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Talkin Boxing with Ray Mancini (2004)

Ray talks about his career and shares some interesting anecdotes about Frank Sinatra Alexis Arguello and even Bill Cosby…
By Scoop Malinowski
One of the most popular champions in the golden age of network TV boxing of the 1980’s was Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. He was the real deal and then some…an exciting, rugged, courageous warrior with movie star looks. But most captivating about Mancini was his unique, heart-warming story. Mancini was a boxer on a special quest to fulfill the dreams of his father Lenny, who was a top fighter in the 1940’s. Lenny Mancini was a victim of the politics of boxing and never got the opportunity to fight for the championship.
When Ray Mancini won the WBA Lightweight title in 1982 – at the age of 21 – with his father sitting at ringside – a new boxing star was born. Mancini became a national sports hero and media darling and went on to earn top dollar as each of his title fights were broadcast on network television.
Today, Mancini, 42, is not involved in professional boxing. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three kids. Few boxing champions go on to other careers or professions but Mancini is one who has. He’s now an actor and film producer and has just released his latest film “Turn of Faith” in which he also has a starring role. The Warner Brothers-distributed film was well-received at the Cannes and AFI Film Festivals and is now available on VHS and DVD.
Here’s the latest from former world boxing champion and current Hollywood film producer Ray Mancini:
Boxing Digest: Ray, are you the first boxing champ to star in and produce his own film?
Ray Mancini: “I’m not the first. Ken Norton did that in “Mandingo.” As far as produce…I don’t know. I might be. And also MGM distributed my movie “Body & Soul.” I’m very proud of that.”
BD: Tell us about your new movie “Turn of Faith.”
Mancini: “It’s the story of three lifelong friends and the trials and tribulations they go through growing up in the streets of New York surrounded by gangsters who set them up and used them. This film gives us a look inside the goings-on of the underworld and how it works, including the loyalties, the betrayals and the lack of regard for life. This film was written by a writer who has become one of my best friends, Lou Eppolito. He’s from New York, he lives in Las Vegas now. He’s a former cop, best-selling author (Mafia Cop). He’s the 11th most decorated cop in the history of New York Police Department. That’s incredible. “Turn of Faith” was based on one of his cases. Now he’s writing scripts. He has many scripts but this one I was particularly attracted to. Because of the characters, the words. It’s got to be in the words. The story is first but the words are second. If it doesn’t have the words, you lose me. Another thing…it’s not necessarily, What it is. It’s…What it could be. When I read the script, I loved what it could be. I loved the characters, loved the story. Exciting.”
BD: What were the influences, the inspirations for “Turn of Faith? The box promo has it sounding sort of like one of my all-time favorites “Angels With Dirty Faces” which starred James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Pat O’Brien…
Mancini: “And the Bowery Boys, man. The Bowery Boys are the best! I’m a big fan of the 70’s cop movies…French Connection, The Seven Ups, Bad Street ’73. Those 70’s had some great movies. We wanted to put a little of that in it. We keep the suspence going. You have Charles Durning, who was kind of in the role of the Pat O’Brien (priest) character (in “Angels With Dirty Faces.”) He was the loving, nurturing father. But he was basically a ruthless guy who would kill you as you sit down for a cup of coffee. And think nothing of it. So when people separate themselves from that human part and de-humanize themselves, that’s what you get. That’s what the mob has become. These guys are de-humanized. They have to be cold-blooded, because sometimes you have to whack your best friend. The whole society of the underworld is an amazing, interesting life. It’s amazing that these people can be so loving one minute, then de-humanize themselves the next.”
BD: Who else is in “Turn of Faith?”
Mancini: “Tony Sirico – (Paulie Walnuts) from “The Sopranos”, Costas Mandylor who was in “The Doors.” And Mia Sara who was in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
BD: Happy or sad ending to “Turn of Faith?”
Mancini: “Sad. If you wrap it up in a nice bow…that’s a Hollywood ending. But that’s not reality. You can’t wrap that in a nice tie and bow. To me, good movies like that are not interesting. There’s no happy ending in mob movies. There’s no happy ending in crime stories. All you can do is learn and move on.”
BD: You’ve been in Hollywood for over a decade now. What have you learned about filmmaking?
Mancini: “This movie took 2 1/2 years to make. When I did “Body & Soul” it took me nine years to acquire the rights to the script. MGM owned the rights, I owned the script. We did a contemporized version of it. They loved the script because it was in the words. Producers make the movies, but the writers put the producer’s vision into words. To make it a reality. Nowadays, in the independent film business, the producer is the most important. The director is the hired hand. I could fire him like I fire an actor. Because I have the script. I’m the one raising the money, I find the money. The words of a script have to catch you. If the words don’t catch eyeballs in the first ten minutes, you lose ’em. If you don’t catch me in the first ten pages, you lose me. You’ve got to start the movie in motion. It’s called motion pictures. It’s got to be moving. A lot of times I’ll read a script, I say, Man, terrific story. Interesting. Really captured my attention. Could be a great book. Not a movie, but a book. They say, What?! Because it doesn’t start the movie in motion. You waited to page 30 or 40 to get this thing going.”
BD: What’s next, any new projects in the works?
Mancini: “Well, I’m in the mix now. My mentor is Ted Kurdyla. He’s my production partner. He started out with Dino DeLaurentis and Sergio Leone as a unit production man. We’ve got two film projects in the works and one TV series. Any good scripts I like to do. One of them is a boxing script. There are more boxing movies than any other sports movies. I read it and I liked it. It has a little slant to it. I said, Ted this can work. The other script – which I own – is about two guys in a mid-life crisis…a throwback to John Cassavetes movies. It’s not really a commercial piece, but a character piece. It could attract top, big names. It could be an award-winning type of movie.”
BD: Lets talk about boxing. What was the last fight you attended live?
Mancini: “October 4th, Erik Moralez-Guty Espadas at the Staples. Famoso Hernandez beat Steve Forbes. Rafael Marquez (beat Mauricio Pastrana). The card – from top to bottom – was all wars. I love the lighter weights.”
BD: What is an early memory of yours from boxing, back in Youngstown, Ohio?
Mancini: “From the amateurs, when you first fight for trophies and medals, it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s pure. You fight for the love of it. As a pro, I was living from fight to fight. I was on a journey. Once you win the world title, the purity, the innocence is gone. Now it becomes a business. Before that, I’d fight for free. When you win the title, it’s a business. The purity is gone.”
BD: What was your pre-fight feeling/mindset?
Mancini: “Always had butterflies. You’ve got to have that. Keeps you on edge, sharp. If you’re too calm and serene…that’s when you get whacked out. I had the fear of the unknown. Confident. My style was a throwback style. Six weeks of training camp was perfect for me. Ten days before the fight, I’d have the gym fight – 15 rounds with four sparring partners. After that day, it was just sharpening. Cut down sparring, running and sprinting. It’s like sharpening a tool to it’s finest point. It’s a science. You have to know the perfect time for you to peak. The walk from the dressing room to the ring…that’s when the fight is won and lost. You have to be confident in your abilities. If you realize that you’re not 100% physically, it works on the mental. Negative thoughts creep in on all athletes, especially fighters. You have to constantly challenge the negativity though. It’s like a toilet, you got to flush it.”
BD: What was your greatest career moment?
Mancini: “Winning the world title (TKO 1 Arturo Frias in Las Vegas in 1982 on CBS network TV). That was the greatest moment of my professional life. The only time that I’ll have that exaltation, that feeling of euphoria in my head.”
BD: What was your most painful night in the ring?
Mancini: “Was losing the title in Buffalo (TKO 14 to Livingstone Bramble in 1984). As Marlon Brando said in “On The Waterfront”, ‘It wasn’t my night.’ Knowing this guy wanted to rip my head off, knowing that I didn’t have it physically to hold him off.”
BD: What fight were you at your best?
Mancini: “I don’t think I ever became the complete fighter I wanted to become. Until the end of my career. Frias and (Ernesto) Espana (KO 6 in ’82) were good fights for me. I think the Bobby Chacon fight (TKO 3 in ’84) was maybe my peak.”
BD: Who was your toughest opponent?
Mancini: “Arguello, without a doubt (TKO 14 loss for the WBC Lightweight title in 1981 – it is now an ESPN Classic). One of the all-time greats What makes him great is his demeanor. He had the mindset of a champion. So composed. I remember he was losing to Ruben Olivares in 1974. But he kept his composure. Like a mongoose, he set the trap. Arguello’s a true champion, in and out of the ring. A great guy. Pure class. Great fighter. Great champion.”
BD: Who was the hardest puncher you faced?
Mancini: “Alexis Arguello. He hit me with jabs that rattled me. That one loss taught me more than my 20 wins. He told me, ‘I admire you, what you did for your father. You will be champions someday.’ That loss was painful, but I fought six weeks later. I came back and fought six weeks later (KO 2 Manuel Abedoy). Today, a lot of fighters take a long time off after suffering a loss. I think that’s a mistake. The first thing you should do is come right back. Get a win and move forward again.”
BD: Which fighters do you like to watch today?
Mancini: “Barrera is one of my favorites. But he just got beat. I guess he got old. Manny Pacquiao – he’s nothing but action. Floyd Mayweather, to me, he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter. His skills and talent are so far ahead and above everybody else. You can’t achieve greatness until you challenge it. He’s fought everybody he can. I thought Roy Jones was not achieving greatness by beating mailmen and policemen. But Jones proved his greatness by beating John Ruiz.”
BD: You were one of the most popular and exciting champions of the 1980’s. Did you have any celebrities who were fans of yours?
Mancini: “The celebrities that you meet when you climb the ladder, that was wonderful. Redd Foxx was a good friend of mine. Redd was a wonderful guy. And he loved boxing. I met Mr. Sinatra. When I was training at Palm Springs, he even called me one day to say that he couldn’t come out that day to watch me train. Can you imagine that, he called me to apologize!? Joe DiMaggio – who I got to spend a lot of quality time with him. Bill Cosby, Willie Stargell, and Lou Rawls were at the Kim fight, which was the opening of the permanent outdoor facility at Casears Palace. I remember between rounds of the Kim fight (TKO 14 in ’82). Difficult fight. My cornermen are giving me instructions. All the sudden, Bill Cosby sticks his head in between the ropes. And says, ‘Tell that boy to move his head!’ I look and there’s Bill Cosby in my corner! I still laugh about it now.”

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