In spite of the deep and rich history of eastern martial arts, European-style boxing is extremely popular in Asia. And, throughout the world, South Korea ranks #5 as having birthed the most World Boxing Champions in history (second only to Japan among Asian nations). And yet, while Korea has seen more than its share of brilliant fighters since the 1960’s, only two – Jung-Koo Chang and Myung Woo Yuh – are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. But the first Champion of the World from Korea was a junior middleweight southpaw named Ki-Soo Kim.
Kim’s unusually heavy weight class may surprise those who traditionally think of Asian boxers as dominating the lighter divisions. But, though he had brawny forearms that gave him a powerful inside fight and a massive left hook to the body, his speed and agility could match that of any flyweight.
Representing his country in the 1960 Rome Olympics (the same games that earned young Cassius Clay a gold medal and a one-way ticket to worldwide acclaim), Kim lost to Italian champion, and future hall-of-famer, Nino Benvenuti. Six years later, as professionals, the two would face each other again at Korea’s famous Jangchung gymnasium. In one of the most controversial split decisions in the annals of international pugilism, Kim beat the Italian favorite and won the WBA and WBC Junior Middleweight Championship of the World. Benvenuti’s contract promised a rematch upon demand in his native Italy but, when Kim’s managers pointed out that their boxer was entitled to the same purse that Benvenuti had received for traveling to Korea, complications ensued and the rematch never materialized.
After four successful title defenses, Kim lost his belt to another Italian, Sandro Mazzinghi. Then, after a loss and subsequent win against Hisao Minami, he retired in 1969. He proceeded to live a simple, quiet life until his premature death in Seoul, South Korea, at the age of 57.