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October 11, 2012 - Joe Gorman
All the recent publicity about former lightweight boxing champion and South Side native Ray ``Boom Boom' Mancini has brought back a lot of memories.
And not to be cliched, but what I remember most about Boom Boom is how he was a light in a very dark time.
I still remember when he first burst on the scene in the wake of Black Monday and how each fight was a step closer to the title and the excitement that would build up in the city. Growing up on the West Side, I was fortunate because my father still had his job, but a lot of people on my street were out of work and some were out of work for years and never really got back to earning a proportion of what they once made.
The publicity for his biography and the documentary movie have brought it all back. I can't wait to read the book and see the movie.
There was the heartbreak when he lost his first title shot, the exhilaration when he won the title and the pride the sweltering day he defended it in Mollenkopf Stadium. I remember everything in my neighborhood stopped as everyone scrambled for a fan and a television to watch the fight.
This was the time when the city had to turn off the streetlights because they couldn't pay the electric bill, and the news on the television and the newspapers was always about some mill or factory closing and someone losing their job. It's when places like the Mahoning Plaza, McGuffey Mall and Lincoln Knolls Plaza and even Liberty Plaza began to go into declines which, with the exception of Liberty, were never halted.
But Boom Boom was one of us, and he was fighting back and winning. There was also the awesome Pat Travers song which was his unofficial anthem. Even now, if I hear it on the radio I crank it, blow out the windows and my kids' ears and try to explain it all to them.
It all changed with the death of Duk Ko Kim in Las Vegas. I remember watching the fight and worrying how I would feel if Mancini lost the title. I was happy when he won but I remember hearing of Kim's death the next day and wondering, as I sat in church, how Boom Boom felt.
That was the beginning of the end, although no one knew it at the time. The Bramble fights, especially the second, were almost unwatchable, and his decline seemed to also mirror the decline of boxing as a big time sport in America.
But years later, I'm still a huge fan. And my most prized possession is an autographed picture I have of him that my late grandfather got for me through Boom Boom's Godfather, who he worked with at Northside Hospital. It reads, ``To my pal Joey. Best wishes always, Ray `Boom Boom' Mancini.''
To paraphrase the Pat Travers song, in his heyday, Boom Boom made sure the lights were never turned off.
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