This is the second in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.
BOXING LEGEND: Duk Koo Kim hung a sign saying “kill or be killed” before his match with Boom Boom Mancini that resulted in Kim’s death.
STATUS: False Enough for a False
The death of Duk Koo Kim was one of the most tragic moments in boxing history, mostly because a lot of people saw the lightweight championship bout between Kim and defending champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
If a guy dies in a fight no one sees, it is a lot harder for people to get outraged.
Now, if a guy dies in a fight that EVERYone sees, it is equally hard for people to AVOID being outraged.
The November 17, 1982 title match was between challenger Duk Koo Kim, a 23-year-old whose aggressive fighting style saw him achieve eight knock outs out of the 17 victories he had coming in to the bout.
While Kim was actually two years older than Mancini at the time, the two still stood in contrast.
Mancini was a fighter who was trained to go the distance – he still had the power to put people away quickly, but he also had the experience of going the full 15 rounds (or at least 14 rounds).
So when the fight stretched on, Mancini was better prepared to handle the brutal onslaught both men produced on each other.
Even then, early in the fight, Mancini was so messed up from Kim’s attacks that he briefly considered throwing in the towel. But he stuck in there, and towards the end of the fight, he was clearly wearing Kim down.
At one point in the 13th round, Mancini hit Kim with 39 straight punches!!!
But Kim rallied a bit at the end of the round, so referee Richard Green allowed to fight to go on.
At the beginning of the 14th, it was clear Kim was reeling, and Mancini quickly charged Kim and knocked him in to the ropes and down to the floor, where Kim hit his head hard. Kim tried to get up, but Green called the fight right there in favor of Mancini.
Minutes after the bout was over, Kim collapsed into a coma that he would never recover from. Emergency brain surgery was no good – he was dead four days later.
Naturally, this sent the world of boxing into a tailspin (especially because, as I mentioned, this was all nationally televised live).
Eventually, reforms such as much more rigorous medical testing of competitors were implemented, as well as a reduction from 15 rounds down to 12 rounds per bout.
But as you might imagine, such reforms were not much solace for the family and friends of Duk Koo Kim. Mancini took the death hard, but not as hard as Kim’s mother, who came to America to see her son be taken off of the breathing machine. She would kill herself three months later. The referee who did not stop the fight, Richard Green, also took his own life seven months later.
This was a morbid, deeply depressing story.
But things got even MORE morbid when details came out about Kim’s preparation for the fight. Kim had been struggling to get his weight down to 135 to qualify for the fight, and he was involved in some pretty twisted head games.
He kept a mini-coffin in his hotel room while training for the fight.
And the main thing – he had a sign hung over his hotel lamp that was reported to have read “Kill or be Killed.”
That’s some insane stuff right there, right?
But as it turns out, that was a mistranslation of the sign.
It ACTUALLY said “Live or Die.”
That’s still on the messed up side of things, but “Kill or Be Killed” was really hammered into the ground in the weeks following the fight, to the point where I think that the mistranslation is a significant enough point to bring it up here as a “False.”
Warren Zevon actually has a great song about Mancini that references the events of this fight, although Zevon takes a few liberties with Mancini’s position on the fight…
When they asked him who was responsible
For the death of Du Koo Kim
He said, “Someone should have stopped the fight, and told me it was him.”
They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back
I don’t believe Mancini was nearly that flippant with the death of Kim. It really affected him deeply.
Still, it’s a good song with a catchy chorus:
Hurry home early – hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon
Hurry home early – hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon
BOXING LEGEND: Wayne Smith took the name of an older fighter to sneak his way into competitive boxing at a too-young age.
After moving to Harlem with his mother in 1933 when he was 12 years old, Walter Smith eventually got involved in boxing.
When he was 14, Smith wanted to box competitively. The only problem was that he could not do so unless he was certified by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The only problem with THAT is that you can not be a member of the AAU until you are 16 years old.
Luckily for Smith, amateur boxing bureaucracy in the mid-1930s was not exactly a tight ship, so he was able to procure an ID from an older friend and compete under his friend’s name.
That friend’s name?
A few years later, the “Sugar” was added.
A legend, as they say, was born.
BOXING LEGEND: An Olympic boxer was stripped of his Silver Medal for “not giving of his best.”
Ingemar Johansson was one of the most popular foreign athletes in the United States in the late 1950s when he became the heavyweight champion of the world in a dramatic victory over Floyd Patterson where Johansson knocked Patterson down a remarkable SEVEN times in the third round before the referee ended the bout.
However, before he even got the chance to do that to Patterson, Johansson had to deal with years of being labeled soft, generally traced back to his performance in the Boxing Finals of the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Johansson was matched up against Ed Sanders from the United States. Sanders was bidding to become the first American boxer to win the Gold Medal since 1904, and the first African-American boxer to EVER win a Gold Medal.
Johansson spent the first two rounds of the match dancing away from Sanders.
Eventually, as the crowd booed Johansson, when the third round began and Johansson did not immediately go after Sanders, the French judge called the match, determining that Johansson was “not giving of his best.”
Johansson was escorted out by policemen and he was denied the Silver Medal!
At the time, Johansson claimed that he was just using strategy. His plan was to wear the other, bigger boxer out by dancing around the first two rounds and some of the third before he would unleash a blistering attack on him, the so-called “Toonder and Lightning” as Johansson called it (people do love people with accents).
But, naturally, no one really believed him.
That was, until 1959, when Johansson used basically that same exact technique against Floyd Patterson, dancing from him most of the first two rounds and then unleashing an assault in the third round. As Patterson would later write about the match, by the time the third round began, he honestly thought that the “Toonder” was just make believe. That was until he was on the receiving end of it repeatedly.
Johansson was a popular champion, and he actually made Patterson all the more popular when Patterson defeated him in 1960, becoming the first Heavyweight champion to regain his title.
The two had a re-match in 1961 that was close, but Patterson ended up retaining his title.
The highlight of Johansson’s post boxing career came in 1982, THIRTY YEARS after his Olympic embarrassment. He was officially awarded the Silver Medal from the match. That was nice to see.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org