Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and was a childhood friend of University of Oklahoma football coaches Bob and Mike Stoops.
His father was Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini who was a top-ranked contender in the 1940s but whose title hopes were dashed when he was wounded in World War II.
In May 1982, Ray Mancini won the World Boxing Association lightweight belt, a title he held for two years. In November 1982, Mancini defended his title against Korean Duk-Koo Kim. Mancini won on a knockout in the 14th round and Kim never regained consciousness
Kim's mother and the fight referee later committed suicide. Some say Mancini was never the same fighter after that.
Mancini will be in Oklahoma City Thursday to attend the OKC Charity Fight Night.
Where I grew up, Bobby (Stoops) lived the next street down. I grew up with him and his brothers. I've known them my whole life. (Youngstown) was a hotbed for high school sports, not only football, but others. High school football is like a religion over there, similar to Oklahoma and Texas.
Bobby's father, Mr. (Ron) Stoops, was a wonderful, wonderful baseball player. I remember seeing him when we were kids. We used to go watch him play. And then of course, Mr. Stoops was my baseball coach.
I played all sports — baseball, basketball and football — but I knew I wanted to be a professional fighter from Day 1. Playing football was gonna be a high school thing and I loved it, but I gave it up.
I still had basketball, but eventually I had to give that up (because of boxing). So I just focused on baseball. Mr. Stoops was my baseball coach. He used to say, ‘Look Ray, I know fighting is what you want to do, but you can always play for me.' I was a pretty good baseball player.
Mr. Stoops came to me and said ‘Ray, so you wanna be a fighter?' And I said, ‘Yes sir, that's what I wanna be. He says, ‘Well you be the best you can be.' He says, “You bring us back that championship, I said, ‘Mr. Stoops, that's what I'm gonna do.'
It's important for high school students to have people believing in you like that. When I gave up football, all I heard from the other coaches was ‘Give up football? For what? You're gonna be a fighter? For what? You can't go nowhere as a fighter. At least with football you can get a scholarship.'
They didn't understand the big picture. Mr. Stoops understood. He saw my dedication and he saw I was working at it and he said, ‘You go and get that championship.' I tell people how important it was for me at that time for a coach to look at me and understand what I wanted to do and give me the encouragement to do it. I tell Bob, I'll always, always love his father for that.
My father has been my influence from Day 1. He was everything I wanted to be as a man and as a father. People ask me, ‘If you weren't a fighter, what would you be?' I say I can't answer that. There's nothing else I wanted to be.
I wanted to be a fighter and world champion for my father. My father's the one who tried to talking me out of it. When I wanted to turn pro, he said ‘Raymond, it's a painful life and a lonely life. I had to fight depression. I had to fight, but you don't have to fight. You have so many opportunities.' I had academic as well as athletic scholarships to go to college. I had a professional baseball offer when I was 18. I wanted to turn pro (in boxing).
I was like 8, 9, 10 years old and I used to dream about being a world champion. I would go to bed and see myself carrying the belt over my head, my arms raised. I would dream that every night.
Fighters are born, not made. You are either born with the fighting spirit, or you're not.
I wanted to win the world title for my father. My father got drafted in January 1944. He had already beaten the champion in a nontitle fight but never got the opportunity (for a title fight). He never got that chance to fight for it. It was heartbreaking.