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 our home bases in Niagara Falls to the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo 39 years ago this week – last Thursday, 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 arguably 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. Meanwhile Bramble, though he’d lost only 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.
A post-fight melee did nothing to change the result and the Lou 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, splitting two bouts with Argentine veteran Ubaldo Sacco within 13 months of his Buffalo coronation – he lost the belt on cuts in July 1985 – and also falling to Honeyghan at 147 pounds, in just 45 seconds, six months after Bumphus’ failure with the British slugger in 1987.
All told, he dropped five of 15 fights before retiring in 1995.
And as it turned out, the main event was never remotely close to chalk.
An accomplished counterpuncher, Bramble continually exploited Mancini’s porous defense and sliced the Ohioan’s face up before registering the TKO and snatching the WBA lightweight crown little more than 90 seconds into round 14.
He performed a similar bloodletting on the way 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 journeyman mediocrity followed his title change; with Bramble playing out a 16-25-2 string over 43 fights until calling it quits in 1997.
For Mancini, the first Bramble fight snuffed out a big payday against Hector Camacho, who looked crestfallen at ringside in Buffalo as his would-be windfall 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.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF flyweight title – London, England
Sunny Edwards (champion/No. 1 Ring) vs. Andres Campos (No. 7 IBF/Unranked Ring)
Edwards (19-0, 4 KO): Fourth IBF title defense; Eight straight distance fights since last KO win (2019)
Campos (15-0, 4 KO): First title fight; Fighting in fourth country (Chile, Australia, Argentina)
Fitzbitz says: Edwards has a lot going for him – he’s the champion and in a home venue – but Campos, though anonymous, is taller, longer and presents a challenge. Close call. Edwards by decision (55/45)
WBO junior lightweight title – New York, New York
Josh Taylor (champion/No. 1 Ring) vs. Teofimo Lopez (No. 1 WBO/No. 10 Ring)
Taylor (19-0, 13 KO): Second WBO title defense; Fifth fight in the United States (4-0, 2 KO)
Lopez (18-1, 13 KO): Fourth title fight (2-1); Ninth fight at Madison Square Garden site (7-1, 6 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Taylor’s inactivity – he hasn’t fought in 16 months – could be a wild-card factor. But if he’s on he’s far more dynamic and well-rounded than anything Lopez has shown lately. Taylor in 10 (90/10)
Last week's picks: None
2023 picks record: 18-7 (72.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,268-415 (75.3 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.