FOXSports.com columnist Kriegel (Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, 2007, etc.) tells the story of a Youngstown, Ohio, lightweight boxer whose brief championship reign included a notorious 1982 bout that ended with the death of opponent Duk Koo Kim.
The author begins with that deadly fight and then shows us a Santa Monica restaurant where Mancini regularly hangs out today with David Mamet, actor Ed O’Neill and others. Kriegel’s cinematic style—quick cuts, lots of dialogue, crisp characterization—works well in a story that in its early stages will remind readers of the Rocky films—and why not? Stallone became a friend and produced a TV movie about Mancini’s life. The author sketches some quick scenes of family history (the first arrived at Ellis Island in 1913), the early family struggles, his father’s promising boxing career (terminated by injuries in World War II) and Mancini’s rise in the amateur ranks. Spliced throughout are sad economic portraits of Youngstown, depressing accounts of the prominence of the Mob in the area and some scattered history of televised boxing. Kriegel shows us that Mancini was not a flashy Sugar Ray Leonard but a straight-ahead slug-and-be-slugged fighter who wore his opponents down with ferocity and heavy punches. The cameras and celebrities loved him (Bill Cosby shocked Mancini’s handlers when he gave Mancini advice in his corner during the Kim fight). Kriegel deals in some detail with the death fight, devoting a chapter to Kim’s family (he returns to them at the end). Mancini soon lost his title, tried a couple of comebacks, tried Hollywood, married, had children and divorced.
Mostly entertaining but not a standout. Coulda been a contender, but the author touches too lightly on the hard questions about celebrity, violence and money in America.