The first thing Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, the WBA lightweight champion, does after he fights is look in a mirror. What he saw after he knocked out Peru's Orlando Romero in the ninth round last Thursday night in Madison Square Garden was enough to make him cringe. "Oh, God, I don't want this," Mancini said after seeing his swollen left eyebrow, a one-inch laceration under his left eye and a mouse crawling under his right eye. "I'm not a pretty boy, but I don't want to end up like a lot of guys. You can't buy a face."
Mancini hadn't had a title defense since last November, when he knocked out South Korean Duk Koo Kim, who died four days later. And, considering that Romero was supposed to be a pushover, Mancini more than had his hands—and face—full. "I'll bet some guys were drooling tonight," he said.
Bobby Chacon, Howard Davis and Hector (Macho) Camacho were at ringside, and if they weren't drooling, they should have been. Mancini, now 27-1, represents the biggest potential payday for all of them, and what each saw in Mancini's first pro fight in New York must have made each confident that he could lift Boom Boom's title.
Romero came in with a 30-0-1 record, 12 KOs and a No. 1 WBA ranking. Like Kim, he was an unknown southpaw. Also like Kim, he gave as good as he got, until a straight right followed by a left hook knocked him out at 1:56 of the ninth round. "I flashed to Kim," Mancini said. Referee Tony Perez' count ended with Romero struggling to get up. "By then I was saying, 'Please don't get up,' " said Mancini. "Give me a boxer-runner anytime. Where do they find these guys?"
Since knocking out Art Frias in one round 16 months ago to win his title, Mancini had defended against an over-the-hill Ernesto Espa√±a, had the war with Kim, fought a nontitle bout with George Feeney and then separated his collarbone preparing for a defense against Kenny Bogner last spring. Perhaps Mancini was rusty against Romero, as he suggested, but he can't afford to be against Chacon, a two-time champ who will be his next opponent, in December.
Mancini, who pocketed $600,000 last week, figures to make $2.5 million for the fight against Chacon, who will receive a million plus. Watching Romero repeatedly rock Mancini, Chacon said, "I thought, 'There goes the mortgage.' "
Dave Wolf, Mancini's manager, says that Davis' attorney. Jack Solerwitz, has promised Mancini $3 million for a fight with his No. 5-ranked WBA lightweight contender. And there's also the possibility of a showdown with WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor, which would be the most lucrative bout for Mancini. Camacho, holder of the WBC junior lightweight title, was asked if he thought he might be the odd man out. Sure, he said. And the reason, in Camacho's view: Mancini's fear of the Macho Man's powerful left. "You see what Aaron Pryor did to Mancini's daddy," said Camacho, referring to Alexis Arguello, who knocked out Mancini in October 1981 and who was manhandled by Pryor in their Sept. 9 rematch.
Boom Boom's father, Lenny, who drew as a lightweight at the Garden in 1940, was never more his son's inspiration than he was for this fight, but as the old man and the rest of the Mancini entourage headed for a postbout celebration at the San Remo restaurant, Boom Boom entered a limousine headed for Lenox Hill Hospital. There, Drs. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rich Boiardo repaired Mancini's left eyebrow and gave him cold packs for his sore neck and right hand. "Oh, God, my neck," Mancini moaned. "What about this bump on my head? Christ, Doc! You shooting me up?" Later Dr. Schwartz said, "This isn't nearly as bad as after Kim." After that fight both of Mancini's hands were like pillows, his sides were blue and his face was becoming like a mask.
No wonder Mancini's father is an inspiration of a different sort. "You see my father's right eye?" Mancini asked. "He's blind. He fought two years seeing double. I don't want that." By now the limo was heading for the St. Moritz hotel, where, in his suite, Mancini stayed under the shower for 25 minutes, the hot water soothing his neck. He emerged talking of the movie about his life and of his recent signing with the William Morris Agency, which handles his endorsements.
Many purists regard Mancini as simply a club fighter who, through the good auspices of CBS, which has televised eight of his fights, has become a matinee idol. The fight with Chacon figures to be a battle. Each man takes punches to throw them, and neither ducks. But, as the Romero fight reconfirmed, if Mancini ventures in against Camacho or Pryor, he would do well to bear in mind his own words: "You can't buy a face."