Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini held his swollen left hand in front of him like a jewel while shading his battered brow with his right. The bright lights were harsh and unwelcome. There were questions in Mancini's heart about what had just happened in the ring, though he didn't yet know the full horror of what had occurred. Was the WBA lightweight title he had just defended successfully against South Korea's Duk Koo Kim worth this? Was anything? "Why do I do it?" Mancini asked himself. "Why do I do this? I'm the one who has to wake up tomorrow and look at myself." He fingered the purple, misshapen area around his left eye. "A badge of honor," he said in a morbid tone. Minutes earlier, a less reflective Mancini had scored a technical knockout of Kim 19 seconds into the 14th round, and Kim had been carried from the outdoor ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on a stretcher. This was to have been an epilogue to the Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello WBA junior welterweight title fight the night before. Tragically, it became a nightmare.
The 23-year-old Kim, who rained an incredible number of blows on Mancini and in return was pounded by even more, was injured by two right hands his head could not bear. Kim was taking just four breaths per minute when he was transported from the ring to an ambulance that was destined for Desert Springs Hospital.
Kim then underwent 2½ hours of brain surgery, performed by Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, a local neurosurgeon, who removed a 100-cc. blood clot from the right side of Kim's brain. The clot, Dr. Hammargren said, was the result of a broken blood vessel and "due, in all probability, to one tremendous punch to the head." Had the punch been part of the 39-blow bombardment Mancini had delivered in the opening 50 seconds of the 13th round? Was it the first of the final two rights in the 14th? Or the second? Or could the damage have been done not by Mancini's fists but by Kim's head hitting the canvas after the final blow? Could Kim's brain have been damaged before the fight? "The hemorrhage was quite fresh," the neurosurgeon said on Saturday night. "The trauma was caused by one punch."
Dr. Hammargren had previously performed two similar operations, one on a Japanese kick boxer, the other on another fighter. "Both men wound up normal, but this outcome will be much worse. Mr. Kim had a right subdural hematoma," said Dr. Hammargren two hours after the surgery was completed. "He's very critical, with terminal brain damage. There is severe brain swelling. The pressure will go up and up, and that will be it. He'll die. His pupils have been fixed since he arrived. We have him on the respirator now. His body responds slightly to painful stimulus, and that is the only real sign of life we've had. They tell me he fought like a lion in the 13th round. Well, nobody could fight like that with a blood clot on his brain."
As SI went to press Monday evening, Kim, who had almost no remaining brain function, was being maintained by a life-support system.
Kim had indeed fought like a lion. Through the 39 minutes of the previous rounds and those final 19 seconds, the crowd of 6,500 at Caesars was sated with action, as was a CBS television audience. And everyone, especially co-promoter Bob Arum, seemed pleased when the fight was over. But later, at the hospital, Arum was somber. "Suspend boxing for a few months," he suggested, and he called for headgear for boxers and more heavily padded gloves. "Get a blue-chip medical panel to investigate this thing first, and then suspend boxing," Arum said. "It is the height of irresponsibility to allow this to happen, and the old excuses are not working."
Back at Caesars, Mancini learned of the severity of Kim's injuries and left his suite in the company of his parents and Father Tim O'Neill, the family priest, to seek refuge elsewhere.
Before the fight; Kim's training methods, which included hammering a tire with a sledgehammer 200 times daily and ingesting large amounts of ginseng and garlic, and his style had not impressed the boxing cognoscenti. His anonymity seemed to diminish his 17-1-1, eight-KO record and his No. 1 ranking by the WBA. But he was to become a haunting foe for Mancini, who now finds, eerily, that he may fight Kim forever, and in doing so, fight himself.
Mancini is 5'6" tall, the same as Kim. Mancini fought low. Kim fought lower. Mancini is righthanded, Kim lefthanded. There was a quarter-inch difference in reach, a half-pound in weight, little difference in power and absolutely none in approach. "It was murderous," said Mancini's manager, Dave Wolf, immediately after the bout, unaware at the time that the comment would soon take on a macabre ring. "It was like Ray was fighting a mirror. I hope the people who said Kim was nothing are impressed now."
Mancini was left with several impressions by the 14th round. In the third, an infrequent Kim right lead—or perhaps it was a clash of heads—ripped open Mancini's left ear. Blood spouted, and only ice and pressure by cornerman Paul Percifield kept the wound closed. In that same round, one of Mancini's left hooks caught Kim's head too high and at a bad angle. The hand, badly bruised by the blow, began to swell, eventually to twice normal size. In the eighth, Mancini's left eye began to puff and color.