By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It was our first time at a live fight card … and the end of a pair of eras.
When old pal Phil MacDonald and I hopped in my dad’s Chevy Caprice for a trip from hometown Niagara Falls to the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo 34 years ago this week – this Friday, to be exact – the consensus around town leaned more toward prolonged reigns than title-shifting storms.
The city’s first major boxing show in decades was intended as a dual showcase for high-profile incumbents and TV staples Johnny Bumphus and Ray Mancini – “Bump City” and “Boom Boom” – against less-accomplished suitors Gene Hatcher and Livingstone Bramble.
Hatcher and Bramble were just recognizable enough for cameos on ESPN and entertaining bluster at mid-week press conferences, but neither had measured up in the ring to a bejeweled pair that entered with 51 wins and four title defenses in 52 fights.
Hatcher’s biggest pre-Bumphus moments had been a pair of losses – to eventual lightweight title challenger Tyrone Crawley in Atlantic City and longtime 130-pound champion Alfredo Escalera at Madison Square Garden. And Bramble, though he’d lost just once in 22 fights, had beaten little better than the Kenny Bogners and Rafael Williamses of the world.
The purses reflected the pre-fight contrasts in significance, with champions Mancini and Bumphus making $1 million and $175,000, respectively, while sacrificial challengers Bramble and Hatcher received the comparable pittances of $125,000 and $75,000.
But within a couple hours, the castes dramatically changed … financial and otherwise.
Far ahead on scorecards through 10 rounds, Bumphus abruptly ran short of gas in round 11 and was on the losing end of a controversial stoppage by referee Johnny LoBianco at 2:35.
Michael Katz, then of the New York Times, described it this way:
“As hurt as he was, Bumphus, now 22-1, was not finished fighting. He went after Hatcher and even local policemen were needed to restrain him. ‘I would like to apologize to the public for my actions,’ he said afterward. ‘I was upset. The fight should never have been stopped.’ While Bumphus was chasing Hatcher, Lou Duva, Bumphus's 62-year-old manager, went after LoBianco. John Branca, the New York State Athletic Commissioner, later said there might be disciplinary action against Duva and Bumphus.”
The melee did nothing to change the result and the Duva-groomed southpaw never again held a title – in fact lasting less than four minutes in a challenge of welterweight Lloyd Honeyghan in his final pro fight less than three years later. Hatcher fared little better, winning and losing the WBA 140-pound title in two bouts with Argentine veteran Ubaldo Sacco within 13 months of coronation, and also falling to Honeyghan at 147 pounds – in just 45 seconds – six months after Bumphus’ failure in 1987.
In fact, Hatcher dropped five of 15 fights before retiring in 1995.
As it turned out, the main event never really came close to chalk.
An accomplished counter-puncher, Bramble continually exploited Mancini’s porous defense and sliced up the Ohioan’s face before registering the TKO and snatching the WBA lightweight crown little more than 90 seconds into round 14. Nevertheless, Mancini was dubiously ahead on two cards at the time of the stoppage – 124-123 and 125-122 – while a third had Bramble up, 126-121.
This time, Katz wrote:
“At the end, he was standing helpless, his hands at his side, his nearly closed eyes seemingly looking for help. But not even his big heart or the judges' benevolent scoring could save Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini tonight. Livingstone Bramble, who raises fighting pit bull terriers, fought like one and scored a dramatic 14th-round knockout of Mancini to win the World Boxing Association lightweight championship.”
Bramble performed a similar bloodletting en route to scorecard supremacy in a rematch nine months later in Reno, but managed just one more defense – against Crawley – before a second-round KO by Edwin Rosario violently ended his reign in 1986. A lapse into prolonged mediocrity followed his title change; with Bramble playing out a 16-25-2 string over 43 fights until calling it quits in 1997.
The first Bramble fight snuffed out a big payday against Hector Camacho, who looked crestfallen at ringside in Buffalo as his would-be payday fizzled. As it turned out, Mancini never won again, eventually dropping a vacant WBO title try against Camacho via split decision long past its sell-by date in 1989, and retiring for good after a seventh-round loss to Greg Haugen in 1992.
He was voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014.
“(Camacho) was a terrific fighter, but I felt in 15 rounds I'd break him down, I'd wear him down and eventually catch him. And he didn't have a great chin, so I thought eventually I'd get that chin,” Mancini told me years later. “We had basically come to an agreement with Camacho, but the WBA said if you don't fight Bramble we're going to strip you. When we talked about it the first time, it should have happened back then.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO cruiserweight title -- Baku, Azerbaijan
Kevin Lerena (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Roman Golovashchenko (Unranked IBO/No. 17 IWBR)
Lerena (20-1, 9 KO): Second title defense; Second fight outside of South Africa (1-0, 0 KO)
Golovashchenko (19-1, 17 KO): First title fight; Twelve straight wins by KO/TKO (30 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: The champion is a skilled southpaw who’s elevated himself to a world-class level, but the vibe here is that the rugged Ukrainian will simply be too much. Golovashchenko in 8 (60/40)
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Shiro, Ancajas, Yafai)
2018 picks record: 37-17 (68.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 958-321 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.