Two former boxers, one now a Korean-American business owner and the other a Mexican-American longshoreman, who fought each other in a professional boxing match before a packed house at the Olympic Auditorium 40 years ago, are going to meet again. But not in the prize ring this time.
Kang Il Suh, 68, and Mando Ramos, 58, plan to attend the annual World Boxing Hall of Fame on Oct. 13, at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. Four decades ago they fought each other for 10 rounds in a close junior lightweight bout. It ended in a win for Suh and Ramos first loss as a pro.
They haven’t seen each other since.
Suh now lives in Koreatown in Los Angeles. The former boxer who once fought for the WBC and WBA junior lightweight world titles became an American citizen after seeing what he calls “a life in heaven” during his first visit to the United States. He’s well known in the area that in 1967 was home to only one small Korean restaurant and now has exploded to an area that can barely contain more than 300,000 Koreans just west of downtown Los Angeles.
“He’s very well known in this community,” said Wang Ki Chung, a former fighter too who knows Suh.
At the age of 14, Suh crossed the North Korean border toward the end of the Korean War to seek out a better life in South Korea despite all of his family living in the Communist portion. Life was extremely tough.
“I starved,” said Suh, who looked for food daily to survive when he first arrived.
He discovered an area in Seoul where street fights were organized and the participants were given money. It was his way to put food in his mouth. Then one day a boxing promoter happened to be passing through and saw Suh tangling with another kid.
“The boxing promoter asked me to go to his gym,” said Suh.
Suh was 19 when he began training in the Seoul boxing gym and learning the art of boxing. The war-torn country was still recovering and jobs were scarce. Boxing for money was his only source for survival.
His first professional prizefight took place in April 1961 against Yong Soo Hwang. Suh was 21 years old but had several physical strengths including quickness and stamina that propelled him to success.
“My manager took me to Japan where they paid more money,” said Suh who fought five times in various Japanese cities.
After working his way up the world boxing rankings, Suh was matched with Filipino boxing star Flash Elorde in 1964. The Korean lost a close majority decision but that led to a rematch a year later for Elorde’s junior lightweight world titles that ended in another much-disputed loss.
“I won the fight,” Suh claims adamantly. “Even the Filipino newspapers said I won the fight. I still have a copy of the paper at my home.”
A knock down of Elorde in the 12th round was not counted by the referee. That fight that took place on December 1965.
As things turned out, a couple of years later, Elorde’s manager called Suh’s manager to let him know about a possible fight in California. They accepted the fight quickly and crossed the Pacific Ocean to fight a young prospect named Raul Rojas.
It was a revelation for Suh. He had heard great things about California but seeing it was another thing. He was all set to meet Raul Rojas at the Olympic Auditorium when he was told that fighter had backed out.
“They told me Rojas didn’t want to fight a boxer,” said Suh.
Instead, Ramos, a fresh cocky undefeated 18-year-old from Long Beach offered to take the fight.
“I said sure I’ll take the fight,” Ramos recalled, adding that he was inserted because of his ticket drawing power. “They gave me three days notice. I didn’t care.”
Offered $12,000 to accept the fight, Suh didn’t hesitate.
“That was a lot of money in those days,” he said.
On July 6, 1967, more than 8,000 people crowded into the Olympic Auditorium to see the lanky hard-hitting Ramos trade punches with the relatively unknown Suh.
“There were about 500 Koreans at the fight,” Suh remembers.
Benny Georgino, who was present at that fight card, said Ramos took the fight on short notice but that didn’t matter.
“Mando Ramos and Raul Rojas didn’t like to train much. Johnny McCoy was their trainer. He had to go looking for them sometimes to get them in the gym,” said Georgino. “They liked to go out partying a lot.”
Suh surprised many with his quickness and boxing ability. He was a clever counter-puncher and was never stationary, but he didn’t run.
“Mando Ramos hit very hard,” said Suh. “I remember he hit me so hard to the body I urinated blood for a week.”
For seven rounds the pair fought at a fast pace, but soon Ramos began to tire slightly.
“I could tell he hadn’t trained properly,” said Suh recalling their fight. “That’s when I thought I could win the fight.”
After 10 rounds Suh won by unanimous decision and became the first fighter to beat Ramos.
“Ramos was the best fighter I ever fought,” said Suh.
The Long Beach fighter would later win the world lightweight title a year later against Carlos “Teo” Cruz in Los Angeles. Then he would lose it to the same fighter five months later in a rematch. In 1969, Ramos would beat Japan’s Yoshiaki Numata by knockout in the sixth round to win the lightweight world title again. He would lose it five months later to Panama’s Ismael Laguna. In 1971 he won the WBC lightweight title against Pedro Carrasco and defend it successfully against the same fighter two more times. Then in 1972 he lost the title to Chango Carmona.
There were no more title bids for Ramos.
“Mando Ramos could really box,” said Art Carrillo, who attended several of Ramos fights. “But as soon as he got tagged he wanted to brawl.”
Ramos last fight was in 1975 at the age of 26.
“He could really pack them in,” said Georgino of Ramos ability to draw fight fans to the arena and who now promotes boxing shows in Washington.
Suh fought another five years and retired at 32.
“When I returned to Korea it was like I won the lottery,” said Suh.
He never forgot his visit to the U.S. and returned in the early 1970s. In 1979 he returned for good and owns a karaoke bar and a workout training facility.
“It’s comfortable living here now that there are so many Koreans here,” says Suh.
Ramos says he’s looking forward to seeing his old foe and maybe visiting Suh’s karaoke bar.
“It was an honor to fight Kang Il Suh, he fought some bad dudes,” says Ramos, anticipating a visit to see Suh. “But I can’t sing a lick.”