Wolf, whose only clients at the time were Duane Bobick and Too Tall Jones, sent his trainer, Murphy Griffith, to the 1979 National Golden Gloves Tournament in Indianapolis to scout for prospects. Griffith, who trained fighters in the Navy for more than 30 years and is the uncle of five-time world champ Emile Griffith, was immediately taken with the young Boom Boom. "I saw the name," he recalls, "and I thought, 'Hey, I know a Mancini.' He was raw, but he reminded me of a little Marciano."
Mancini turned pro despite his father's objections, signing on with Wolf and Griffith and moving to New York. He slept on Griffith's couch and began to learn the jab and the art of defense. A month later he made his pro debut back in Struthers, a community outside Youngstown. Top billing. The cover of the program showed a picture of Lenny, looking gnarled and somewhat pained, raising the arm of his handsome, smiling son. The caption read, "The Second Coming."
"My father didn't want me to turn pro," Ray says. "He told me it was a tough life, a painful life, a lonely life. The first two you could get through, but it's that third one that's the bitch. He said he had to fight for a living. I didn't. But when I told him I wanted to win the lightweight title for him, what could he say?"
His mother thought of something. "Your father's got no regrets. He's had a good life," she told him. "After all, he's had me. Live your own life."
Ray won his pro debut in fine fashion, knocking out one Phil Bowen at 1:59 of the first round. He began to fight on the undercard of Too Tall Jones' bouts. Jones would tell friends that if he could fight like the white kid, he'd be the next heavyweight champion. Griffith was working on Ray's hand speed, teaching him to box and block punches. He gave him a course in fistic anatomy, showing him where to land punches that would do the most damage. Ray became a crippling body puncher, with the double left hook his most destructive weapon—the first to the rib cage, the second to the jaw. He won 12 of his first 17 fights on first-or second-round knockouts.
"His father didn't want him to fight," says Griffith, "but he told him if that's what he wanted, it wasn't enough to just want to be a fighter. You had to make sacrifices. Ray works so hard. He's been schooled to work hard. One thing we don't have to worry about is him running around."
Like the elder Boom Boom, in the ring Ray is in perpetual motion. Griffith compares him with Henry (Hammerin' Henry) Armstrong, who once held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously. Armstrong used to throw 80 to 90 punches a round, hence the nickname. Ray averages more than 100. Yet he never gets so arm-weary that he stops pounding. He works out regularly on Nautilus machines to develop his already formidable upper body, and sometimes stands neck-deep in water and throws punches for up to an hour. Says Wolf, "He's in better shape than anybody he's going to fight, which is very comforting. People have to face the fact that not only is he devastating early, but he's going to be devastating all the way."
In his New York debut, young Boom Boom knocked out Norman Goins in the second round with a vicious double left hook. Arcel, his father's former trainer, was in the crowd specifically to see the chip off the old block. "Just like his father," he said afterward. Lenny disagrees: "He's a lot more scientific than I was. A lot more smarter."
Ray had his biggest fight so far on May 16 against sixth-ranked Jorge (Kid Dynamita) Morales of Los Angeles, who held the North American Boxing Federation title. The bout was televised nationally by CBS, and Sugar Ray Leonard did the color commentary. Before the fight Leonard depicted Mancini as something of a brawler. By the middle rounds he was apologetically correcting himself to viewers. The fight was stopped after nine rounds. Boom Boom had won all nine on two cards and was ahead eight rounds to one on the third. He had averaged 110 punches a round, but what most impressed and surprised observers was that he showed he could stay outside and jab, despite his short (65¾-inch) reach. "Ain't but two ways you can fight in boxing," Griffith says. "Inside or outside. There ain't no in between. I've taught Ray to do both. He surprised a lot of people by boxing against Morales. A lot of little guys can only get inside and bang."
Like Lenny (Boom Boom) Mancini. That was his game. He got inside and banged. The simple truth is that Ray is a better fighter, more skilled, more versatile than his father ever was. And about the only person who doesn't realize it is Ray himself.