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On This Date in Sports November 13, 1982: Tragedy in the Ring

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A thrilling fight turns tragic as challenger Duk-Koo Kim collapses moments after his fight against Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini. The fight for the WBA Lightweight Title at Cesar's Palace in Las Vegas was a classic battle as the two fighters traded blows for 14 rounds. The champion, Mancini, took control of the fight in the 13th round with a flurry of punches. In the 14th round, Ray Mancini again took control as referee Richard Green stopped the bout at 19 seconds. Kim, who fought a valent fight, would not recover, dying five days later. The tragedy would lead to reform in boxing, as championship fights were shortened from 15 rounds to 12. 

Duk-Koo Kim, a southpaw fighter from South Korea born on January 8, 1955, had come to America looking to make a name for himself in the boxing world. All of his previous fights were in South Korea or the Philippines. Kim was given a chance to become the Lightweight Champion of the World, taking on Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini in a fight nationally televised on CBS. In his Las Vegas hotel room, Kim had written on a lampshade in Korean, “Kill or be Killed.”

Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini, born on March 4, 1961, in Youngstown, Ohio, was the star of the lightweight division. On May 8, 1982, he became the WBA Lightweight champion with a first-round knockout of Arturo Frias. After beating Ernesto Espana in his first title defense, Mancini faced the challenger from South Korea in a planned 15-round title fight in Las Vegas.

Little was known of Duk-Koo Kim before he got in the ring against Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini. Kim had struggled to make weight for the fight, saying, “Either he dies, or I die.” Early in the fight, the Challenger hurt Mancini, cutting open the Champion’s left ear and swelling his eye shut. Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini considered quitting in the middle of the match as his hand began to swell. As the fight reached the later round, Mancini began to take control. In the 11th round, Mancini buckled the Challenger’s legs, coming close to recording a knockdown. As the 13th round began, Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini unleashed a flurry of blows upon Duk-Koo Kim, landing nearly 39 consecutive punches. 

In the 14th round began, Mancini’s assault continued. The Champion landed a shot that sent Kim into the ropes and onto the canvas, with his head taking a brutal blow when he fell. Kim made it to his feet, but referee Richard Green stopped the fight 19 seconds into the round, declaring Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini a winner by Technical Knockout.

Moments after the fight, Duk-Koo Kim collapsed in his corner, never to wake up. Kim was in a coma and was rushed to a local hospital, where he was determined to have a subdural hematoma, with 100cc of blood flooding his brain in his skull. Emergency surgery was performed but was not successful. The surgeon believed the damage was caused by just one punch late in the fight. Five days after the fight, life support was turned off as Duk-Koo Kim was declared dead. Three months after the fight Kim’s mother took her own life by drinking a bottle of pesticide. Also haunted by the fight was the bout’s referee Richard Green who committed suicide the following July. Kim left behind a pregnant finance, who gave birth to a son in July of 1983. Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini was never the same fight after the fight as he blamed himself for the death of Duk-Koo Kim. He would fight only eight more times, losing his title two years later. Mancini later worked as a boxing analyst while pursuing an acting career.

The tragedy became a national story as some questioned the safety and future of boxing. All the major sanctioning bodies studied how to prevent future deaths in the ring. One of the significant outcomes of the study was a reduction of championship fights from 15 to 12 rounds. They also increased pre-fight medical screening and helped secure the ropes to provide more support to boxers knocked up against them.