The look of exhaustion etched on fighters faces, puffed out cheeks and a heart rate that rises to the treble figures whilst all the time allowing a wry smile to mask the pain of the twelve rounds of boxing that went before.
A Fighter of an earlier generation will possibly look on quizzically of the hysterics witnessed, to them a bell to signal the twelfth round meant only that there were three or more rounds to follow, it was a time that fighters were just getting warmed up but all that changed in 1982, more specifically after the heartbreaking conclusion of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini Vs. Deuk Koo Kim.
This was at a time where 15 round contests were part and parcel of the sport, fighters were conditioned to go those distances, to last the course whilst usually able to take punishing shot after punishing shot until heartbreakingly in this instance one combatant wasn’t.
Kim had never fought outside the home comforts of Asia beforehand, only once stepping away from even his homeland of South Korea which was a stoppage win over Tony Flores in the Philippines.
Confidence exuded from him in all walks of life so when offered the chance to face Mancini, Kim was unmoved in his intentions of an upset, even going a step too far as it was rather ironic prior to the fight he had a carpenter rig up a mock coffin to present to Mancini, with a large grin he presented it initially to his unimpressed trainer who immediately stamped on the coffin, unable to find the funny side of the joke being told.
Across the Pacific Ocean the betting favourite was Mancini, he was a man many tipped to become the new star of the boxing world pending the retirement of Sugar Ray Leonard, this was a fight which was thought to be a gimme for the Italian-American who possessed an actors charisma, talent by the bucket load and everything else aside from it.
The scene was set, the fight was moving along at a pace, Deuk Koo Kim was a livewire of a fighter who wasn’t coming in to the fight to lie down, instead he threatened the upset of the much-fancied champion of the time as gasps could be heard with every shot landed from those around ringside.
At the end of the 13th, Kim’s trainer, Kim Yoon-Gu sensing one last push was needed, instructed to his pupil, telling him that Mancini was showing signs of exhaustion labouring the message to put in further effort to finish him off.
He clenched his teeth, nodded and said ‘Yes, I’ll do that’. That was the last thing he ever said.
When the fourteenth round began, Mancini reliving the steps leading to the fight’s finish, described it in detail, saying “I knew I took a lot out of him but he came rushing at me. I sidestepped him. I hit him with a left hook that shook him up, a right hand that rocked him. Threw another right hand and missed it. Left hook, missed it. Then I shot the right hand, and I caught him square on the chin. I felt that punch. When he went down, when I saw him on his back, boy, I felt great. That was such a good win. A damn good win. The kind that makes good champions into very good champions. But there’s no joy in it now, no proudness”
Mancini momentarily celebrated his victory unaware that Kim had been placed on a stool, still unconscious, before collapsing in the corner
“The first thing I heard was that they took him to the hospital because his jaw was broken,” said Mancini unbeknownst to him that he was in a far worse condition.
When his trainer, stepped into the room, Mancini asked him for a second opinion on why Kim had been hospitalized. The trainer simply pointed to his head with a grim look on his face.
“That night, they told me he wasn’t going to make it. I was numb. I didn’t know what to feel. I was so happy, so satisfied with my win, then I turned to numbness. I was sitting there like a zombie. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have no idea.”
Kim was diagnosed to have had a blood clot on the brain, later he would fall into a coma never to awake, four days later he was pronounced dead.
On the flight back to South Korea, a traumatised Kim Yoon-Gu locked himself in the toilet where he cried uncontrollably until they landed but the tragedy had a far more devastating fallout.
In the aftermath, both Kim’s mother and the referee would commit suicide, Kim’s mother from a deadly dose of pesticide, seemingly unable to come to terms with her sons premature passing, not that there was any indication that the referee’s demise was entwined with Kim’s death.
In Ray’s case, the fight broke him mentally, never able to fulfill the fighter many had promised him to be, It wasn’t necessarily because of the outcome of the fight but more so how the boxing public perceived him.
Mark Kriegel wrote in his book that when asked of the fight Ray said “I did it for righteous reasons.” whilst Mark goes on to say “He did it to be a hero, and after that fight necessarily there was nothing righteous about boxing anymore. The audience stopped looking at him as a hero and began looking at him as a pariah after the outcome of the fight”
“Maybe I don’t blame myself,” Mancini says, “but I can’t alienate myself. I was part of it. And it hurts a lot to know that. That’s what bothers me more than anything. The day after the fight. I looked at my hands –– they were all blown up, like balloons; they were killing me –– and I said. ‘My hands could do that?’ It was hard for me to comprehend. My faith in God may not help me to understand it, but it may help me get through it.”
It was after this contest that boxing organisations outlawed 15 round fights, Championship bouts were reduced to 12 rounds, the standing eight-count was introduced and the medical tests required of boxers before a fight were overhauled, this was the fight that changed boxing.