By Dave McKee: In the wake of his brutal November 13, 1982 war with WBA world lightweight champion Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini, South Korean contender Deuk-Koo Kim lay dead in a hospital, having succumbed to complications arising from a blood clot on his brain. For Mancini, years of guilt and recriminations from a somewhat hypocritical public lay ahead. Everyone knew boxing was dangerous. The superlative will and desire of fighters like Mancini and Kim were hallmarks of great, memorable, even legendary fights. Still, few had been prepared for a deadly brawl broadcast into their living rooms.
Kim had been stopped in the 14th of a scheduled 15 round fight. Calls were made for shorter fights, the common sense thinking being that less fighting meant less danger. In any case, 12 round title fights already had precedent. With the rise of pay-per-view broadcasts they might even be more practical.
Dr. Margaret Goodman, neurologist and former chairman of the Medical Advisory Board to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), reported in an article for ESPN.com that, following Kim’s death, a study of 15-round fights revealed that fighters tend to primarily throw punches to the head and offer little in the way of defense. Fatigue is the obvious factor. Dr. Edwin Homansky, of the NSAC, lobbied the major sanctioning organizations to shave three rounds off of championship bouts. The WBC led the charge, and 12 round title fights were eventually the norm.
There remains some legitimate question whether shorter fights make for safer outcomes. In Dr. Goodman’s article she admits that a comprehensive study of fatal contests as compared to those that did not result in a death revealed no clear leading cause of death. “The investigators found little difference between [non-fatal] and fatal matches. Furthermore, fighter inactivity between bouts, history of KOs and TKOs, or loss statistics was not predictive.” Perhaps un-revealed prior injury is sometimes the cause, as with the crippling, but not fatal, loss suffered by Katie Dallam at the hands of hard-punching Sumya Anani. Dallam had been in a serious car accident the night before her fight. A cursory physical exam prior to the fight revealed no obvious injury, and the Missouri Office of Athletics was not told of the accident. Aside from prior injury, some experts wonder whether the common practice of dehydrating to make weight is a factor in injury.
As for the length of the fight related to death, a study conducted by Joseph R. Svinth and appearing in the Journal of Combative Sport produced extremely interesting results. From 1890 until November 2007, there had been 1465 recorded ring deaths worldwide. Annual numbers fluctuate, but from the 1890’s through the 1950’s deaths averaged 133 per decade. This number fell to 113 in the 1960’s, 95 in the 1970’s and has fluctuated between 67 and 78 throughout the intervening decades. Better nutrition, fighter training and medical technology may account for much of this drop. Since the 1980’s, when 12 round title bouts became more common, then were finally established as the standard, fights have leveled off at half the pre-1950 rate.
Does this mean that the tragic passing of Duek-Koo Kim served a greater purpose by prompting short championship fights? The evidence suggests that this is not the case.
Svinth’s research demonstrates that deaths are more likely to occur in the 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th round. Taking professional boxing deaths by round of knockout, Svinth found that, in 744 cases 688 (92.4%), fatality occurred in the 12th round or earlier. Only thirty-three deaths (4.4%) occurred in the 13th, 14th or 15th round (23 are recorded for early fights lasting longer than 15 rounds). In 117 years only 33 boxers have died during the ‘championship rounds’ of a fifteen round fight.
Svinth concludes that practical considerations relating to length of television broadcasts is a more likely reason for the introduction of the twelve12 round title fight. He offers no data to support this, and the very real concerns aired following Kim’s death suggest a genuine desire to either increase safety or give the impression of increased safety were paramount in the change.
Still, it seems the move to 12 round fights has had little impact whatsoever on the number of deaths in the ring.
The change has, however, impacted boxing in meaningful ways. Some of the most significant fights in boxing lore would have had different outcomes had they been scheduled for 12, rather than 15 rounds. This will be the topic of the third and final instalment of Live or Die: The Passing of the 15 Round Era.
*Dr. Margaret Goodman’s article can be found by : Click Here
*Joseph Svinth’s, Death under the Spotlight: The Manuel Velasquez Boxing Fatality Collection, can by Click Here
October 10, 2011