If they'd fought this one in a saloon, the cops would have stopped it. Then they would have arrested Livingstone Bramble. The other brawler, Boom Boom Mancini, would have gone free: The guy with the face that looks as if it has just been hammered with a brick always gets a pass.
But the authorities let this bout go the distance, and even the courage of a beaten Mancini couldn't overshadow the shame the fight racket visited on Reno Saturday night.
Then the three judges compounded matters by indicating that Mancini had been in the hunt, that Bramble had escaped with his WBA lightweight title by the thinnest of margins. Although they followed different routes, at the end, Dave Moretti, Jimmy Rondeau and Edward Levine all had it figured that Bramble had won by a single point. One had only to look at Mancini's swollen and battered face, his slammed-shut left eye and the blood pouring from long rips above that eye and beside the right one to wonder what fight the judges had watched.
HBO, which telecast the bout, offered a fourth computation: the counting of blows by a computer. According to the machine, Bramble landed 674 punches to Mancini's 381. Even if one gave the computer's 3% to 5% margin for error to Mancini, if those were the totals of a one-point fight, then Custer was only a couple of arrows away from a draw at the Little Bighorn.
This was the rematch of a fight last June in Buffalo, where the title changed hands after the referee rescued Mancini from the eccentric Bramble's fists in the 14th round. In that one, too, Bramble was assaulted by the math and logic of the WBA's judges. At the end, two out of three had Mancini out in front.
"If I'd lost that fight, I'd have been finished," Bramble, 24 and now 23-1-1 as a pro, groused a few days before the second fight. Even his checkered Rastafarian tarn was at an angry angle. "Not like Mancini. He's the ail-American boy. One loss for me, and I'm wolf meat. So, I'm going to win and win, and when I lose, I'm gone."
Bramble also mentioned the fact that he wasn't too happy with the media for making him out to be some kind of loony. He registered this objection the day after he'd sparred two rounds with a pair of chickens, shadowboxed one round with a newly purchased Burmese python named Turtle and spent one round punching soap bubbles blown from a red pipe by his latest trainer, Nel Brown.
"Mancini is an arrogant fool, and I hope he gets seriously hurt in this fight," said Bramble, now on a fiery roll.
"How seriously?" asked a stunned listener.
Bramble weighed the question, and then backed off. "Seriously enough for the referee to count to 10," he said.
Mancini, 23 and now 29-3, refused to join in a war of words, as he had before the Buffalo bout. "He's just trying to psych me," Mancini said. He was more concerned with his training, which, he'd decided, had lasted a week too long for the last fight. "When I was in the locker room in Buffalo, I was like a wet noodle," said Mancini. "I was overtrained. I had absolutely nothing, and I was praying, 'God, let me have enough to pull this out.' It was scary. I was going in with a man who wanted to take my head off, and I had nothing to keep him off me. With what I had going in, I'm proud I lasted 14 rounds."
It was that same pride that put him back into the ring in Reno.
"You've got to remember, Ray doesn't need this fight," said Dave Wolf, Mancini's manager. "He's made about $5 million, and he's still happy on his $200-a-week allowance. He's in love with acting. Despite losing to Bramble, he's found out he's as popular as he ever was. He knows he's never going to be compared with the great lightweight champions, so his place in history is set. He's fighting this fight for himself."
While Mancini elected not to joust verbally with Bramble before the fight. Wolf showed no such reluctance. "Bramble is the most despicable person I ever met in my life," Wolf told Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger. "When he called Ray a murderer [for having been the victor in the 1982 bout that led to the death of Duk Koo Kim] in Buffalo, I wanted to kill him. If he were crossing a street against the light, and I was in a car and the light was in my favor, I wouldn't stop. In fact, if he were dying in bed, and I had the pill to save him, I'd flush it down the toilet."
The morning of the fight, Mancini weighed in half a pound over the 135 limit. Bramble came in at 133¾. After 22 minutes in the bathroom, Mancini was but two ounces away. "Drop your underwear," someone suggested. Blushing, Mancini did. Bingo!
For his first defense, Bramble would make $750,000. "That's chump money," he complained, making a bid for the nation's unemployed to join his legions of non-fans.
Mancini made $550,000, and he came out as though he wanted to earn it all in the first few rounds. He would fire a lot of punches during the fight—1,349 by count of the computer—but a lot, especially in the early going, found only air. Bramble blocked or picked off many of the others. Perhaps the fact that, say, 72% of Mancini's blows missed or did no damage was what the judges overlooked.
As in the first fight, Mancini was cut in the first round, this time over his left eye. By the fourth, the eye began to swell badly. In the fifth, Bramble ripped a ditch beside Mancini's right eye.
By the seventh round, referee Mills Lane was anxiously studying Mancini's tortured features. Bramble was making a curious fight: He'd rattle Mancini's head with wicked volleys, and then he'd back off, seemingly content to let his defense frustrate the former champ.
In the eighth, Lane called a cease-fire, sent Bramble to a neutral corner and led Mancini, his left eye now all but closed, over to Dr. Charles Filippini, the ring physician. "I'm all right," Mancini said. Lane had a good idea, but Filippini sent Mancini back to face the grinning Bramble. Mancini finished the fight strong, although Lane called on Dr. Filippini once more in the 15th round.
Mancini embraced Bramble at the close. "You're the champion," he said.
Staring at the face that he'd spent 45 minutes ravaging and that would require 27 stitches to repair, Bramble, perhaps envisioning a lucrative payday with Macho Camacho, replied, "I love you, Ray. You fought a great fight."
That moment of class was dispelled when the scoring was announced. Later Mancini said, "I couldn't see the punches coming. The blood kept going into my eyes." He managed a small smile. "God willing, if I should go on—it doesn't look too good now—I might get another shot. But I don't know. I just want to rest for a few months. Then I'll listen to my heart. As Shakespeare said [well, sort of], 'You have to be true to yourself.' "
Then he laughed. "You didn't think I knew Shakespeare, did you?"