By Jackie Kallen
The Philadelphia Film Festival will feature a movie called “The Good Son: The Story of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. This emotional documentary details his journey from small town Ohio to the bright lights of Vegas. It centers around the death of Duk Koo Kim, Mancini’s most notorious opponent.
I remember the fight well. It was the afternoon of November 13, 1982 on CBS SPORTS. Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the hero of Youngstown, Ohio was making the second defense of his WBA Lightweight Championship. He had won it six months earlier by beating Arturo Frias in Las Vegas in the first round.
The opponent was a game South Korean named Duk Koo Kim, who was 23 years old. Mancini was 21 at the time. Title fights were 15 rounds back then and Mancini said before the fight at Caesar’s Palace that he expected it to “be a war.” Kim reportedly wrote “Live or Die” on the lampshade in his room before the fight. This was an eerie foreshadow of what was to come.
The fight was every bit the battle Mancini expected it to be. The two men went toe to toe. Mancini’s left ear got torn open and he had a badly swollen eye. His left was swollen and he knew he had a real fight on his hands. By the later rounds, though, Mancini took charge and in the eleventh round, Kim’s legs looked rubbery.
The thirteenth round was a close one with both fighters giving as well as they received. By the fourteenth, however, Kim seemed in trouble. He got knocked down by a powerful Mancini right hand and struck his head on the canvas. Somehow he managed to get up but the referee called a halt to the fight at 19 seconds into the round.
Kim collapsed right after the fight and everyone watching at home as well at ringside was stunned. We watched as Kim was taken out on a stretcher–very obviously unconscious. It was determined at the hospital that a blood clot in the brain had caused the damage and he was operated on immediately. But it was futile. He died four days later, the result of that one fatal right hand.
This horrible incident ruined many lives. Mancini claims he has never been the same, having to live with the guilt of having (accidently) killed a man. Kim’s mother flew to Vegas to be with her son as he lie in bed, but the grief was too overbearing and she committed suicide three months later. The referee of the fight, Richard Green, committed suicide eight months after the fight.
Kim was engaged at the time and his fiance was pregnant with his son Kim Chi-Wan, who was born eight months after his father died. Last year the two met with Mancini as part of the documentary. It served as a healing experience for all of them.
Due to this fight, championship bouts were never again 15 rounds. The 12-round title fight became the norm. Also, medical tests for boxers were increased to include MRIs and neurological exams. Referees tend to stop fights earlier and towels get thrown in more quickly than before when a boxer appears to be in trouble.
The film, based on the book by Mark Kriegel, is due to be released on November 13, the 30th anniversary of Duk Koo Kim’s death. Mancini co-produced the movie.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen