By Boxing Bob Newman
Former WBC Light Flyweight champion Jung Koo Chang, “The Korean Hawk,” was tooling around the International Boxing Hall of Fame grounds on Saturday, in his own private golf cart. Chang seemed content enjoying the brief glints of sunshine peeking between the clouds, taking in the greenery that is this rural community of Canastota, New York. During this writer’s visit to Chang’s home country of South Korea last year during the WBC convention, Chang seemed ill-at-ease, uncomfortable with his surroundings. Here however, fans from around the world have flocked to see this year’s inductees, Chang among them, and the former champ was only too willing to accommodate them…
Jung Koo, congratulations on your induction! How are you liking it here in Canastota and have you been in the Unites States before?
Thank you. Firstly, I have been to the U.S. A couple of times before. The first time was in 1988 to receive an award in Los Angeles. The second time was in 2000. I’ve been in Mexico as well. This third time however in Canastota, is fantastic for the nature! If I had a chance, I’d like to come over here to live.
Are you involved in the sport of boxing these days? What keeps you busy?
In these days, the atmosphere in Korea is not that good for boxing. I’m sorry about that. If I get a chance, I’d like to get into promoting boxing. In these days, I’m in the restaurant business.
How exciting was it to have the last WBC convention in Jeju Island, Korea, your home country?
I am a boxing person, so it was a must for me having the convention there in Korea. It was a major thing to have so many boxing people there to celebrate with us.
What do you think is the cause for the downturn in boxing’s popularity in Korea?
I think this is a short, dark period, but it will get better and better in the future. I think the most important factor is that parents in Korea are preventing their children from getting into boxing.
Right now, there are several female boxers in Korea. What are your thoughts on the ladies in the ring?
I think female boxing is very necessary today. Most women boxers though, need more experience technically and mentally. If they can get that skill level and experience, it’ll be great for the fans.
Let’s go back and talk about your career in boxing which has led to you being inducted here this weekend. At what age did you get interested in the sport?
When I was twelve years old, I saw a boxing program on T.V. And got curious about boxing. So, I went to a gymnasium and started learning the sport.
Who were your boxing hero’s as a youngster?
Actually, it was Hyun Chi Kim who was challenging WBA champion Ben Villaflor in Manila. It was televised in Korea. Kim didn’t win, but it was a split decision and his performance inspired me.
How about Korea’s first world champions like Ki Soo Kim and Soo Hwan Hong?
Both boxers are great, but Soo Hwan Hong is still very popular in Korea. He is a singer now with his wife and his younger brother is too. (Ki Soo Kim, Korea’s first world champ, died in 1997).
At the time you were champion, you had a rival co-champion in the same weight class, WBA champion Myung Woo Yuh. (Chang reigned as WBC champion at Light Flyweight from 1983-88, and Yuh from 1985-91, in his first reign). Many fans wondered if you two would ever unify the title in a Korean mega-fight. How often was that discussed and did it ever come close to happening?
The big problem was that I was contracted to KBS network and he was with MBC, both rival networks. That made it very difficult to arrange. I’m very sorry about that because if it was made, it would have been a huge boom to Korean boxing.
You had fifteen defenses under your belt when you walked away from boxing. What prompted your sudden retirement?
It was a personal decision which was very difficult for me and still hard to talk about.
You stayed retired for only fourteen months before coming back. It has been reported that you had financial difficulties which forced your return to the ring…
I had a very serious period in my life after I retired. When I came back, there were a lot of difficulties which I have regrets about.
Do you wish you could have fought Michael Carbajal or some other big names before you retired?
Carbajal was a big name. It would have been a big match.
Can you put into words what it means to you to be inducted into the IBHOF this weekend?
Not only for boxing, but just being inducted into the IBHOF is very honorable for me. I’m very proud of myself. Also, all my hard work paid off with me being inducted!