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Boom, Boom (Mancini), Out Go the Lights!

Is boxing the sweet science of Muhammad Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” or is it just mindless blood and gore? Warren Zevon seems to be trying to avoid having to answer that question on his savagely beautiful song, “Boom Boom Mancini,” a track on the album Sentimental Hygiene where, ironically, Zevon is backed by those softies from R.E.M.

It goes like this:

Hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon

From Youngstown, Ohio, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini
A lightweight contender, like father like son
He fought for the title with Frias in Vegas
And he put him away in round number one

Hurry home early – hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon

When Alexis Arguello gave Boom Boom a beating
Seven weeks later he was back in the ring
Some have the speed and the right combinations
If you can’t take the punches it don’t mean a thing

Hurry home early – hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon

When they asked him who was responsible
For the death of Duk Koo Kim
He said, “Someone should have stopped the fight, and told me it was him.”
They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back

In 1984, Boom Boom Mancini defeated Bobby Chacon, mauling him badly. On September 7, 2016 Chacon died from the cumulative trauma he’d suffered in the ring. I feel close to the song “Boom Boom Mancini” because I’m from the Mahoning Valley in Ohio, just like Ray Mancini, and I have lived in Los Angeles for over twenty-five years, where local boy Bobby Chacon was a legend, a fan favorite, as he won two world titles. As for Duk Koo Kim, he died from the effects of fighting Mancini on November 13, 1982. Here’s what I wrote at the time in In Your Face! America’s Bluecollar Sport Letter:

What was it that brought Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim together in the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Sure, Mancini was the lightweight champion and the promoters brought in Kim in the expectation that he would be little more than a sparring partner. But the two fighters were linked by more than a common decision to risk their lives in the ring. Ray Mancini comes from Youngstown here in the Mahoning Valley where the unemployment rate is the highest in the country. While he is sincere when he says that he became a fighter to capture the title which World War Two prevented his father from pursuing, he really had little choice.

For decades any young man in the Valley willing to give up his health and his leisure time could make a good living in the steel mills or auto plants. That option was not open to Boom Boom Mancini because industrial production has been shifted to low-wage countries such as South Korea. Duk Koo Kim left the poverty of the Korean countryside and went to Seoul where he became a shoeshine boy. Perhaps he could have gotten a job in one of Korea’s new steel mills which have continued to operate at full production. But workers in Korean steel mills must wear uniforms and labor up to one hundred hours a week in return for subsistence wages. It’s little wonder that Kim became a boxer as soon as he got the chance.

Mancini calls himself “the bluecollar worker’s fighter” and more and more bluecollar workers are becoming fighters. Earnie Shavers, whose sister lives next door to us, left the local General Motors plant to don the gloves and went on to fight Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title. He has been followed by a host of “valley boys” such as top-ranked cruiserweight Randy Stephens. The brawler tournaments staged at local nightclubs have no trouble filling their cards and I know men ranging from unemployed steelworkers to sales managers who are in training in a desperate bid to become the next Boom Boom Mancini. Meanwhile, Duk Koo Kim’s pregnant fiancée declares that her unborn son will become a fighter so that he, like Ray Mancini, can win the title for his father.

They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back

Check out Lee Ballinger’s Love and War podcast at:

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Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: rockrap@aol.com.

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