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Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

Compiled by PHILIP REID

Boxer's death forced reappraisal of sport

This is the day – November 17th – that changed the face of boxing. It was 30 years ago in Las Vegas, a city in the Nevada desert that smacked of money and vice and things that weren’t always very nice, that the South Korean boxer Kim Duk-Koo went into the ring with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in search of the world lightweight crown. The fight took place on November 13th, 1982, but the pugilist’s death took place four days later when Kim’s life-support machine was turned off. It was to be a watershed moment in the sport.

Thereafter, boxing authorities reduced championship bouts from 15 to 12 rounds, introduced the standing eight count and – critically – imposed more stringent medical examinations on fighters before bouts.

The impact of Kim’s death was universal. Mancini was a national hero in the US and the fight had been broadcast live on CBS and also back in Korea.

“Something bad’s going to happen,” one of the TV commentators remarked in between rounds, such was the intensity and brutality of the fight. The following week, Sports Illustrated magazine used a photograph on its front cover under the heading “Tragedy in the Ring”.


Now, the fight, the death and its impact have spawned a book, The Good Son, by Mark Kriegel. It is the story of Mancini and, by association, that of Kim.

Mancini is the focal point of the book, but Kim provides the fascination which explains why it took death to bring him to national prominence in his homeland.

In his opening, Kriegel describes how Kim “had hit the Korean exacta at birth: dirt-poor and dark-skinned”.

Indeed, the young Kim was bullied at school by fellow pupils and teachers. His mother married four times and Kim had an ever-expanding family of new step- brothers. His childhood memories were later recalled in his journal: “One new brother used to drag me around [the town of Banam] forcing me to fight with other village kids. The older kids enjoyed watching our fights and I despise them even today for it.”

In his teenage years, Kim found his way to Seoul where he lived for a time under a bridge. He sold chestnuts and pogo sticks for a living and it was only when he walked into the Dong-ah boxing gym – run by a former boxer called Kim Yoon-Gu – that his future took a different path.

Kim was 23 when he arrived in the Nevada desert and given little chance of beating Mancini, the perceived “golden boy” of American boxing, who was making his second defence of the WBA lightweight title. But, for 13 rounds, the two slugged it out toe-to-toe and, as they emerged for the 14th round, both fighters struggled to see through bruised, puffed-up eyes.


Just before the start of the round, Kim Yoon-Gu exhorted his fighter to put in one last effort. “Yes, I’ll do that,” replied Kim. They were the last words he ever spoke. At the start of the 14th, Mancini connected with a straight right that snapped Kim’s head back and sent him crashing to the canvas. The Korean managed to haul himself up by the ropes to beat the count but the referee Richard Green stopped the fight.

On reaching his corner, Kim lapsed into a coma, was taken to hospital and died four days later. He was buried on a hill overlooking the fishing village of Kojin in Kangwon province where he grew up until his mid-teens before leaving to pursue his fortune. His fiancee, Lee Young-Mee, was pregnant at the time of the 1982 fight and seven months later gave birth to a son, Kim Chi Wan. Four months after her son’s death, Kim’s mother – “a woman of great misfortune” is how the boxer described her in his journal – took her own life by drinking a bottle of pesticide.

Eight months after the fight, referee Green, although never blamed, also took his own life. Mancini returned to the ring but his heart was never in it and he subsequently moved on to a new career as a movie producer and businessman.

Kim’s legacy was a reappraisal by the boxing authorities of the sport and the imposition of those more stringent rules. Unquestionably, the more rigorous structures have helped to save lives in the ring. For Kim, remembered more in death than in his life, such impositions came too late.

Beautiful game losing its allure

The disappointing attendance at the Republic of Ireland’s match with Greece on Wedneday night might have left Uefa chief Michel Platini wondering where the COYBIG legions who made it to Poland had gone, or if they had ever come home?

Still, the poor state of attendances at matches would appear to cross international boundaries with figures from a survey in Brazil – the host country for the 2014 World Cup – providing some food for thought.

Providing a hint of economic welfare as much as the health of football, Germany’s Bundesliga (with average attendances of 45,083) led the way in the attendance league ahead of England, Spain and Mexico. Brazil was ranked 13th in the table.

So far this year, attendances at Brazilian league games have fallen by eight per cent to average just under 14,987, with numerous reasons put forward to explain why the country that traditionally produces so many footballing stars is so poorly supported.

Of course, many of the game’s superstars are lured away by bigger salaries in Europe, but more fundamental excuses focus on antiquated stadia, poor security, the cost of tickets and the fact that every game is available on television. Pay-per-view TV figures – operated by NET – are up 70 per cent as families choose to watch the action from their own homes.

Wozniacki inspired by McIlroy's Major gains

Caroline Wozniacki was busy on Twitter in recent days. First off, she tweeted of her “superstar boyfriend” following Rory McIlroy’s achievement in topping the money lists on both the European Tour and US Tour this year and then, tweeted of how “inspirational” she found the new Katy Perry movie.

Wozniacki, a former world number one who has slipped to 10th in the most recent rankings, isn’t forgetting her own game and will hope that some of the inspiration from McIlroy and Perry will have a knock-on effect when she goes in search of a maiden Major title of her own next year.

The Danish tennis star’s own game has been on an upward curve since with wins in Seoul and the Kremlin Cup.

McGuinness an ideal right-hand man if McGinley gets Ryder Cup captaincy

Only time will tell, but could we perhaps yet see Donegal manager Jimmy McGuinness working his magic in the confines of the Ryder Cup?

Paul McGinley, a three-time Ryder Cup winner as a player, has been hugely impressive in his role of captain of the Britain and Ireland team in the Seve Trophy in recent years and is the deserved frontrunner for Europe’s captaincy at Gleneagles in 2014.

McGinley acted as the conduit in introducing the GAA manager to Dermot Desmond, the financier who is the majority shareholder at Glasgow Celtic who have taken McGuinness on as a performance consultant. What’s more, McGinley – whose football career was ended with a knee injury – has described McGuinness as “groundbreaking” and “innovative” in his performance coaching.

Sounds like a perfect match-up for Gleneagles. That’s, of course, if McGinley gets the job in the first place.

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