As Ray Mancini studied his ruined face in a mirror last Friday night, the crushing awareness that he was no longer the WBA lightweight champion settled fully upon him. Above his right eye, swollen nearly closed, there was a rip in the brow. The puffiness around the other eye was less pronounced, but there was a dark red slash in that brow as well. His nose appeared to have doubled in size, although it was later ascertained that it wasn't broken, as had been feared. Sighing, Mancini shook his damaged head. "God," he said, almost to himself, "I sure was rotten out there tonight."
Mancini trudged from the tiny bathroom into the main part of his dressing room in the bowels of Buffalo's War Memorial Auditorium, where he was met by Hector (Macho) Camacho, who hugged him. "Hey, don't worry about it," said Camacho. "We all have nights like that."
Camacho is the undefeated WBC junior lightweight champion. Either Camacho or Aaron Pryor, the former junior welterweight champion who's coming out of retirement with a June 23 fight against Nick Furlano, would have been Mancini's next opponent. For millions. All Mancini had to do was get past Livingstone Bramble, the world's only known Rastafarian fighter and a household name in the Virgin Islands and parts of New Jersey.
"Aw, I'm really sorry," Mancini told Camacho. "I blew it."
June 10, 1984
Perhaps. But he had a ton of help from Bramble, a switch hitter who chopped him up and then hammered him unmercifully until referee Marty Denkin stopped the fight 53 seconds into the 14th round.
Mancini walked to a rubbing table and lay down. He placed his hands behind his head. "I really did blow it," he said. "My problem was I tried to be too much of a man. I didn't listen to my corner."
His manager, Dave Wolf, his eyes reddened from crying, said, "That's right, you didn't listen. We wanted you to box, and all you wanted to do was punch."
Murphy Griffith, Mancini's trainer, came to the table, leaned over and said softly, "You'll be back."
Mancini tried to smile at him. It was hard. The inside of his mouth was torn by Bramble's punches; he had spent much of the fight gagging on his own blood.
"Yeah," the fighter said. "But, hey, wasn't that Bramble something? I didn't know he could do so many things so well. He's the most underrated fighter in the world. He was confusing me a lot. He slugged with me. He boxed with me. Who in the lightweight division is going to beat him?"
A few minutes later Mancini was on his way to Millard Fillmore Hospital. The cuts were closed with 14 stitches, and he spent the night in the hospital as a precaution. Just before he fell asleep, Mancini asked Wolf, "Have you made the rematch yet?"
About the same time, Bramble was preoccupied with a mirror of his own, near the elevator doors on the eighth floor of the Hilton Hotel. For several moments he studied his stolid features, as though trying to determine if his championship had suddenly changed him. In the mirror he could see a stranger coming down the hallway toward the elevators. With a small smile and an air of childlike innocence, Bramble turned and said, "Hi. I'm a world champion."
"Congratulations," the stranger said.
"Thank you," Bramble said.
This new champion is something of a mystery. The tendency has been to write him off as, well, crazy, a label Bramble seems to revel in. "You media guys all love crazy people," he said. "And I am one of them."
Growing up in near poverty in the Virgin Islands, Bramble, who's now 23, dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. At his apartment in Passaic, N.J., where he has lived since coming to the U.S. in 1979, he breeds bullterriers. At the moment he has five, one of which he named Snake. Then there is a boa constrictor named Dog, a python named Rebel and an iguana named Tegu. After finding a dead cat in the road, he skinned it and hung it on the back of a door. "No sense in wasting a skin," he reasoned. He is usually asked to change apartments about every three months.
"They call me crazy," Bramble says. "No problem. I don't care. I know I am a little strange at times."
Mancini thought Bramble was a little strange when he found out he was dedicating the fight to the Ethiopians killed during the Italian occupation in 1936.
"They got a little carried away with that," said Bramble. "Heck, my manager, Lou Duva, is Italian." He said the story started when someone found out he trained to the music of Buffalo Soldier, a song from a Bob Marley album dedicated to the Ethiopians.
Then how about the voodoo doctor he imported from the Virgin Islands to put a spell on Mancini?
"Aw, I did that for my father, Henry," Bramble said at breakfast a few days before the fight when he was wearing a T shirt with this message: VOODOO WILL TURN BOOM BOOM INTO LIVING STONE.
"I've been a Rastafarian since 1971." Bramble said. "We believe in Jah. I don't believe in that voodooism. My father does. For this fight, my father said to me, 'Son, I want to help you. Please let me do this for you.' I told him O.K., that I would give him one round. So I brought in Mr. Doo, who I have known for 13 years. I know he put a spell on Mancini, but I don't know what it is. I don't know anything about his job."
Soon Mr. Doo would be promoted to Dr. Doo. Dressed in a black derby, dark sunglasses, a colorful dashiki and holding a cane with a golden dog's-head handle, the silent sorcerer didn't seem to do much. But then he had only three minutes in which to work Friday night.
The rest of the rounds Bramble would give to his seven sisters and two brothers and to his 2-year-old son, Alvja, which means Fight for Jah. "I always share a round with someone," said Bramble. "I ask them before a fight what I should do. For her round my sister Eurydice said, 'Bust his mouth.' My sister Lavern said I should knock him out. My sister Portia said I should beat on him. I listen to them all and put it together. But the first round is always mine. Sometimes I share a round with two people so I can draw on their double strength. And when I got a guy hurt, my sister Lavern always comes on. She's 16 and she used to spar with me. She was good, but I never hit her."
But Bramble has hit plenty of his opponents. Before Friday he had had only one defeat (by Anthony Fletcher in 1981) and one draw in 22 fights and held the WBA's No. 1 ranking. After Bramble beat Rafael Williams in 10 rounds last January, the WBA made him the mandatory challenger for Mancini's title. That was pretty lofty for a kid who had never fought anywhere but in New Jersey.
"Livingstone Bramble is not like a normal fighter," Bramble says. "I dictate my own pace. I don't respect no opponent. I don't have no fear. I fear no one but Jah. I don't have a style. I have good punches. I move my head. I confuse people. I know that Jah will find a way for me to win. I have sat down and tried to find a way to beat me, and I have failed."
With that he reached into his pocket and popped something into his cup of tea.
"I don't know," he said, fishing out a small piece of curled dark bark. "Mr. Doo gave it to me and said it would be good for my soul. He said to put it into my tea and enjoy it."
"Does it work?"
"I don't know. But I'll find out."
Things did not start well Friday night. For the first preliminary the timekeeper set his round clock for 2½ minutes. There were no stools for the corners. And, worse yet, there weren't enough chairs for the New York State Athletic Commission to plop in front of the working press. But they made do. Then there was the bell, which sounded as if it had been borrowed from somebody's cow. But don't blame Buffalo. There hadn't been a title fight in that city in 34 years. Some things are hard to remember.
Duva went to bat first with Johnny Bumphus, whom he co-manages with Shelly Finkel. The 23-year-old Bumphus, who had a 22-0 record, had beaten Lorenzo Garcia to win Pryor's vacated WBA junior welterweight title last January, but he hadn't looked good doing it. He is 6 feet tall, and making the 140-pound limit has been taking too much out of him.
Duva evidently didn't think that Gene (Mad Dog) Hatcher would take much more out of Bumphus. And for the first 10 rounds the 24-year-old Hatcher, a crude, 5'8" brawler from Fort Worth with a 21-2 record, didn't take much. But when the bell barely tinkled to signal the end of the 10th round, Hatcher didn't hear it and kept punching. Angered, Bumphus began punching back. Referee Johnny LoBianco seemed lost. Finally Duva steamed into the ring and hauled Bumphus back to his corner.
Hatcher claimed Duva had hit him in the back during the postbell scuffle. Duva denied it, and a videotape replay from an angle different from that shown on television supported his contention. No matter. "It always takes something to get me going," said Mad Dog. "Usually it takes two rounds. Against Bumphus it took 10. I was really teed off after Duva hit me. I was ready."
Bumphus was anything but ready. When he started training for the fight in April he weighed 158 pounds. At 147—the welterweight limit, which is where he'll fight in the future—Bumphus was dazzling. But by the time he hit 140, six days before the Buffalo bout, he looked as if he had been a prisoner of war.
Before the 11th round, trainer Georgie Benton called out to Dan Duva, Lou's son, who co-promoted the card with Bob Arum. "How you got it scored?" Benton asked.
"No problem," said Dan. "He's so far ahead he can't lose."
Said Benton, "That's good, because his legs are gone. I'm going to try and drag it out."
The furious Mad Dog would have none of that. All night he had been trying to hit Bumphus with a wild right hand. But at 1:55 of the 11th round he succeeded in nailing the champion with a crisp left hook to the head, dropping him to the floor. Up at seven, Bumphus seemed disoriented.
Hatcher came flying across the ring, launched a right, missed and fell. Bumphus tried to stagger away as Hatcher came growling off the floor. What happened next is anybody's guess, except that LoBianco stopped the fight at the right time for all the wrong reasons. With Hatcher once more on the attack, Bumphus grabbed him and was thrown down. Getting up, he grabbed Hatcher and held on. LoBianco jumped in and stopped it.
A moment later, Hatcher's wife, Lori, was standing on a set of steps leading into the ring, screaming, "We won! We won! I don't believe it! I don't believe it!"
It took three cops to keep Duva away from LoBianco, who was huddled in a neutral corner. Still angry, Duva then blasted into Bramble's dressing room.
"Come here, Daddy," Bramble said, kissing the bearish Duva on the cheek. "Don't worry, I'll get you another championship. I'll give the belt to you."
"You little doll," Duva said. "Kiss me on the lips."
Bramble scrambled away. "Get away from me. I'm supposed to be crazy. It's you who is crazy."
Bramble may be a nonconformist outside the ring, but he proved amazingly disciplined inside. "I just wish to hell he had a little fear," said Duva. "A little fear is healthy."
Mancini, who won the title two years ago, started his fifth defense, this one for a $1 million purse (to Bramble's $150,000), the way he started the other four, with a rush and with hooks from both sides. Bramble, his feet moving just enough to keep Mancini in front of him, met him straight up. The challenger's gloves were high and in close, his forearms straight down, the elbows positioned in tight.
"That's the way to fight a Mancini," Duva said. "He's a hooker. You stay in tight and let him whack from the outside while you shoot uppercuts at him because he's wide open."
In the first round Bramble, with either a hook or his head (referee Denkin ruled it a butt), ripped a cut over Mancini's right eye, which forced the champion to alter his plan to box his opponent. Mancini became desperate. He always sets a furious pace; now it was more furious than ever. He wanted to take Bramble out before the cut could take him out.
The champion won almost all of the first six rounds. Bramble was scoring, but with only one punch at a time. "I make a big mistake," he would say later. "I think the judges count the hits. But I guess they count the punches thrown. Now that I know how it works, I will be much better."
In the seventh round Bramble switched to southpaw and began loading up his right hook. Still, he wasn't punching enough. In the corner, Duva kept yelling at him to work more. "You're losing the fight," Duva told him. "He's outpunching you. Give me something."
As Bramble picked up the pace, Mancini seemed to sag. His punches lost their power. His mouth was open, and he was sucking deep for air. Still, after 13 rounds, Mancini was ahead on two of the three scorecards.
In the corner before the 14th, Duva growled at Bramble, "Can you give me six minutes? Listen to me, just six minutes. O.K.?"
"I am a tiger," said Bramble.
"Good, give me six minutes."
"Watch me. Just watch me."
Almost running from his corner, Bramble nailed Mancini with a combination. The champion's legs buckled. Driving Mancini back against the ropes, Bramble poured it on. When Denkin finally stepped in, the champion was looking for him to stop it. Mancini knew if he wanted it, there would be another day.
Leaving the arena that night, Bramble passed through the press section.
"Hey, Bramble," one of the writers yelled at him, "Dr. Doo did O.K."
"Dr. Doo," Bramble yelled back. "That guy was my basketball coach in the Virgin Islands for 13 years."
In the Voodoo Basketball League, that's known as a slam dunk.