When we look over Korean boxing history there are far too many fighters who simply lack the attention that they deserve. One such fighter is former Korean, OPBF and WBC Light Flyweight champion Sung Jun Kim.
Kim's career was a relatively short one, lasting just over 11 years, and was one that strangely fits the narrative that we often for boxing. He was a youngster who was in trouble with the law, and turned to boxing to keep him away from criminal activity. With there being so little remembered about the former champion here are 10 facts you probably didn't know about...Sung Jun Kim.
1-Kim was born into a relatively wealthy family, with his father running a business. Sedly though things changed when the business began to fail, and Kim would leave home at a relatively young age.
2-After leaving home Kim had various jobs, including a newspaper salesman and a show maker.
3-Prior to turning to boxing Kim was a very proficient pick pocket, and was arrested in 1976 for crimes related to pickpocketing. He was regarded as very lucky to only be given probation as his sentence could have landed him prison sentence time. Despite not serving a prison sentence he did end up losing the South Korean Light Flyweight title. Wait he was being held the prosecutor for the case went to speak to Kim who quoted as saying “Please allow me to only box you. If I don't become a world champion, I will die on the ring. ” in an attempt to win over the prosecutor. That prosecutor would later help support Kim during his career.
4-Although Kim started his career in 1971 things were slow to get going for him, and he had only fought twice by the start of 1974. Amazingly however he would then fit in 45 bouts between June 1974 and December 1981, before his final bout in July 1982. His busiest year during that stretch was 1977, with 8 bouts.
5-In 1979 Kim became the WBC Light Flyweight champion, stopping Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh. This saw him becoming only the 5th Korean world champion ever
6-Rather interestingly Kim went 0-7 in bouts outside of Korea. These included losses to Shoji Oguma (twice), Shigeo Nakajima, Miguel Canto and Rafael Orono.
7-Korean newspaper reports state that Kim was never knocked down in his career, an impressive fact given he was in a number of world class fighters during his hard career.
8-When Kim retired in 1982 his record was 28-14-6 (13), which looks awful. It should be noted however that he went 3-8-1 in his last 12 bouts, falling from a very respectable 25-6-5 (11). Like many fighters who went on too long, his record ended up not telling the full story as to how good he once was.
9-According to news reported at the time of his death Kim was running a Japanese restaurant in the underground shopping center of Korea. The restaurant, "Ring" had been financially struggling and sales were slipping.
10-On February 3rd 1989, at the age of 35, Kim took his own life jumping from the 6th floor of a building. Although it's unclear on the single main cause of his suicide he was suffering from not only financial issues relating to his business, and health issues from his career, but he had also split from his then fiance. It's though that a combination of those issues, and more, lead to Kim ending his life the way he did.
Boxing has so many sad tales that those careers that end badly, in one way or another, massively out numbers those that end perfectly. For every fighter who "gets out at the right time", there are tens of fighters who have taken life changing punishment. Today we sadly look at another fighter who took their own life, and was really a damaged man after his career, which was very punishing and lasted just over a decade.
Sung Jun Kim
We don't expect too many fans to be familiar with Sung Jun Kim, a Korean light Flyweight who fought from 1971 to 1982. He was 18 when he made his debut, and 29 when he hung up the gloves. In that time he had amassed a 28-14-6 (13) record, fighting 48 times in just over 11½ years he had been a world champion, but sadly gave the sport more than just great performances. He gave the sport his health and well being.
Unlike many Korean fighters from the 1970's Kim didn't actually come from a poor background. His family were relatively wealth for a Korean family in the 1950's. That changed however when issues with Kim's father's business started to falter an the youngster left home, running away from his family.
Away from his family Kim worked a number of jobs before finding something he was good at, being a pickpocket. He would begin stealing to eat, and given that Korean's at the time relied on cash, unlike now where card payments and digital wallets are widely used, picket pocketing was a very profitable skill. Despite being a skilled criminal it wasn't the world he was made for, and one time after stealing he ended up handing back over what he'd stolen one of his victims began crying.
Kim's Career in the Ring
Like many in the sport boxing turned out to be Kim's way out of crime, and he would begin his professional career in 1971. Sadly things didn't get off to a great start in boxing, losing on debut, and falling to 1-2-1 after his first 4 bouts. It was, however a steady climb through the rankings and in 1975 he became the South Korean Light Flyweight champion. He would defend the South Korean title twice before before his criminal past reared it's head in 1976, essentially costing him the Korean title, and almost his career. The prosecution would however give Kim a second chance, sentencing him to probation one, and rather than locking him up, and the lawyer involved world help support Kim, and his career going forward.
After his legal issues were clear up Kim would recapture the Korean belt before making his international debut in 1977, losing a decision in Japan to future world champion Shoji Oguma. On his return back to Korea he notched two defenses of the national title.
Another loss in Japan in late 1977 followed, but in early 1981 Kim claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title, defending it twice, before losing to Sang Il Jung. Despite the loss Kim managed to get a world title fight just 2 months later, beating Thai youngster Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh in 3 rounds to become the WBC Light Flyweight champion, and the 5th Korean world champion.
As the world champion Kim would make 3 defenses in just over 12 months, whilst noting up a trio of wins in non-title bouts. These wins saw Kim extend his record to 25-6-5 (11), and by this point he was a notable star in Korea, with an exciting style and crowd watching him on TV celebrating him as a national hero. That status was boosted thanks to his two amazing fights with Hector Melendez, which were crazy wars in 1979.
Sadly however this was the start of the end for him as a world class fighter.
The in ring downfall
In Kim's fourth title defense he travelled to Japan to take on Shigeo Nakajima and lost a clear decision to Nakajima. Following this defeat Kim would go 3-8-1, with all 12 of those bouts coming in just 26 months, from May 1980 to July 1982. In fact removing his final career bout Kim fought 11 times in 19 months, and these were tough bouts.
The bouts that Kim had during this stretch of his career included a 10 round losses to future Super Bantamweight title holder Seung Hoon Lee, a technical draw and a 10 round loss with OPBF Flyweight champion Hong Soo Yang, a 15 round decision to WBC Flyweight champion Shoji Oguma, a 10 round loss to the legendary Miguel Canto, a 10 round loss to 2-time world champion Rafael Orono, a 10 round loss to Hector Melendez, who he had twice defended the world title against and a loss to former world title challenger Sok Chul Bae.
What you'll notice from those losses was that Kim was never stopped. He was never stopped at any point in his career, which was a testament to his toughness, but also a longer term problem. Following his world title win, in September 1978, Kim fought 18 times in less than 4 years, racking up 195 rounds in that stretch of time.
No single fight was to blame, but when he retired he was suffering from dementia pugilistica.
Out of the Ring issues and untimely death
Having retired in 1982, a few fights later than he should have, Kim would go on to have financial issues, a failed business and get divorced. He had fallen hard from national boxing icon to someone who was unable to keep anything together, and like many who go on too long he did so, at least in part for the money, and in part because it was the life he knew.
The sport had damaged Kim, but like so many it was his way out of crime. It had allowed him to turn his left around after years of petty crime. Sadly though the end of his career wasn't a good one, and didn't lead to more success.
With Kim's health not great, the world he knew in the ring now behind him and things around him falling apart life was clearly tough for the former fighter. On February 2nd 1989, following the break up with his fiance, Kim made his way up a building in Chaoyang. On the 6th floor of the building he left various things, including a 30cm knife, before leaping to his death.
At the time he was only 35.
With our recent facts articles all focusing on single fighters we've decided to do one with a twice this weekend as we look at Asian fighters who won a world title but failed to win their professional debuts! We were surprised to find so many of these, but there was actually quite a few, in fact there was more than 25 world champions from Asia who either lost on debut, or drew on debut. Many of these aren't big names, but on the whole they all deserve a lot more attention than they get
1-Whilst we found lots of champions who have debuted in 6 rounders and even a few who debuted in bouts scheduled for 8, such as Naoya Inoue very recently. It is rare, so rare in fact that we could only find two world champions from Asia who debuted in an 8 rounder and lost, before winning a world title. The first of those was Frank Cedeno, the British Filipino fighter who beat Charlie Magri in Wembley for the WBC Flyweight title in 1983, we'll get on to the second later in this article!
2-Korea's second ever world champion Soo Hwan Hong, who is also the first Korean to win titles in more than 1 weight class, draw on his debut to the debuting Sang Il Kim. Coincidentally his career also ended on a draw, as he fought to a stalemate with fellow former world champion Dong Kyun Yum, in what was Hong's 51st bout. That was also Yum's final bout. Incidentally Sang Il Kim's record is 0-1-1.
3-Former WBA Super Flyweight champion Hyung Chul Lee lost 3 of his first 4 bouts, including his debut. Strangely his career ended going full circle and he would also lose his final 2 bouts, both against Alimi Goitia, with only 1 loss in the middle of his career. He would end up with a career record of 19-6 (15)
4-China's first ever male world champion, Xiong Zhao Zhong, fought to a draw on debut. Aged 23 at the time Zhong fought to a 4 round draw with Lingfeng Yu. Yu ended his career 0-6-1, and his only non-loss was the bout to Zhong!
5-Another world champion who fought to a draw on debut was Kwanthai Sithmorseng, who fought to a draw with Nakhon Muensa in June 2005. Kwanthai last fought in June 2019, and despite a draw on his debut he had now gone 56 straight fights without another draw, going 49-7 since that debut draw.
6-Our research suggests that Sho Kimura is the only Asian world champion to have been knocked out on debut! Even more surprising is the fact that Kimura has since built a reputation on being an incredibly tough competitor with a great gas tank. Not the type of fighter you'd think was blown away in 75 seconds on debut!
7-Filipino fighter Manny Melchor retired with a record of 38-35-6 (6), following a loss on his debut. This record makes the former IBF Minimumweight champion one of the very few world champions with a sub 50% winning record.
8-Staying with Manny Melchor, he won just 1 of his first 9 bouts! Starting his career 1-6-2. Things actually took a long time to get better for the Filipino who was 8-8-2 (2) after 18 bouts and didn't have more wins than losses until his 27th bout, when he beat Angelo Escobar to advance his record to 13-12-2 (4)
9-Incidentally the man that Melchor beat for the IBF Minimumweight title, Fahlan Sakkreerin Snr also lost on his debut, losing an 8 round decision, to Chana Porpaoin, who was fighting for just the second time. What makes this bout rather remarkable is that BOTH men would go on to win world titles! Porpaoin would would be a 2-time WBA Minimumweight champion whilst Sahlan would be an IBF Minimumweight champion. Yes, Fahlan was the second of the fighters to lose in an 8 rounder on debut, though of course the more notable fact here was who he lost to!
10-Korean fighter Sung Jun Kim strangely began his career 0-1-1, with his debut being a loss and then his second being a draw, both to the same opponent, In Soo Lim. As with some of the other opponents mentioned these were Lim's only bouts Kim also had a loss and a draw, later in his career, to Hong Soo Yang, and ended his career in 1982 with a loss, book ending his career with losses.
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).