Have I changed?" asks (rhetorically) the man once known for
bleeding profusely. He boasts a Beverly Hills salon haircut
(given by Ted, the dude with the blue fingernails), and he
chomps on a thick stogie as he sits with a glass of wine in
front of him, sushi on his plate, at a corner table in L.A.'s
Cigar Bar, an exclusive spot that doesn't usually attract people
who used to bleed profusely for a living. "I guess everyone
changes a little bit."
What was it, 15 years ago that Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, the
spunky kid from Youngstown, Ohio, in those tight Sasson trunks,
won over boxing populists with a face-first approach? For more
than two years he was the WBA lightweight champion. Has Mancini
To start, he isn't even Ray (Boom Boom) anymore. He's Raymond,
thank you very much, and you can drop the Boom Boom. As for the
blood--well, forget the blood. "People ask me if I still wanna
fight," says Ray...uh...mond. "Are they crazy? Are they nuts?
I'm just glad I can still spell fight."
For the record, he can. It's F-I-G-H-T or, more accurately,
N-E-V-E-R A-G-A-I-N. Recently, the 37-year-old Mancini says, he
was offered the chance to return to the ring with a three-bout,
$7.5 million deal that would allow him to pick his opponents.
"The guy said, 'Ray, it's all rock-and-roll today,'" recalls
Mancini. "People don't pay for the fight, they pay for the
performer. I mean, it's stupid. Right now my life is good. I've
got a wonderful wife, I've got three wonderful kids. Plus, I've
got my title shot. My real title shot."
Mancini is, in fact, preparing for the biggest opportunity of
his life, a starring movie role. "Even people who don't know too
much," he says, "think this is the perfect film for me. They say
this is my chance."
On top of his wavy brown hair, he wears a black cap that reads
body and soul. Those words come out of his mouth every fifth or
sixth sentence. "Did I tell you about Body and Soul? Let's get
some lunch. Roy Jones really impressed me last night. My babies
are the pride of my life. Body and Soul is my biggest chance,
you know. Body and Soul. Body and Soul. Body and Soul."
It is the name of a movie, the 1947 classic starring John
Garfield and Lilli Palmer. The story is about a boxer from a
small town in Ohio who gets seduced by the bright lights of Las
Vegas. He leaves home to pursue a championship, but along the
way he encounters the dark side of sport. Charlie Davis, the
film's main character, could be a young Ray Mancini: The way he
talks. The way he boxes.
"I've never been more drawn to a character," says Mancini, who
has been in L.A. for nearly 13 years, putting in his time paying
dues and scratching for parts. Two years ago he purchased the
rights to the film, and he is starring in the remake, which he
is also producing. Hollywood heavyweights Rod Steiger and Joe
Montegna are in the cast. "I mean, this is what I was born for,"
says Mancini. "It's not just me playing a boxer. This is a
character with substance and complexities and trials. It's the
perfect opportunity--my chance to show something."
That's more important to Mancini than to many former fighters.
He retired from the ring at 23, his mind intact but his legacy
unclear. Although he was among the most popular fighters of the
1980s, he is known most for the 1982 bout in which he dealt his
opponent, Duk Koo Kim of South Korea, fatal head injuries. It's
a shame, really. Mancini could fight. He won the WBA title at
21, a gift to his father, Lenny Mancini, whose own dreams of
boxing glory were ruined by a back injury he suffered during a
tour of military duty in Vietnam. Ray was a stylish
fighter--dartin' and movin', stickin' and jabbin'. He was a
showman. The ladies loved him. The traditionalists (read: white
crusties) ate him up. "For a long time," Mancini says, "boxing
was everything to me. It was my life. Problem is, once you win
the championship, everything changes. You're not fighting to win
it anymore. You're just fighting"--he pauses--"to fight."
As he speaks, Mancini awkwardly maneuvers his truck through the
tight streets of Beverly Hills, driving with one hand,
illustrating his conversation with the other. His words come
super-duper fast. At just 5'6", he doesn't look much like a
brawler. Carmen, his wife of nine years, says, "Ray is a
beautiful man--like a model."
Fourteen years ago, when he lost his title (and a good deal of
shredded skin) to Livingstone Bramble, Mancini saw the light.
"Let's see," he says with a laugh, "in boxing, it's all pain. In
acting, I don't get hit, and if something goes wrong, it's
'Cut!' and do it again. What's the question?"
Right before the first Bramble bout, in 1984, Mancini had
auditioned to play himself in the TV movie Heart of a Champion:
The Ray Mancini Story. Acting was nothing serious to him
then--more like, Well, I'm gonna be in the area. Why not give it
a shot? So he met with the film's producers and read a few lines
from the script. "My agent," recalls Mancini, "he told me they
didn't think I could do it. It's a major role, I'd never acted,
blah blah blah. So I went into a room with these guys, and they
hand me a piece of paper. Action--I read my lines. They tell me
to do it again, so I do it again. They ask for it one more time.
So I do it again. They said, 'Hey, you can really do this. You
can act.' Well, I wasn't really acting. I mean, I lived it. But
they offered me the role, and I was really interested. It was
something that truly appealed to me." The beating from Bramble,
however, awaited, and Mancini turned down the acting job. "Maybe
I should've grabbed the part instead," he says, looking back at
the fight in which he lost his title.
After losing to Bramble again in 1985, he decided to give acting
the nod, though he twice made comeback attempts, both
unsuccessful. In '89 he lost in 12 rounds to Hector (Macho)
Camacho in the WBO junior welterweight title fight, and three
years later he suffered a seventh-round KO by Greg Haugen. That
just reinforced his decision to concentrate on acting. Since
then, Mancini has devoted himself to being a thespian. His
roles, in small-budget movies and on television, have been
wide-ranging and mostly forgettable, but his performances have
held up quite well. "He wasn't intimidated at all," says Michael
Badalucco, who costarred with Mancini five years ago in The
Search for One-Eye Jimmy, a dark comedy. "Ray was very
charismatic in that movie. There's something charming about him
that comes across. He has a natural warmness."
The problem is, producers and casting agents who hear the name
Ray Mancini can't always let go of the Boom Boom. Sure, they
say, we have someone you can play. How about...yourself?
Six years ago Mancini formed Boom Boom Productions, "because,"
he says, "it's no fun waiting for calls." He paid MGM somewhere
in the high five figures for the rights to Body and Soul and
hired a well-known screenwriter, Sam Henry Kass, to update the
story. "There are things Ray can do and things he can't do,"
says Kass, who wrote One-Eye Jimmy as well as Conversations with
the Mob, an off-Broadway play in which Mancini performed seven
years ago. "He's not the most polished or refined actor in the
world. He's probably not going to have the lead role in Titanic
or something of that nature. But there's something about Ray as
a boxer and now as an actor that you believe in."
Filming on the remake started in the spring, mostly in Reno.
Mancini the producer hopes the movie will be in theaters across
the country this fall. Mancini the star of the film says this is
his title shot. If his history holds sway, he'll come out a
COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR [Ray Mancini during shooting of movie Body and Soul]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN NO TITLE ROLE, NO TITLE Mancini turned down the lead in his own TV biopic before losing to Bramble in '84 and '85 (above). [Ray Mancini boxing Livingstone Bramble]
"In acting I don't get hit, and if something goes wrong, it's
'Cut!' and do it again."