Ray Mancini. Duk Koo Kim. The two names are inextricably linked together in infamy. Ray was the hard luck kid from Youngstown, Ohio. The sort of kid who won his Lightweight Title based almost entirely on the heart he displayed in the ring. His father’s advice of “never take a step back” becoming a motto for he lived his life in the ring. Kim was a widely panned challenger for Mancini’s WBA Lightweight belt. Mancini’s team didn’t even want the fight with Kim, thinking him a joke for a mandatory contender. But sanctioning bodies always seem to get their way, no fighter wanting to walk away from being able to call themselves a World Champion and the money and fame that comes along with it.
The second weekend in November of 1982 was a showcase for the sport of boxing. Normally in mid-November you’d have NFL fans planning their weekend around Sunday’s matchups. In 1982 the players were locked out. Boxing and it’s promoters saw this as a golden opportunity to increase the sports fan base and make new stars. In Ray Mancini they had just the kid. He gave 110% ever single second of every single round, had a marketable background story and it didn’t hurt that he was Italian-American. Duk Koo Kim was thought of as nothing more than a punching bag to showcase Mancini by most accounts.
When the lockout was declared, networks scrambled to find replacement programming. Boxing, in its early eighties heyday of Hearns, Hagler, Leonard and Duran, was an easy choice. The networks split up the juiciest divisions. CBS took the Lightweights, an excellent choice on their part when you consider the likes of Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello were the stars of the division and the lower weight classes commanded less money.
So it came to be on November 13, 1982 that Mancini’s title bout with Duk Koo Kim was broadcast live on CBS. The night before arguably one of the greatest fights of all time had taken place. Arguello met Aaron Pryor in Miami in perhaps the biggest fight on 1982. Too often when “super fights” occur it leads to nothing more than disappointment. Not this time. It was a tough act to follow. Mancini and Kim responded as if they knew that.
When the bell rang the two went at it like caged animals let loose. It had all the hallmarks of a great fight. Fierce exchanges without either fighter taking a step back, both men operating at a pace that has to be described as superhuman. Duk Koo Kim quickly proved to be more than Mancini had been expecting. Not that it slowed down “Boom Boom”. It may have put him off for a bit when he ripped a series of body shots into Kim only to have Kim raise his arms triumphantly in response.
Every round of the fight was close. To score it would have been incredibly challenging. But as it went on one got the feeling it wasn’t going the distance. How could it? As long as it lasted it was going to be full of action and who could possibly ask for anything else? Simply put the fight was a masterpiece every second up until Mancini knocked Kim out in the 14th round.
Then tragedy struck. Kim had a blood clot in his brain. When the surgeon opened the skull to begin surgery the equivalent of four shot glasses worth of blood shot out. Four days later Kim passed away in hospital. All the pageantry of the night was forgotten. No one cared that Frank Sinatra sat ringside or that Bill Cosby was sitting in the corner Mancini was fighting out of. The sports brutality came to the forefront once again, with Bob Arum calling for a moratorium on boxing and the entire nation decrying the sport.
It was a tough choice to decide whether or not to feature this fight. But at the end of the day, we can’t change history. We can’t make the bad stuff that has happened in boxing’s history disappear. It’s oft times more fatal to ignore tragedies such as what occurred that November afternoon and turn a blind eye to it. The fight Mancini and Kim put on might even have been better than Arguello/Pryor, which went on to win Fight of the Decade honors. No one was going to say that in 1982. No one wants to say it now.
You can’t ignore it and have it go away. What happened on November 13, 1982 was one of the darkest days for the sport. But two men stood in the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace that afternoon and made an unwritten and unspoken pact to leave everything in the ring. Unfortunately one man ultimately left his life in that very ring. If you don’t want to watch the fight it’s understandable and we empathize. We had to watch it just for the context of the sport as a whole. At the end of the day the sport is indeed brutal and barbaric at times. But alternately it can also be beautiful, a source of hope for many kids whose best chance in life is making a living in the ring. And for those who don’t make it in the ring it serves as one of life’s greatest teachers, a guide to overcoming the adversity that each and every person faces in their time.