That’s the kind of fatherly ball-busting Ray Mancini got growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, a dilapidated, crime-ridden mill town.
But box he did.
The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini is a heartbreaking documentary about a man trying to please his father (also a pro boxer, Lenny) and the tragic circumstances the family faced. This included the biker gang hit on Ray’s older brother (a pro fighter, who’d gotten mixed up with the local mob) and of course, the tragedy in the ring that night in Vegas, November 13, 1982, which has dogged Ray Mancini for a lifetime and put a black cloud on the sweet science ever since.
In that infamous fight, in front of millions for the WBA title, opponent Kim Duk-koo suffered a subdural hematoma, bleeding of the brain, and died four days later in hospital. He was not the first pro fighter to die in the ring (and certainly won’t be the last) but this one was different as it was on such a high-profile global stage*.
It’s the reunion with Kim’s widow and son that puts this sports documentary into another stratosphere. It’s impossible not to be moved by son Jiwan and his mother’s composure having dinner with the man who killed their loved one.
As “The Real Deal” Evander Holyfield said in the equally exemplary boxing doc, Champs, “if you forgive, you have peace.”
In The Good Son we get to hear from the likes of pals Mickey Rourke and fellow Youngstown kid who made it big, Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill. We find out that Frank Sinatra was eager to meet Boom Boom, whose career never really found its footing again after the tragic incident.
Perhaps most tragic though, is the environment opponent Kim grew up in, fatherless, frequently homeless and living along the coast a few miles from the North Korean DMZ. He’d be forced to fight as a kid by guardians, much like Ray Mancini’s father had been. What kind of adult says “you can’t whip my son” and uses them as pawns to further gambling habits?
The fight game is an ugly business. For the courage displayed by “warriors,” there is the long-term effects: the dementia pugilistica, the Parkinson’s, the post-fight malaise that plagues former champs used to the celebrity spotlights. Like pro wrestlers, boxers frequently meet with tragic ends. We can look no further than Canadian hero, Montrealer Arturo “Thunder” Gotti.
Regardless, courage is courage for a reason. Putting yourself in harm’s way while knowing the risk, is something with which nothing else compares. That kind of mental willpower and strength in combat sports cannot be denied.
***1/2 (out of 5)
[*Editor’s note: Boxing is finished as a sport, the Conor / Floyd Mayweather debacle notwithstanding. Without a single governing sanctioning body, and a piecemeal approach to belts/champions, there is no hope for it. Imagine if hockey didn’t just have a Stanley Cup champion, but had 4 competing “best hockey team” contenders? That’s a pretty good idea about the nonsense surrounding boxing belt title holders for IBF, WBC, WBA, WBO, NABF, etc. There’s no way fans can keep it straight]