It's sad to think about the all the boxers that have murdered over the years, whether they were still active fighters or had retired at the time. There has been such a long list of murdered boxers, and rather sadly that list seems to be growing every year. Today we look at one such fighter as we talk about former Korean amateur stand out Jee Yong Ju, who had a brilliant amateur career in the 1960's and 1970's and became a local hero in Wonju. He was someone who had so much ability and promise at a very young age, and had the potential to leave a huge mark on the sport, but never turned professional. Instead he chose to focus on bringing through the next wave of Korean fighters. In the end it wasn't boxing that got him killed, but he was someone who we felt deserved more attention than he's gotten, and a chance to have his story told to a wider audience.
As we're going to explain not only was Jee Yong Ju murdered, but prior to that it appears his life had been a tough one, which we'll get on to, with a host of out of the ring issues affecting him. Some of those were out of his hands, others were his own doing, but he is certainly not a happy tale for fans of the sport.
Born in December 1948 Jee Yong Ju showed talent at a young age, despite some suggesting he was too small to box. Stood at just 158cm, around 5'2", he was seen as small, too small to be a star in the sport. He was however born at the right time, and he managed to compete at the 1968 Olympics in the Light Flyweight division. The division was actually making it's Olympic debut, being a new weight for the Mexico games, meaning he really did come along at the right time, at least in that respect.
Fighting at the 48KG division in the 1968 games the 19 year old Jee Yong Ju shone. He stopped Douglas Ogada in his first bout in the, before taking decisions over Soviet fighter Viktor Zaporozhets and local fighter Alberto Morales, from Mexico. Those wins booked the Korean a place in the semi-finals and a guaranteed medal.
In his Olympic semi-final the Korean youngster dominated Polish great Hubert Skrzypczak, who had become European amateur Flyweight champion in 1967, and is still regarded as one of the greatest Polish amateurs of all time. The Korean out pointed Skrzypczak 4-1 to book his place in the final, where he faced Venezuelan Francisco Rodriguez, and lost a close, and controversial, decision. The Koreans claimed that Rodriguez had got away with a headbutt in the third round en route to a 3-2 win over Jee Yong Ju. Regardless of the controversy Jee Yong Ju had shined and looked good in taking one of South Korea's two medals, along with Chang Kyou-chul who took bronze at Bantamweight. Despite only being 19 he had beaten the local star, and the top man in Europe, the future looked great.
Just 2 years after his Olympic success Jee Yong Ju shined again in the amateurs, winning the Gold medal at the Asian Games in Bangkok, in the Flyweight division.
Following on from his success high ranking people in Wonju had made promises to Jee Yong Ju to help support his career and build a gym for him in his home town. The hope was that the youngster was going lead the area in a sporting revolution. Sadly that never happened.
Their was money raised for the fighter, which was apparently over ₩7,000,000, but by the time the money was set to be put towards the gym much of it had vanished, with only ₩1,500,000 left. That was simply not enough to do what they needed with. It was said the money had been taken by fraud with accusations flying around. They included stories that politicians had taken some and speculation was that other people had used the money incorrectly. Whatever it was it destroyed Ju's hopes, apparently leaving him a heart broken fighter.
Sadly the disappointment of the financial backing falling apart ended up sending Jee Yong Ju to alcohol and he would begin to drink, and drink. He began to show signs of alcoholism but had the talent to get by, to some extent, until retiring in 1976.
The year after he retired Jee Yong Ju began to train fighters at his alma mater, bringing through young fighters before becoming a coach at the national team in 1979. His time there was short after he took responsibility for what one of the fighters did. It's not totally clear what happened, but reports are that a member of the team went AWOL under his watch or that the team failed to shine under his guidance.
By then his heart for the sport had gone. He was a broken man, having been let down time and time again. The sport he had loved had began to damage him more and more. Things continued to get worse though and he had been promised a pension for his amateur success, and that turned out to be relatively worth less, making his drinking worse. There was then discussions as to whether he should even get the pension at all given the money was feeding his alcohol addiction.
Sadly on August 20th 1985 Jee Yong Ju had a falling out with neighbour. Unsurprisingly Jee Yong Ju had been drinking. The neighbour went grabbed a weapon before stabbing Jee Yong Ju 3 or 4 times. Over the days that follow Jee Yong Ju would die from his injuries, apparently suffering with them for 5 days before succumbing to them.
Jee Yong Ju's death would leave a 9 child fatherless and his 32 year wife a window.
Sadly for the man once seen as the hero of Wonju this was a really sad and depressing end to his life. There was a cloud of corruption hanging over his head, and his in ring success was sadly over shadowed by what he could have done had the backing not been removed from his career and had he not found alcohol as a solution to his problems.
Thankfully Jee Yong Ju's memory lives on and their was a statue erected in his honour in the 1990's. A gym was also opened in the 00's to try and plant the seeds of boxing in Wonju. Sadly the area hasn't had a major boxing star since the gym was opened, but, fingers crossed that the downfall of Jee Yong Ju can turn into positives one day.
Jee Yong Ju's boxing career should have been longer, should have been more successful and should have helped spur on a generation of Korean talent. He had the skills and ability to be a bigger story. Sadly however his death, his downfall and the corruption that surround the gym he was promised make up the bigger story.
Korean boxing has long mistreat it's fighters and sadly Jee Yong Ju was just another of those many fighters chewed up and spat out.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).