Sunday, December 20, 2009

Boom Boom, The Ghost and Youngstown


To say that Youngstown, Ohio is a major part of who Ray Mancini and Kelly Pavlik are would only be a small part of the story. Whenever you read about either man, Youngstown is always mentioned - or they mention Youngstown. It is an interwoven fabric of their very being.

To hear Mancini and Pavlik tell the story, it’s the people and the fighting spirit of the city that helped to transform them into who they are as people and as fighters.

"I born and raised, born and bred there. Youngstown is where I started and Youngstown is where I fought," says Mancini, now 48, who will forever be known as "Boom Boom".

Twenty-five years ago, Mancini became a sensation when he tore through the lightweight division while appearing on the CBS network’s "Sports Spectacular" that was televised on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

"I’ve always said that the people of Youngstown played a large part in who I was and in my success," claims Mancini, who wore the WBA lightweight title belt from 1982 to 1984.

"They always followed me and stuck with me wherever I fought. There were times in my career, in tough fights, where their encouragement and support carried me farther than I wanted to go. Because of that, I have a great appreciation for the people of Youngstown."

Those same families, most likely the sons and daughters of the folks that helped to rally Mancini to nationwide stardom are now doing the same for middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. Tonight at Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center, "The Ghost" will make the third defense of his title against 25-1 underdog, Miguel Espino.


Mancini as he appeared in his prime, preparing for a fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

"I’ve known Kelly since he was ten years old," says Mancini. "I grew up with his trainer Jack Loew. To me, I would say that Kelly is really just a tremendous, uplifting type of person for the city of Youngstown, now. The people look at him as though he’s the kid from next door, which he is, but he gives them hope. Kelly has shown the people there what is possible if you work hard and stick it out."

Mancini has always been the type of person that was never afraid to work hard and stick it out. In order to turn pro, he left Youngstown at age 18 in 1979, moved to New York City and slept on the couch of his then manager, Dave Wolf. Within two years he fought his way into a WBC title shot against the great Alexis Arguello.

Although Arguello stopped him in the 14th round, Mancini showed tremendous determination in the losing effort. His endearing story of attempting to win the title for his father Lenny, whose boxing career was cut short because of an injury suffered during World War II, caused an instant star to be born. Mancini became a weekend staple on CBS and only seven months after he lost to Arguello he violently annexed the WBA lightweight title from Arturo Frias in less than a round.

From that fight on, Mancini has never looked back. Over the course of the next several years he earned millions of dollars in purse money and eventually retired for good from the game at age 31.

He was wise with his ring earnings and parlayed his financial rewards and popularity as a boxer into a successful career in film and television. Mancini relocated to Los Angeles and over the years he has appeared in several movies and television shows. He currently owns two production companies that produce documentary films, infomercials and motion pictures. He also owns the El Campeon Cigar company and recently delved into the wine business.


Mancini was a fan favorite and thousands would show up to watch him perform.

His new wine is called "Southpaw" and the first bottles hit the shelves last month.

"We wanted to create an enjoyable, quality-driven and affordable wine that would satisfy many wine drinkers," said Mancini of his new venture. "I often refer to this style of wine as sexy because it’s not overpowering, but it has an excellent depth of flavor - and it’s smooth."

Although he "went Hollywood" a long time ago, Mancini never strays too far from the town that helped to make him who he is. He launched his new wine in the area and he recently co-produced a documentary called "Youngstown: Still Standing". It tells the long story and colorful history of the old steel town through the eyes of many of its residents.

"We show the city of Youngstown as a fighter," says Mancini of the city that was once a leader in worldwide steel production, but is now a down and out relic of its former self.

Sam Kass, a co-producer of the project, told the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper that the city and people of the city are inspirational.

"I'm impressed by their resolve. I see them as survivors, said Kass. "They have decided they have no choice but to move on. If any place had a right to turn out the lights and walk away, its Youngstown, but they don’t.

"In this day, the country is in hard times," Kass continues. "But Youngstown has been through this over and over. It typifies hard times and understands it. The city embodies the spirit of this country and I wanted to see what makes it tick. Despite its bad news, and bad reputation, you can’t kill it. The more you beat it, the more it comes back. It’s like Ray and his fighting spirit - it never gives up."

Pavlik and Loew make appearances in the film, along with Youngstown native, actor Ed O’Neil, who is better know as Al Bundy from the "Married…with Children" TV series.

What’s interesting about Youngstown is that it has produced not only world champions in Mancini and Pavlik, but also Harry Arroyo, who held the IBF lightweight title for about a year in 1984 and 1985. Jeff Lampkin was the IBF cruiserweight belt holder in 1990, and Greg Richardson reigned as the WBC bantamweight champ in 1991.

So what is it about Youngstown, a city with a population of approximately 75,000, that has seen it produce boxing champions with such inordinate frequency? Is there something in the water?

"It’s the town itself," explains Mancini of the city that has been home to five world champs in the past twenty-five years. "You grow up in a town like Youngstown and you know, it’s a blue-collar town filled with blue-collar types of people. It’s a working man’s town where you get up in the morning and you do honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and at the end of the day the results are there. And now Kelly is making his own way, just like I made mine. It’s what the town’s about."


December 2009