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Duk-Koo Kim
Real name Duk-Koo Kim
Rated at Lightweight
Nationality  South Korea
Birth date January 8, 1959(1959-01-08)
Birth place Banamri, Korea
Death date November 17, 1982 (aged 23)
Death place Las Vegas, Nevada
Stance Southpaw
Boxing record
Total fights 20
Wins 17
Wins by KO 8
Losses 2
Draws 1
No contests 0
Duk Koo Kim
Hangul 김득구
Hanja 金得九
Revised Romanization Gim Deuk-gu
McCune–Reischauer Kim Tŭk-ku

Duk-Koo Kim (January 8, 1959 – November 17, 1982) was a South Korean boxer who died following a boxing match against Ray Mancini.


Life and boxing career

Kim was born in Gangwon-do province, South Korea, 100 miles east of Seoul, the youngest of five children. His father died when he was two and his mother married three more times. Kim grew up poor.[1] He worked odd jobs such as shoeshine boy and tour guide before getting into boxing in 1976. After compiling a 29-4 amateur record he turned professional in 1978. In February 1982 he won the Orient and Pacific Boxing Federation lightweight title. Kim carried a 17-1-1 professional record into the Mancini fight[2] and had won 12 straight bouts before flying to Las Vegas in the WBA as the world's number 1 challenger to world lightweight champion Mancini. However, he had only fought outside of South Korea once before,[3] and had never faced the likes of Mancini.

Mancini match

Kim was lightly regarded by the American boxing establishment.[4] Kim struggled to lose weight on the days prior to the bout so that he could weigh in under the lightweight's 135-pound limit. Prophetically, he wrote the message "live or die" on his Las Vegas hotel lamp shade only days before the bout (Kim wrote "live or die" but a mistaken translation led to "kill or be killed" being reported in the media). He even had a mini-coffin brought to his hotel room.

Mancini and Kim met in an arena outside Caesar's Palace on November 13, 1982. Mancini and Kim went toe to toe for a good portion of the bout, to the point that Mancini briefly considered quitting.[4] Kim tore open Mancini's left ear and puffed up his left eye, and Mancini's left hand swelled to twice its normal size.[2] However, by the latter rounds, Mancini began to dominate the young challenger, landing many more punches than Kim did. In the 11th he buckled Kim's knees. One sequence in the 13th round featured Mancini punching Kim 39 times in a row. Still, Kim rallied and landed a few weak punches by the end of the round, and referee Richard Green did not stop the fight. When the fighters came out for the 14th round, Mancini charged forward and hit Kim with a right. Kim reeled back, Mancini missed with a left, and then Mancini hit Kim with another hard right hand. Kim went flying into the ropes, his head hitting the canvas hard. Kim managed to rise unsteadily to his feet, but Green stopped the fight and Mancini was declared the winner by TKO nineteen seconds into the 14th round.[2]

Minutes after the fight was over, Kim collapsed into a coma, and was taken out of the Caesar's Palace arena on a stretcher. Emergency brain surgery was performed at the hospital to try to save him, but that effort proved to be futile, and Kim died 4 days after the bout, on November 17. The week after, Sports Illustrated published a photo of the fight on its cover, under the heading Tragedy in The Ring.[5] The profile of the incident was heightened by the fight having been televised live in the United States.

Kim had never had a 15-round bout before. He had been to round 12 only two times before his deadly last bout. In contrast, Mancini was much more experienced at the time. He had fought 15-round bouts three times and gone on to round 14 once more. Kim compiled a record of 17 wins with 2 losses and 1 draw. Eight of Kim's wins were knockouts.

Aftermath of Kim's death

Mancini went through a period of reflection, as he blamed himself for Kim's death. After friends helped him by telling him that it was just an accident, Mancini went on with his career, though still haunted by Kim's death. His promoter, Bob Arum, said Mancini "was never the same" after Kim's death. Two years later, Mancini lost his title to Livingstone Bramble.[6]

Four weeks after the fatal fight, the Mike Weaver vs Michael Dokes fight at the same Caesars Palace venue ended with a technical knockout declared 63 seconds into the fight. Referee Joey Curtis admitted to stopping the fight early under orders of the Nevada State Athletic Commission to be aware of a fighter's health in light of the Mancini-Kim fight, and a rematch was ordered.

Kim's mother flew from Korea to Las Vegas to be with her son before the life support equipment was turned off. Three months later, she took her own life by drinking a bottle of pesticide.[1] The bout's referee, Richard Green, committed suicide July 1, 1983.[7]

Kim left behind a fiancée, Young Mee Lee, who was pregnant at the time with their son, Chi Wan Kim, who was born in July 1983.[1]

Boxing rule changes

The WBC, which was not the fight's sanctioning organization, announced during its annual convention of 1982 that many rules concerning fighters' medical care before fights needed to be changed. One of the most significant was the WBC's reduction of title fights from fifteen rounds to twelve. The WBA and the IBF followed the WBC in 1987. When the WBO was formed in 1988, it immediately began operating with 12-round world championship bouts.[6]

Additionally, on the recommendation of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the number of ring ropes was increased from five to six to prevent fighters from falling through the ropes and out of the ring.

In the years after Kim's death new medical procedures were introduced to fighters' pre-fight checkups, such as electrocardiograms, brain tests, and lung tests. As one boxing leader put it, "A fighter's check-ups before fights used to consist of blood pressure and heartbeat checks before 1982. Not anymore."

Kim in popular culture

The story of Kim's life was taken to the big screen in his native South Korea: Director Kwak Kyung Taek directed the movie Champion, and actor Yu Oh Seong starred as the fallen boxer.[8]

Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters has recorded several versions of a song named for Kim, most recently a version on the Sun Kil Moon album Ghosts of the Great Highway. It happens to be 14 minutes long, the number of rounds he lasted in his final bout.[6]

Kim is mentioned in a Warren Zevon song, titled "Boom Boom Mancini", on the 1987 album Sentimental Hygiene.


  1. ^ a b c Remembering Duk Koo Kim by Michael Shapiro Sports Illustrated, 27 April 1987
  2. ^ a b c "Then All The Joy Turned To Sorrow", Ralph Wiley, Sports Illustrated, 22 November 1982
  3. ^ "Duk Koo Kim: The Sacrifice", Eastside Boxing
  4. ^ a b "Mancini and Kim forever linked", Yahoo Sports
  5. ^ SI cover
  6. ^ a b c "Twenty-five years is a long time to carry a memory",
  7. ^ "25 YEARS LATER: THE DEATH OF DUK KOO KIM", Las Vegas Review-Journal, 13 November 2007
  8. ^ Champion at the Internet Movie Database

External links



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