Tragedy strikes the lightweight division and changes the face of boxing forever
While it is no secret that boxing is a dangerous and sometimes lethal sport, on no night over the last half century have those two factors delivered more impact then that of November 13 1982.
That was the night when WBA Lightweight Champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini stepped into the ring against number one ranked contender Deuk-Koo Kim at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Nevada with hopes of successfully defending his title for the third time in six months
Kim, who had been undefeated in his last 16 bouts, seemed on paper at least a worthy challenger. But examining the record of Kim’s opposition a bit closer, they would have noticed that a combined 78-30 win loss ratio did not garner Kim the number one spot.
To make matters worse, four of the 16 had no fights when Kim defeated them and three had only one fight each. A perfect example of quantity over quality, yet the signs of a one sided affair in the making did not stop there.
It was also discovered that Kim had been going to extreme measures to make weight up until the day of weigh-in, leaving him drained. All these factors still have those who remember the bout asking why it was allowed to go off, except what would take place on fight night, no one could have seen coming even if they did factor it all in together at the time.
When the bell rang to start the affair, all jokes seemed to be on all those who predicted a quick ending. Surprisingly, Kim stood and traded with Mancini, giving just as well as he received and at times even gaining the approval of the pro-Mancini crowd in attendance.
Then, just when it looked like Mancini would have the toughest defense of his title reign to date, Youngstown Ohio’s favorite son began to pour on the heat, battering Kim at will and eventually knocking down the challenger in the 14th round.
Somewhere inside Kim, the heart of a champion emerged, allowing him to make it back to his feet before the ten count, but referee Richard Greene called a halt to the bout, saving Kim from any further unnecessary abuse.
Within minutes of the bout, Deuk-Koo Kim fell unconscious inside the arena and was rushed to the local hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling on the brain, Four days later Kim passed away at the age of 23 without ever regaining consciousness.
Following the bout, oddly enough it was the WBC, not the WBA whose title was on the card, that made statements they would no longer be sanctioning 15 round fights. The WBC stated they had discovered it was the rounds after the twelfth in which most injuries took place.
They made an executive decision, according to the words of Jose Sulaiman, their organization would now be using a maximum of 12 rounds for title fights and 10 rounds would be the maximum for non title bouts.
In March of 1983, the first 12 round title bout would take place when Larry Holmes defended his heavyweight championship against Lucian Rodriguez, something the IBF and WBA, who sanctioned the Mancini-Kim bout, would not follow for almost five more years.
After the Kim bout, Ray Mancini went into a period of depression, blaming himself for the fighter’s death. Although Mancini returned to the ring in 1983, he was never the same fighter who had garnered the moniker "Boom Boom".
Mancini would defend his belt four more times over the next two years, losing the strap to Livingstone Bramble in 1984 by knockout, followed by a failed rematch in 1985.
Ray made a brief comeback in 1989 and lost a split decision to Hector Camacho, then once more in 1992 where he was knocked out by Greg Haugen before finally retiring for good with a career record of 29-5 (23).
Mancini states to this day that Kim’s death still weighs on his mind heavily at times. But Mancini was not the only one involved that night who was deeply affected by the in ring death of Deuk-Koo Kim.
In February 1983, three months after the bout, referee Richard Greene, who had overseen the affair, felt so guilty for not stopping the contest sooner that he committed suicide, as did Kim’s Mother in June of that same year.
All factors combined quite possibly may be boxing's most tragic chain of events to ever stem off of one incident.
Some call this one of boxing’s most avoidable accidents to ever take place in the ring, caused due to carelessness by all those involved in assuring the fighters safety for not being more cautious in not only signing the bout, but taking notice of Kim’s health and need to drop such a severe amount of weight in such a short time.
There are those who say this was something destined to happen, that Kim himself had viewed his own future as he was often seen during the days leading up to the bout repeatedly writing the words "Kill or Be Killed" on his hotel room mirror.