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Monday, September 10, 2012

Review of The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini

The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
By: Mark Kriegel
Free Press, 2012
Available: September 18, 2012.

Mark Kriegel's The Good Son is a well-researched chronicle of the career of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in the wider context of the contemporary boxing world, life in Youngstown, Ohio, and Mancini's family history. The book is more thought-provoking than it is riveting. Though Mancini became America's sweetheart by receiving punches to the face- a phenomenon few readers will have experienced- Kriegel does an effective job of making Mancini relatable. And since tragedies dot the pages, feeling Mancini's pain makes it a difficult book to get through in one sitting.

But that doesn't make it any less worth the effort. Initially, Ray Mancini's lone mission in life was to win the championship that had escaped the grasp of his dad, an engaging man who came so close until he won a Purple Heart for the injury in World War II that ended his boxing career. The relationship between father and son is one of mutual affection and redemption. Ray's character is portrayed with more depth in the tragic aftermath of his encounter with Duk Koo Kim. From that point on, Ray was a man clamoring to regain the unbridled adulation he received before that fateful fight.

Kriegel's accounts of the in-the-ring action are vivid and enjoyable. His descriptions of Mancini's battles with Alexis Arguello, Kim, and Livingstone Bramble aren't mired in unnecessary detail. Instead, Kriegel hits the necessary notes in order to give a clear picture of the events while pushing the story forward.

Jews in boxing play a peripheral role in this tale. Ray's father Lenny was trained by the legendary Ray Arcel. Bernie "Schoolboy" Friedkin was a stablemate. Lenny's team of Frankie Jacobs and Arcel hoped he would be another Jackie "Kid" Berg, who had been guided by the two sages.

As for Ray, Kenny "Bang Bang" Bogner was perennially mentioned as a prospective opponent. After the Kim fight, Mancini saw Bogner defeat Gonzalo Montellano. In the beginning of that bout, Mancini winced whenever Bogner landed, but by the end Ray was excited to take on Bogner as a foe.

Mancini was scheduled to face Bang Bang in South Africa in 1983 with Frank Sinatra prepared to give a concert as part of the show. Mancini had to back out because of a bizarre shoulder injury endured in sparring. They were slated to fight in 1984 as well. But Mancini sustained a cut in training and backed out of another fight with Bogner. A member of Mancini's team said, "The cut wasn't bad enough to stop that fight... We made it look a little worse than it was. Ray was going to get beat."

The Good Son is recommended reading for all boxing fans, students of Youngstown, and anyone who enjoys a good father-son story.

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