The first hammer fell in the form of a crushing hook slung by Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini into the right side of WBA lightweight champion Arturo Frias. And then all the carefully planned strategies were lost in the blur of a barroom brawl. The hook was thrown just 18 seconds into last Saturday's title fight at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The end came 156 seconds later, with Frias, his face and nose torn, shorn of his title but safe in the arms of Referee Richard Green. "What you saw was skyrockets and fireworks," Mancini shouted as blood poured from his cut left eyelid.
And so the title passed from Frias, a heroic loser, to Mancini, 21, who immediately lateraled it to his father, Lenny, 62, whose dreams of the same championship had been shattered by a mortar blast on a battlefield in France in 1944. Six pieces of German shrapnel blasted Lenny's name forever from the ranks of the world's premier lightweights.
Seven months ago WBC champion Alexis Arguello almost pinned a no-return ticket on Boom Boom. Dropped by Arguello in the 12th round, Mancini was stopped in the 14th, his first loss in 21 fights. The son's dream of winning the title for his father took a standing eight count. "But don't write him off," Arguello said then. "Someday this young man will be champion."
Arguello could hardly have imagined how quickly his prophecy would come true. Or how fate would bring Mancini and Frias to their explosive meeting in Las Vegas last week. On Oct. 3, the day Arguello defeated Mancini in Atlantic City, Frias, although ranked No. 10 by the WBA, was regarded as no more than a gritty club fighter with the grim future of $3,000 paydays.
Frias won his first 20 fights as a pro but, curiously, didn't appear in the ratings until he lost a controversial 10-round decision last May in Caracas to Venezuela's Ernesto Espa�a, the ex-WBA champ. Convinced that Frias had been robbed by local officials, the WBA placed the 25-year-old Mexican-American from Los Angeles at the bottom of its July 1981 listings, then ignored him.
Late last November, while Claude Noel, then the WBA champion, was training to defend against Gonzalo Montellano, Frias was in a Los Angeles gym getting ready for a $3,000 fight at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas. Monte-llano suffered a hip injury, setting off a frantic search for a substitute. "There were only 11 days remaining before the fight," says Mort Sharnik of CBS, which televised the bout. "We needed a contender who was already in training. We went right to Frias."
Frias stunned the fight world and Noel, knocking out the champ in the eighth round. That earned Frias $40,000. Less than two months later, on Jan. 30, he made another $120,000 with a technical decision over Espa�a, the eternal No. 1 contender, in L.A. Leading on all cards, Frias' left cheek was ripped open by a butt in the ninth round. The bout was stopped and Frias ruled the winner.
Backed by CBS funding, promoter Bob Arum then signed Frias, for $175,000, to defend against Mancini, who had won twice by knockouts after losing to Arguello. "Hold it," said the WBA, which ruled that its own officials had erred in the Frias-Espa�a fight and that Frias must make yet another defense against its favorite lightweight, the 27-year-old Espa�a.
"We're not buying any more of their garbage," CBS's Sharnik said. ABC also announced it would have no part of an Espa�a fight. CBS decided it would still telecast a Frias-Mancini fight, if not for Frias' WBA title, then for Mancini's North American Boxing Federation championship. For the same money.
Pepito Cordero, Espa�a's manager, graciously agreed to accept $50,000 from Arum to permit Mancini to fight Frias first. He also extracted a promise that the winner would fight Espa�a—a badly spent warrior—within 60 days.