JACKSON TWP. When the idea of bringing former world lightweight boxing champion and Youngstown native Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini to Fishers Foods’ 5215 Fulton Drive NW location to showcase his new line of wines was pitched to store President Jeffrey Fisher, the grocer was not sure what to expect.
"I’m not even much of a boxing fan, I thought, ‘how many people can we get?’," Fisher said Oct. 14, before gesturing incredulously toward the line of customers snaking through the store’s wine section, past the aisles of cheese and hummus, and around the corner to the bakery.
"What a turnout – look at this," he said. "I’m really excited he is here – it’s a feel-good event and I’ve always felt the wine business is a fun business."
In fact, Fisher’s most immediate concern came one hour into the gathering, as a store manager approached and told him, "We may run out of bottles."
In the early 1980s, Ray Mancini racked up a 30-4 record as a professional boxer, holding the World Boxing Association lightweight belt from 1982 to 1984.
After officially retiring in 1985, Mancini returned to the ring in 1992 for one final fight before hanging up the gloves for good.
His time out of the ring has been spent pursuing a number of business ventures – from producing documentary films to exploring his lifelong love of wine, the latter vocation gaining even more momentum with Mancini living in the California heart of wine country.
The Oct. 14 event, part of a series of meet-the-winemakers themed tastings at Fishers, paired tastings of Mancini’s Southpaw Wine varieties, which the former champ introduced in 2009, and bottle signings as fans got to meet Mancini one-on-one - and vice versa.
Fans flock to tasting
In spite of the length of the receiving line, Mancini greeted each of the attendees more like old school chums than strangers, many bearing yellowed newspaper clippings and ancient fight cards.
"I was excited when I heard about it and called her right away," said Canton resident, Laurie Manley of her friend, Carol Adams. "We’re lucky we got here early."
Manley, beaming ear to ear and still clutching her freshly autographed program from Mancini’s 1989 fight with Hector "Macho" Camacho had a several-minutes-long conversation with Mancini. She said it was great that the former champ and wine maker took the time to make the personal appearance.
Adams added that the wine itself was "very delicious."
Some of those who came to visit Mancini – and the appearance did come off much more like a visit than a celebrity sighting – had been following him from the time he first entered the ring.
As Canton residents and former amateur boxers Bill Niesz, Rick Falcone and Gene Gerace laughed and pored over vintage ring photos with Mancini, Massillon resident Gary Octavio looked on from a short distance away.
"I’m a great boxing fan and have seen a lot of fighters – Ali, Tyson - but I never saw Boom Boom," said Octavio, himself a notable local businessman and the founder of Mid’s spaghetti sauce. "I got a picture with him 30 years ago, at a golf tournament in California. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember."