Lee Groves

10: Notable Super Bowl week fights

8. Jan. 24, 1981, Chul Ho Kim KO 9 Rafael Orono I – Plaza Monumental, San Cristobal, Venezuela

Super Bowl XV pitted a veteran championship-level team in the Oakland Raiders (who lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers and decimated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI) against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were making their first championship appearance since winning the NFL title game over the Packers in 1960 – Vince Lombardi’s only loss in a playoff game. Still, the Eagles were a three-point favorite but such was not the case for the 19-year-old Kim, who was fighting Orono in his native Venezuela in the biggest fight of his career.

Orono, making the fourth defense of his WBC super flyweight title, was coming off an impressive three-round blowout of the previously unbeaten Jovito Rengifo (who went to give WBC bantamweight titlist Lupe Pintor one of his toughest fights) and fought the likes of future belt-holder Seung Hoon Lee (W 15) and tricky American Willie “Birdlegs” Jensen (D 15). On the other hand Kim had rebounded from back-to-back blemishes to Yong Hwan Him (L 10) and Kyung Ju Ha (D 10) with four straight wins over nondescript opposition in his native South Korea.

The Orono fight was Kim’s first outside Asia and for the first seven rounds the teen-ager looked out of Orono’s league. The taller, speedier and sharper Orono successfully blunted Kim’s crude aggression with sage movement, pinpoint jabs and well-timed counters. Orono’s dominance was such that even South Korean judge Hyun Sung Chung couldn’t give his countryman a single round. His 80-75 scorecard was similar to those submitted by referee Zack Clayton (80-72) and Angel C. Tovar, who somehow had it much closer at 78-76.

Forty seconds into the ninth Kim rocked Orono’s world in the most emphatic way possible. As Orono backed to the ropes – a rare occurrence on this night – Kim landed a left-right-left to the body that made the champion suddenly turn away and slump to the canvas. The kneeling Orono, unable to catch his breath, could do no more than clutch his right side as Clayton counted him out. The scene was reminiscent of the final moments of the “solar plexus” fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett nearly 84 years earlier, for while Corbett was completely conscious, the lower half of his body was paralyzed just long enough for him to lose his championship.

For Orono, 25 minutes of dominance were wiped out by a single punch but for Kim that punch vaulted him to the roll call of champions despite precious little experience at the highest levels. The same couldn’t be said for the “green” Eagles, who fell to the battle-tested Raiders 27-10 in a game that wasn’t even that close. 

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