A mayor with muscle: Hawthorn Woods leader transforms himself in the boxing ring

Longtime Hawthorn Woods mayor Joe Mancino is known for his verbal agility. But Saturday night, he'll be putting his physical skill to the test.

His game face will be on and a selection from AC/DC's "Back in Black" blasting through headphones until "Boom Boom" Mancino slips through the ropes and into the ring at Conquer Boxing Gym in the Libertyville Sports Complex.

"I get fired up and I see myself being as mean and as ruthless as possible," says Mancino of the pre-fight ritual. He'll need that mindset. Mancino doesn't know the opponent, but has been told his ring name translates to "panther" and that he is a seasoned boxer.

"A little mystery there, but that's OK," Mancino says. His T-shirt was soaked as he readied for the bout on a recent evening at the gym, where blaring music blends with the thump of boxing gloves on heavy bags and the echoing din of a class in session.

His fight will be one of about a dozen scheduled as part of a Saturday Night Fights fundraiser and gala at the club, Peterson Road and Route 45.

"It's regulated. There are real referees. It's all legit, not fake fights," says Larry Lentz, boxing club owner and cross-training/boxing coach.

The Navy vet coached college boxing in Arizona and had 300 fighters compete in sanctioned events. He also competed in and won single elimination boxing tournaments before moving to Illinois and opening his training facility in 2007.

  Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino works Thursday with Conquer Fight Club owner and coach Larry Lentz at the Libertyville Sports complex. Patrick Kunzer/

Lentz holds fight nights about once a month. All are sanctioned by USA Boxing, which hosts events leading to the Olympic team trials and is the parent organization of the Golden Gloves, a pinnacle of amateur boxing.

Besides the bouts, there will be food, live music, a ring announcer, card girls and professional dancers.

But the intensity will be in the ring where competitors will face off for three, 2-minute rounds.

"It's just you and the other guy. A pure test of stamina, will, heart and strength," says Mancino, 54.

Over the past two years, the diminutive Mancino has become a lean, mean fighting machine in an exhausting activity he says has changed his life physically and mentally.

He's 45 pounds lighter and has quit smoking. He's gained stamina and strength and added muscle.

Mancino works out and trains for 90 minutes six days a week. His boxing routine includes jump rope, speed bag, shadow boxing, heavy bag, live drills and sparring.

The village staff's reaction? "Most of them think I'm crazy, but none of them are surprised," Mancino said.

  Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino trains Thursday at Conquer Fight Club based in the Libertyville Sports complex. Patrick Kunzer/

He is sold on the benefits of boxing.

"I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol. It's all gone," he said. "It completely changed in two years."

Mancino's interest in the sport was piqued in 2017 when he started training as a participant for Lentz' "Badges vs Bad Guys" charity event in which cops, firefighters and local politicians are pitted against "regular Joes."

Competitors are grouped into three classes: novice, open and masters, which is for boxers over 36 years old. Masters opponents have to be within 10 pounds and 10 years in age.

Mancino won that charity bout and officially is 1-0 as a licensed amateur boxer. He plans to compete in the Golden Gloves tournament in March, but at 5-foot, 6 inches and 138 pounds, finding an opponent has been a challenge.

Why did he stick with it?

"I believe that, from time to time, you should step out of your comfort zone," said Mancino, who owns a billboard advertising company and has served as mayor for 10 years.

Boxing is a "magnifying lens and an equalizer," according to Mancino.

"Once you get in that ring, you are no longer a mayor, a stud football player or a CEO," he said.

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