Sun Kil Moon, 2003
A different view of the Mancini-Kim fight—from the canvas—is presented in this beautifully melancholy ballad. Indie artist Mark Kozelek took Sun Kil Moon as his nom de musique, a reference to an obscure Korean bantamweight champ from the late 1980s. ("Great images with all three words, Sun Kil Moon," says Kozelek, who's that rare combination of emo rocker and fight fan. "I've probably used those words a thousand times in my songs.") He tells Kim's story in a 14½ minute homage with a Neil Young flavor. Says Kozelek, who has also written tributes to two other fighters who died young, Salvador Sanchez and Pancho Villa, "The Duk Koo Kim tragedy, with his mother and the referee committing suicide afterward—I can't believe there aren't dozens of songs inspired by that. Books and movies are made about these guys, so why not songs?"
14 SONG FOR SONNY LISTON
Mark Knopfler, 2004
It's a bluesy tune that perfectly captures the menace and mystery of the former heavyweight champ, whose death in 1970 was ruled a heroin overdose. The British guitar master sings of Liston's demise, "There was no investigation as such/He hated needles, but he knew too much." As for why he wrote it, Knopfler told The New York Times, "I was rooting around in my childhood, maybe the way you do when you get to a certain age. And I suppose Sonny Liston always stuck with me. One of the reasons why sports stays alive in us is that there's part of us that wants to keep the child alive."
15 BALLAD OF BJORN BORG
Pernice Brothers, 2001
Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, but it's easy to forget how quickly he flamed out. He won his last major tennis tournament the day after his 25th birthday and played only three times after that, sleepwalking into early retirement. Joe Pernice hasn't forgotten. He sets Borg's loss of interest to a dreamy melody that belies the Swedish star's ennui. The song can easily stand as a metaphor for a love affair that's played out.
BONUS TRACK: "Moonshot Manny," also by Joe Pernice, is a catchy, Latin-flavored 2004 tribute to slugger Manny Ramirez.