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Mancini delivers another winner with `Good Son' documentary

September 29, 2012 - Andy Gray
Audiences in the Mahoning Valley are used to Ray Mancini bringing home a winner.

He did it again Friday, only this time it was on screen instead of in the ring.

The Youngstown native and former lightweight boxing champion hosted an invitation-only screening Friday at Ford Family Recital Hall of the documentary “The Good Son,” which serves as a companion piece to the biography “The Good Son: The Life of Ray `Boom Boom’ Mancini” by Ray Kriegel.

The movie got a standing ovation, and it wasn’t just hometown pride that spawned it. Director Jesse James Miller finds a fascinating narrative arc in Mancini’s life story. The first act focuses on his rise as a professional fighter and his desire at a young age to win the title that his father was denied.

Dad Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini was the number one contender when he was drafted during World War II, and a shrapnel injury kept him from fulfilling his dream. His son refused to be denied, overcoming the economic struggles of his hometown as well as the murder of his brother to win the lightweight title belt.

Mancini’s tenacity in the ring coupled with his devotion to his family made him a media sensation. With Sugar Ray Leonard announcing his retirement, he was poised to become the biggest fighter in the game, maybe the most popular athlete in all of sports.

Everything changed on Nov. 13, 1982, when he fought South Korean boxer Duk-Koo Kim. Kim died from injuries suffered in the ring. Mancini didn’t do anything wrong, but Kim’s death overwhelmed Mancini’s career. It was all the media focused on, and his association with another fighter’s death made all of the endorsement deals that were in the works disappear.

That’s a story that many in the Valley know well (and the movie is filled with shots of Tribune Chronicle stories from the early ‘80s, most of which were written by recently retired business editor Larry Ringler). And Miller gets Mancini and many of his family and friends to open up about those days, and the first hour is filled with anecdotes that are both illuminating and entertaining.

But the movie also gives audiences something they haven’t seen before. In addition to covering all facets of Mancini’s life, Kriegel traveled to South Korea and was the first journalist to get Kim’s fiancée to talk about his death. She was pregnant at the time, and Kriegel also interviewed the son, Jiwan, who never met his father.

At the end of that initial interview, Jiwan expressed an interest in meeting Mancini, and that summit dominates the second half of the movie. It takes the story full circle as Mancini, always the loyal son, has to face the son who never had a chance to know his father. And it raises “The Good Son” beyond the standard sports documentary.

During the post-screening question-and-answer session, Mancini said the movie already is slated to open on more than 2,000 screens in Korea and Asia. It’s been accepted for film festivals in Philadelphia and the Hamptons, and it is being submitted for consideration at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

I’d be surprised if it wasn’t accepted. The movie tells an emotional story that has an appeal beyond fight fans. And whether it gets embraced by Sundance or not, the movie should have a future on ESPN or another sports network.

And when it comes out on DVD, those fans whom Mancini spent hours signing copies of “The Good Son” for on Thursday at Barnes & Noble in Boardman gladly will line up again to buy it.


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