Fourteen years ago, when he lost his title (and a good deal of shredded skin) to Livingstone Bramble, Mancini saw the light. "Let's see," he says with a laugh, "in boxing, it's all pain. In acting, I don't get hit, and if something goes wrong, it's 'Cut!' and do it again. What's the question?"
Right before the first Bramble bout, in 1984, Mancini had auditioned to play himself in the TV movie Heart of a Champion: The Ray Mancini Story. Acting was nothing serious to him then—more like, Well, I'm gonna be in the area. Why not give it a shot? So he met with the film's producers and read a few lines from the script. "My agent," recalls Mancini, "he told me they didn't think I could do it. It's a major role, I'd never acted, blah blah blah. So I went into a room with these guys, and they hand me a piece of paper. Action—I read my lines. They tell me to do it again, so I do it again. They ask for it one more time. So I do it again. They said, 'Hey, you can really do this. You can act.' Well, I wasn't really acting. I mean, I lived it. But they offered me the role, and I was really interested. It was something that truly appealed to me." The beating from Bramble, however, awaited, and Mancini turned down the acting job. "Maybe I should've grabbed the part instead," he says, looking back at the fight in which he lost his title.
After losing to Bramble again in 1985, he decided to give acting the nod, though he twice made comeback attempts, both unsuccessful. In '89 he lost in 12 rounds to Hector (Macho) Camacho in the WBO junior welterweight title fight, and three years later he suffered a seventh-round KO by Greg Haugen. That just reinforced his decision to concentrate on acting. Since then, Mancini has devoted himself to being a thespian. His roles, in small-budget movies and on television, have been wide-ranging and mostly forgettable, but his performances have held up quite well. "He wasn't intimidated at all," says Michael Badalucco, who costarred with Mancini five years ago in The Search for One-Eye Jimmy, a dark comedy. "Ray was very charismatic in that movie. There's something charming about him that comes across. He has a natural warmness."
The problem is, producers and casting agents who hear the name Ray Mancini can't always let go of the Boom Boom. Sure, they say, we have someone you can play. How about...yourself?
Six years ago Mancini formed Boom Boom Productions, "because," he says, "it's no fun waiting for calls." He paid MGM somewhere in the high five figures for the rights to Body and Soul and hired a well-known screenwriter, Sam Henry Kass, to update the story. "There are things Ray can do and things he can't do," says Kass, who wrote One-Eye Jimmy as well as Conversations with the Mob, an off-Broadway play in which Mancini performed seven years ago. "He's not the most polished or refined actor in the world. He's probably not going to have the lead role in Titanic or something of that nature. But there's something about Ray as a boxer and now as an actor that you believe in."
Filming on the remake started in the spring, mostly in Reno. Mancini the producer hopes the movie will be in theaters across the country this fall. Mancini the star of the film says this is his title shot. If his history holds sway, he'll come out a winner.