obligation to the fans when you're on TV to give the best show possible, especially on pay-per-view. A lot of these guys stink out the joint. They get booed, and they can care less. And networks have to take some form of responsibility for the guys they put on pay-per-view. Some of these guys are not pay-per-view fighters.

Speaking of pay-per-views and the value you get, are we getting a big one on Sept. 14. What are your thoughts on Mayweather-Canelo?
People have asked me, and look, Floyd is special. But I've met Canelo. I was training in the same gym when he fought [Austin] Trout. He's built like a linebacker. And you can see in this kid that he can punch and he's so strong. ... Floyd don't want to engage in that type of fight. I don't think this is a fight that Floyd wanted. I think he took it because he was pressured into it by the networks. But if Canelo jumps on Floyd right from the get -- right from the jump -- and makes it a dogfight, [he has a] very good chance of upsetting him. Because I don't think that Floyd can stay with his power, and I don't think he wants that type of fight anymore. The problem is, that's not Canelo's style. Canelo likes to give the first two rounds away. I tell people that if he fights the way he's been fighting and he gives the first two rounds away, he's got to win seven of the next 10 to win the decision, and that ain't gonna happen. ... Here's the bottom line: Canelo is 22 [Alvarez turned 23 on July 18] and Floyd is 36. You've got to make Floyd fight at a 22-year-old's pace. Don't let him fight at a 36-year-old pace.

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