Shortly after Livingstone Bramble won his title defense against Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini Saturday night, the Rastafarian lightweight from St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, returned to his hotel room and assured Turtle that everything had gone all right, not to worry.
Turtle, a Burmese python with a penchant for breakdancing on ring ropes, was typically subdued, responding only with a spit of his happy little tongue. Bramble, on the other hand, decided he'd earned a night of mindless celebration.
"Old Coconut Head was tearing up the dance floor," Lou Duva, Bramble's manager, said. "But Mancini had to go to the hospital to check his cuts . . . It was a grueling 15-round fight, one of the greatest displays of physical conditioning I've ever seen . . . Mancini's face was a mess. They had to get a plastic surgeon to fix him up. I don't know how he kept going."
There were more than 2,600 punches thrown in the bout for the World Boxing Association lightweight title. Bramble landed 674 punches, Mancini 371. The champion threw an average of 81 punches a round, most of them hard right jabs to Mancini's face, and the challenger had 90.
"A lot of times I hit Ray Mancini in the body and he looked like he wanted to quit," Bramble said. "Anybody else in the world would have gone down. I had him hurt in the eighth and thought maybe the ref or the ring doctor would stop the fight, there was so much blood."
Immediately after the bout, which grossed about $800,000 at the gate, Mancini said he would take some time off and decide whether to resume his career. "People will look at me and say I went through a meat grinder," Mancini said. "My eyes and head were sore. I won't lie and say it didn't hurt, but I wouldn't go down and quit. To what extent I was hurt or physically damaged . . . I don't know. When you're a fighter, you have to have tunnel vision. You're doing a job and you can think of nothing else."
Referee Mills Lane stopped the fight twice -- in the eighth and 15th rounds -- to have the ring physician check the gaping wounds over Mancini's eyes. In each instance, the crowd turned hostile and shouted its dissension, and the brawl was allowed to continue.
"The doctor became a local hero last night," Duva said. "Almost everybody in that arena was pulling against my fighter, they wanted Mancini to take it. But what would have happened if Bramble had had those nasty cuts over his eyes? Or just one cut? You know they would have stopped it. And that bothers the hell out of me."
Bramble said he entered the fight "tight and jittery," knowing he "could hit Ray with my right hand. I depended on my straight punch but it didn't land quite like I wanted. I couldn't knock him out, no matter how hard I tried."
Bramble tore the flesh over Mancini's left eye late in the first round, but the blood did not begin to flow until the third. After Bramble split open the brow of Mancini's right eye in the eighth round, Mancini returned to his corner and told his trainers and cut man that he couldn't see. The swelling over his left eye had obscured his vision. When the action resumed, Duva said, "Bramble opened up the eye for him. He popped him clean and burst it open and relieved the pressure."
In the final rounds, Mancini answered the bell with blood leaking from both eyes. His corner was unable to seal the wounds. "If my eyes were like that," Bramble said, "I would never have fought. I would have stopped it. There would have been another day, sometime later. It was too much."
Most of the damage came from Bramble's jab, which tagged Mancini in the face 255 times. Although Bramble won the unanimous decision by one point, the bout was hardly that even. Bramble owned most of the middle rounds, and Mancini won the early and late. The crowd of 11,758, at times chanting, "Boom Boom," seemed to be challenging the three judges at ringside to rule against Mancini, their hero.
Bramble said the booing helped his game plan. "If they didn't boo," he said, "Mancini wouldn't have kept punching. He punched himself out early and I was able to come back with better stuff later on. He didn't hurt this coconut. I could feel his strength but I know the body shots I threw took it out of him."
The scorecard, Bramble said, didn't matter as long as he won. But it bothered Duva, who knew the judges were not deaf to the passionate cries of the home town crowd. "The way the judges were split on the last rounds, it was like they were watching different fights," Duva said. "I thought the judges were going along with the crowd, and so was the doctor. He could have stopped the fight, but where was he when Mancini was saying he couldn't see?"
Bramble said he plans to take a few weeks off and decide his next opponent. As WBA lightweight champion, he would have to fight Tyrone Crawley, the No. 1 contender, within 90 days to keep his title. But that fight might not happen. Duva said he wants Bramble to fight Hector Camacho, Harry Arroyo or Aaron Pryor. Bramble said he would "probably go with Crawley and try to fight Camacho and Pryor later. The way I'm feeling now, I can beat anybody. I'm not looking at myself as only the WBA champion but the universal lightweight champ. I'm looking at the financial aspects of what's ahead of me."