WASHINGTON – For much of the 20th century, boxing rivaled baseball as the undisputed champ of American sports.
The “sweet science” sculpted robed heroes of mythic legend: Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard.
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini was next in line, a lightweight who earned his nickname with a flurry of punches; a matinee idol who appeared on countless magazine covers and drew the adulation of Frank Sinatra; a real-life Italian Stallion who thrived off the pop culture buzz of “Rocky” (1976). As Warren Zevon sang in a tribute song, “Hurry home early / hurry on home / Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon.”
All that changed on Nov. 13, 1982, when the world watched a man die in the ring on live Saturday afternoon TV on CBS Sports. Mancini delivered a knockout blow to South Korea’s Duk Koo Kim in the 14th round of their WBC Lightweight title fight at Caesars Palace in Vegas, but it proved to be a fatal blow, as Kim slipped into a coma and died four days later.
Sports Illustrated titled its next issue “Tragedy in the Ring.” Boxing reduced its title fights from 15 rounds to 12. And the major networks retreated as broadcaster Howard Cosell denounced the sport two weeks later during a one-sided Larry Holmes fight, saying, “This kind of savagery doesn’t deserve commentation … I wonder if that referee is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he is a part of?”
Adding to the tragedy, Kim’s grief-stricken mother took her own life three months later. The fight’s referee committed suicide a month after that. And Mancini fell into a deep depression when he learned Kim’s fianc