Ray Mancini would not be stopped this time, but he would not be allowed victory either. Bleeding from both eyes, one of which was almost shut, the former lightweight champion failed to beat the quirky Livingstone Bramble in their rematch Saturday night. So, apparently, was the book closed on a storied career, with Mancini again beaten but this time unbowed.
Afterward, after the fight was announced as a close but unanimous 15-round decision in favor of Bramble, the defending World Boxing Assn. champion, all talk centered on whether Mancini would make it official, whether he would go out as champion in stature if not title, or whether he would continue to chase a dream he once, however briefly, enjoyed.
The talk took the form of a eulogy. Bramble, who had promised maiming and destruction, apologized "for any insult" to Mancini and his family and then acknowledged Mancini as a man who made the lightweight division one of the more popular divisions in boxing.
Bramble's manager, Lou Duva, likewise heaped tribute upon the bloodied Mancini, saying: "He came in like a champion, he went out like one."
Mancini, though very much alive, did not discourage the sentiments. Now 0-2 with Bramble and 29-3 lifetime, Mancini, suddenly old at 23, realistically addressed the question of his retirement. "Right now," he said, "my impression is to hang it up, to say, 'good career.' I went for the quick score in my career and sacrificed longevity. I've had two tough fights. It wouldn't be fair for me to answer that question right now. But it would take a lot for me to go in and fight again."
Bramble, who had surprised Mancini with a 14-round knockout in their first meeting last June, apparently was more persuasive with Mancini than with the ringside judges. A counter-puncher who is often less busy but more accurate than the other fighter, Bramble, 24, won the decision by just one point on all three judges' cards. Judge James Rondeau had it 143-142, Dave Moretti 143-142 and Edward Levine 144-143.
Promoter Dan Duva, whose father manages Bramble, was outraged at ringside, feeling that Bramble had won by far more. However, Bramble has gained a 23-1-1 record largely as a reactive fighter. He can give the appearance of doing absolutely nothing until his opponent initiates action. Even in their first meeting, with Mancini equally bloodied, Bramble was trailing on two of the three cards when the fight was finally stopped. This time, Mancini was again the more active fighter, and again the bloodied one.
Bramble, whose pre-fight preparation is half sinister and half comical (how do you reconcile training with a chicken on the one hand and with a voodoo doll on the other?), stuck with the same highly defensive style that won him the first fight with Mancini. Except, as even Bramble admitted, it wasn't quite so effective this time.
"Ray was very prepared," said Bramble, who weighed 133 3/4 pounds. "I thought I could hit him with rights, but Ray boxed very, very scientifically."
For Mancini, 135, the classic walk-in fighter, it was scientific. The kid from Youngstown, Ohio, the working man's fighter, certainly boxed more than he ever had before, although he didn't forsake his brawling style altogether. "Ray was very strong," said Bramble, the Virgin Islander who fights out of Montclair, N.J. "I didn't want to stand outside and get cocky. So I stayed inside."
If Mancini was throwing more punches, he also was receiving more, earning his $550,000 purse. For his $750,000, Bramble cut Mancini's right eye in the fifth round and thereafter, by his own admittance, took as much aim as possible to widen the wound. In the seventh, Bramble closed Mancini's left eye. By the eighth round, referee Mills Lane was calling ringside physician Dr. Charles Filippino in for examination. That time, and again in the 15th when Mancini was bleeding rivulets, the doctor said the fight should go on.
Although the damage appeared extensive, Filippino said the streaming cut around Mancini's right eye was not draining into the eye and did not obscure the fighter's vision. As to Mancini's left eye, Filippino said: "It was closed, but he could still see."
Mancini later admitted that he could not see all that well. "You can't kid yourself," he said. "It affects your fighting." Mancini, who was cut in the first round of his first fight with Bramble, sadly admitted his new tendency toward gore. "The last half of my career," he said, "it's been a big part of it."
So the final chapter in Mancini's storybook career appears to have been written in his own blood. The popular saga of how Mancini, with no ring magic beyond what he manufactured in the gym, worked to win a title for his father, a man whose chances at a lightweight title were shattered by World War II shrapnel, has become, if not legend, television. In fact, "I walk in His Shadow," the made-for-TV story of Mancini's quest, will be shown in March.
That story is a happy one, though. It begins with Mancini going through father Lenny's scrapbooks, learning to dream. It ends with the day he beat Art Frias for the WBA title. This story ends a bit differently. Whether this one is sad or happy will probably depend on whether it is, in fact, the end. Said Mancini's manager, Dave Wolf: "I would rather this be it. There is so much dignity here, this would be the right way to go out."