previously published on Buffalo SoapBox
On November 13, 1982, lightweight champion of the world Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini defended his title against Duk Koo Kim. The fight lasted fourteen rounds, but minutes after Mancini was declared the winner by TKO, Kim collapsed and fell into a coma. Three days later, as a result of a subdural hematoma, Kim was declared dead.
This fight alone had lasting effects on the sport of boxing, most notably that title matches were reduced to twelve rounds rather than fifteen, as well as a significant increase in the thoroughness of pre-fight medical exams.
The death of Kim, and his fatal injury being ruled the result of one punch, had a lasting effect on 21-year-old Mancini as well. Blaming himself, he traveled to South Korea to attend his opponent’s funeral and struggled to overcome his guilt and get back in the ring. Despite that, many sports writers have asserted that he was never the same fighter he was before Kim’s death.
But Mancini is a significant part of Buffalo’s sports history and not simply because he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, a town built on the steel industry and feels a hometown kinship with the Queen City; and not because he’s proudly declared that “Buffalo was like a second home to me. I’d been going there since I was a kid.”
No, Buffalo plays a large role in Mancini’s boxing career because it was at Memorial Auditorium on June 1, 1984, that he lost his lightweight title to Livingstone Bramble. The build up to the Mancini-Bramble fight played out like a scene from Rocky III, and later Mancini himself would claim he had to fight Bramble again because the story of that rematch had already been told in the film. It had been written before it had happened and he had to make it come true. Leading up to their first fight, Bramble, of course, took on the role of Clubber Lange. Throughout the press conferences he provoked Mancini, and even his manager stoked Boom Boom’s anger by referring to him as a murderer to reporters for the Kim fight.
Bramble later regretted his behavior, admitting it was an act to unnerve Mancini and keep him angry, keep him off balance and charging forward. The tactic worked. After 14 rounds he was defeated by Livingston Bramble and spent the night in Millard Fillmore Hospital after receiving several stitches over each eye.
The two would face each other again in Reno, but Mancini would lose once more, this time in a 15 round decision. He would lose by one point on each of the three judges’ scorecards, and amidst the boos of the crowd that had believed he had earned his title back, Bramble would tell him that he loved him. Through the blood and cuts and swollen eyes, as the two men beat on each other for fifteen grueling rounds, Mancini never let up.
Now, in The Good Son, author Mark Kriegel has worked with Mancini to cut through the media hype surrounding the death of Duk Koo Kim, and the over the top hero and villain theatrics played up by fighters, managers and the press alike, and uncovers the man behind the fighter who struggled with guilt, depression and losses both in and out of the ring, but who never stopped fighting to build a life he could be proud to call his own.