Tragedy in the Ring in 1982

By davidfunk74
Nov. 13, 2016

On November 13, 1982, a boxing match that would forever change the landscape of the sport had taken place. It was on this day that World Lightweight Champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini defended his title against the No. 1 contender in South Korean fighter Kim Duk-Koo at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.  Duk-Koo, who was knocked out in the 14th Round of this fight, died as a result of it four days later.  The event was a live broadcast in the United States, which turned out to forever change the fortunes of four lives and the sport after the outcome.

Even though he always fought in the Lightweight Division, it was a struggle for Kim to make the 135-pound weight limit before the fight. But, he was not deterred in his quest for the title as he wrote out the message "live or die" on the lamp shade in his hotel room that the media mistakenly took for "kill or be killed".  He was also quoted as saying, "Either he dies or die."

It turned out to be a prophetic statement.

Kim had a very respectable record of 17-1-1, but had only fought one time outside of his country(in Manila, Philippines in 1980 in a win against Tony Flores) as well as never facing anyone the caliber of Mancini in the ring.

Mancini had previously won the World Lightweight Title in May of 1982 when he defeated Arturo Frias. He had a successful first title defense with a 6th Round knockout of Ernesto Espana before taking on Kim. Mancini had a record of 25-1 with his only loss coming in 1981 against Alexis Arguello.

In the early going of the fight, the two boxers traded punches with one another. At one point, Kim had the champion reeling when he tore Mancini's left ear with a punch as well as swelled up his left eye. Mancini's left hand had swelled to a point where it was twice its size.

As the fight went on, Mancini began to take control as he landed many more punches than Kim did. Kim's knees were buckled at one point in the 11th Round by the champion, but Mancini could not put him away.

By the 13th Round, Mancini had nailed Kim with numerous punches in a row, but had little effect.  The challenger fought back very strong despite the flurry of Mancini.

Boxing legend "Sugar" Ray Leonard, who was a commentator for the fight, said that round was ferocious, but tightly contested.

As soon as the bell sounded for the start of the 14th Round, Mancini hit Kim with a right, missed a left, then hit him with another hard right that put the challenger down.

Referee Richard Green stopped the fight, and Mancini retained his title.

As Mancini was celebrating, Kim had collapsed in his corner where he was taken to a medical facility not long after. Brain surgery was performed on Kim in an attempt to save his life, but he died four days later as a result of injuries suffered in the fight. Kim was just 23 years old.

The neurosurgeon who performed the brain surgery said his death was caused by one punch.

A week later, Sports Illustrated published a photo of the fight on the cover titling it "Tragedy in the Ring".  Further, the fight was nationally broadcasted on CBS, so there was plenty of attention on the outcome.

Mancini attended Kim's funeral in South Korea, but he still blamed himself for his death. Mancini strongly considered retirement because of the death of Kim, but was encouraged by friends and family to go on and that it was an accident. However, Mancini's boxing career was never the same.

Mancini did come back with two fights in 1983, but they were far from his dominating ways before.

He lost his title to Livingstone Bramble in 1984, and then again to Bramble in a rematch the following year. He then lost by a controversial split decision against Hector Camacho in 1989 before fighting one last time in a loss to Greg Haugen in 1992. He finished his career with four straight losses, and a record of 29-5.

The aftermath of the fight led to immediate changes in the sport, and two unfortunate suicides, too.

The WBC immediately reduced the fight rounds from 15 to 12. Kim had never fought any match longer than 12 in his career, and Mancini had fought in three of them. The WBF, IBF, and WBO all began to operate 12-round matches, too.

Another change in regards to medical care for boxers were the pre-match checkups. Before the Mancini-Kim fight, boxers only had their blood pressure and heartbeats checked. That was changed when boxers had to go through electrocardiograms to go along with brain and lung tests.

Kim's mother had flown in from South Korea to be with her son at the hospital before he was taken off life support. After being in a deep depression for three months, she took her own life after drinking a bottle of pesticide.

Referee Richard Green, who also reffed the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali match in 1980, also blamed himself for Kim's death for not stopping the fight sooner. He was the referee for one more boxing match in 1983, but he committed suicide as well on July 1, 1983 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 46 years old.

Since retirement, Mancini has been able to move on. His lifelong dream of acting became a reality and he has since owned two production companies. Also, he was a boxing analyst for the short-lived Celebrity Boxing show on FOX in 2002. He's made other appearances as an analyst including on ESPN Friday Night Fights.

Even though medical care has increased in boxing since that time, deaths have still occurred in the ring.

One in-ring boxing death was Filipino Flyweight Lito Sisnorio in April 2007 in Thailand in a controversial decision against Thai fighter Chatchai Sasakul. The Philippines Games and Amusement Board officially banned all Filipino fighters from fighting in Thailand as a result of Sisnorio's death. Furthermore, Sisnorio's role in the fight wasn't officially sanctioned by the Philippines Games and Amusement Board, which caused the controversy in the first place.

Nonetheless, boxing is very much a violent sport that can permanently end one's career or life at anytime. And as you can see with the result of the Mancini-Kim fight, lives can be forever changed by those not fighting in the ring. Despite boxing's deaths and recent struggles, they have produced some of the most memorable moments and legends that the sports world has ever known. Boxing, like other sports, has a good and bad side to it.