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What happened on the sunny afternoon of November 13, 1982, would change the lives of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Duk Koo Kim and the future of boxing. By the time it was over, Kim lay in a coma from which he would never awaken, dying five days later at the Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas.
Ray Mancini inherited his nickname from his father, veteran boxer Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini. The name perfectly suited the younger Mancini’s wild, “whirlwind” fighting style. After a failed attempt against Alexis Arguello, Mancini defeated Arturo Frias and became World Lightweight Champion. Mancini’s first defense of his title went easily with a 6th round knockout. But it was his next fight that would change boxing forever.
Duk Koo Kim was brave, but he was wrongly ranked No. 1 by the World Boxing Association. And while his record was 17-1-1, he had but one knockout and had never been tested on a big stage nor faced the kind of force Mancini was at the time. Kim had to labor mightily to get his weight down to the 135-pound limit in the final days leading up to their showdown. Kim made weight, but not without draining himself. Yet round after brutal round, his reaction to being hammered by Mancini was to do what real fighters do. He fought back. He fought back bravely despite obviously hopeless circumstances. He fought back enough that the referee could never justify leaping between them to end Mancini’s bombing raids even in the 13th round, when Mancini rocked Kim repeatedly with 40 unanswered shots. It was a fight filled with action, but Mancini had an easy time hitting Kim during the 14 rounds the fight lasted. Kim left the ring on a stretcher. He sustained brain injuries that led to his death five days later. Later, it was reported that taped to the mirror in Kim’s dressing room was a note that Kim had written to himself. It read: “Kill or be killed.”
Mancini went to the funeral in South Korea and fell into a deep depression afterwards. He said that the hardest moments came when people approached him and asked if he was the boxer who “killed” Duk Koo Kim. Mancini went through a period of reflection, as he blamed himself for Kim’s death. Kim’s mother committed suicide four months after the fight. The bout’s referee, Richard Green, committed suicide in July 1983.
As a result of this bout, the WBC took steps to shorten its title bouts to a distance of 12 rounds. The WBA and WBO followed in 1988 and the IBF did in 1989. Ray had one final fight in April 1992, against former lightweight champion Greg Haugen. Ray was just a mere shadow of his old self, having only 2 fights in seven years, and the fight was stopped in round seven.
Some years later, singer Warren Zevon wrote a song called “Boom Boom Mancini.” Among the lyrics are these lines:
When they asked him who was responsible/For the death of Duk Koo Kim
He said, “Someone should have stopped the fight,” and told me it was him.
They made hypocrite judgments after the fact/But the name of the game is be hit and hit back
In fact, Mancini had never said the fight should have been stopped, agreeing with most ringside observers that Kim’s refusal to retreat made that impossible until he was finally knocked to the floor.