November 13, 1982. It’s a day that lives in sports infamy. It’s the day American boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini defended his WBA lightweight title against the No. 1 defender, Duk Koo Kim from South Korea. It’s the day a boxing match would change numerous lives and the sport forever.
Ray Mancini takes on No. 1 challenger
When Duk Koo Kim stepped into the ring outside of Caesar’s Palace to face Mancini, he was mostly unknown to the American boxing community. Kim had made his way to the No. 1 challenger ranking by winning the Orient and Pacific Boxing Federation lightweight title in February of 1982 and had successfully defended it three times.
The WBA lightweight title bout with Ray Mancini was only the second time the South Korean had fought outside of his home country and the first time in North America. He entered the fight with a 17-1-1 record that included eight victories by knockout.
Before the fight, Kim struggled to shed pounds and meet the 135-pound limit. Despite being the underdog, Kim was brimming with confidence. So much so, he was quoted by one reporter as saying, “Either he dies, or I die.” Before leaving his Las Vegas hotel room, Kim wrote a message on the lampshade that read, “live or die.”
The opening rounds featured two gladiators
Both southpaw fighters entered the ring listed at 5 feet 6 inches with a reach of 65 inches. More than 10,000 fans at Caesar’s and a nationally televised audience watching on CBS witnessed the two fighters go toe to toe from the opening bell. It was clear neither of the boxers planned on backing off.
Throughout the fight the boxers traded blow after blow. Kim would connect with a right hook, only to be countered by Mancini and multiple shots to the body. In the sixth round, Gil Clancy, a boxing analyst for CBS, described the toe-to-toe action and his fear it might not end well.
“Something’s going to happen in this fight. Either one guy’s gonna get busted up, or nail the other guy very badly.”
Later in the fight in the 12th round, Ray Mancini delivered an uppercut to the chest of Kim that caused the South Korean’s knee to touch the canvas. Kim quickly regained his footing and no knockdown was called.
Ray Mancini knocks out Kim
After a flurry of exchanges back and forth between the pair in the 12th, Mancini came out firing on all cylinders in the 13th. Boxing stats revealed the champ delivered 44 consecutive punches in the 13th, only to be slowed by Kim clutching his opponent. When Mancini broke free, he continued the onslaught. Kim, who had never fought beyond 12 rounds, was withering.
As the 14th round bell sounded, Mancini headed straight for Kim, where he blasted him with a sharp left hook. Mancini missed with a left and a right, then connected with a straight right to the center of Kim’s face. The South Korean tumbled backward, falling flat on his back, and sliding underneath the ropes.
Kim stayed down for a couple of seconds before rolling over and getting to his knees. His vision impaired, he struggled to grasp the lower rope. Once Kim clutched it, he stood halfway up and began to stumble backward. Referee Richard Green recognized the injured fighter’s instability, waved both hands over his head, and declared the fight over.
The tragic aftermath results in multiple deaths
Just minutes after the fight ended, Kim fell into a coma and was taken on a stretcher from Caesar’s Palace to the Desert Springs Hospital. Doctors discovered a subdural hematoma and performed emergency brain surgery. It wasn’t enough. Kim died four days later.
Kim’s mother, who had flown to the U.S. to spend the final moments by her son’s side before he died, died by suicide three months later by drinking a bottle of pesticide. Referee Richard Green died by suicide on July 1, 1983.
Ray Mancini blamed himself for Kim’s death and fell into a depression. Boxing promoter Bob Arum said Mancini “was never the same” after the fight. Mancini defended his title a couple of times after the fight before losing in 1984. He fought sporadically before retiring in 1992.
As a result of the fight, various rules changes were implemented. The Nevada State Athletic Commission imposed a standing eight count, which allows a referee to call a knockdown even if the boxer is not down, but on the verge of being knocked down. Another rule change called for a boxer’s license to be suspended for 45 days after a knockout loss.
The most significant change came when the World Boxing Council, which did not sanction the Mancini-Kim fight, announced in 1982 the reduction of title fights from 15 rounds to 12. The WBA and the IBF followed in 1987, and the WBO used 12 rounds when it formed in 1988.
Since that 1982 fight many boxing fans view the sport differently. They not only appreciate the masterful skill of the fighters, but also the courage it takes to literally put their lives on the line each time they step into the ring.