Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini was a star, but he wasn’t a world champion. Not yet. The 21 year old who had promised his former fighter of a father, Lenny Mancini, that he would bring a world title back to the Mancini family where his dad had been unable to do so (WWII all but ruining Mancini Senior’s chances of becoming champ; a war wound picked up in France leaving the Ray Arcel-trained lightweight with shrapnel in his body) had lost to the great Alexis Arguello.
That was in October of 1981 and 20 year old Mancini had not been ready for a fighter of the legendary Nicaraguan’s class and experience. After a brave and gutsy effort, his father sat ringside, no doubt re-living his own career and how things could have been so different, Mancini was stopped in the 14th round. Ever classy, Arguello embraced the beaten challenger and vowed to help him if he could, saying how he’d be there if he needed anything. Arguello also said that Mancini would become world champion, but at a later date.
As it turned out, “Boom Boom” got his second chance just seven months later. Enter Arturo Frias. And three unknown gunmen.
Frias of California was making the second defence of the WBA version of the lightweight crown. Having scored an impressive stoppage win over Claude Noel to take the belt in December of 1981, the 25 year old had then retained his title by defeating Ernesto Espana, this win seeing Frias avenge an earlier decision defeat. Not known as a hard puncher (hand trouble had forced Frias to take a significant layoff from boxing earlier in his career), Frias was nonetheless a good fighter, one who was as determined to make his father proud as Mancini was his own. And Frias had never been stopped.
Prior to the fight set for Las Vegas, an odd occurrence took place. Mancini had set up training camp in Tuscon, Arizona and one day three gunmen showed up at the hotel the title challenger was staying at, demanding to see Mancini. Mancini wasn’t there, and to this day nobody knows who the three armed men were or what they wanted. It seems safe to say, however, that their intentions were far from honorable. Mancini moved his camp to Vegas and no further incidents took place; although Mancini had to train whilst under police surveillance.
Then came the fight, one of the greatest, most action-packed one-round fights in 135 pound history.
The two fighters came out fast, as in freight train fast. Frias scored first, his left hand rocking Mancini. “Boom Boom” fired back, having no other choice. The two traded furiously inside The Aladdin Hotel, the crowd on its feet. Soon Frias was cut under the left eye, Mancini picking up a minor cut on his left eyelid and bleeding from the nose. The trading continued with abandon until Mancini, a harder hitter, scored with a left hook of his own. Frias wobbled and Mancini poured it on, sending the champion down with another left to the head. Frias rose, his mouth wide open, blood pouring down his face.
Mancini resumed his attack, forcing Frias into the ropes. The champion tried his best to cling on to his title but it was to no avail. Mancini wailed away, blazed away, and the referee found himself putting his arms between the two warriors with just six-seconds left in the round. Gil Clancy, calling the fight, told viewers how “that was about as sensational a first round as you will ever see in a world championship fight.” Indeed.
Ray Mancini had delivered on the promise he had made to his father when he was not even a teenager. Also, the great Arguello was there at ringside to cheer Mancini on in his hour of destiny.