TIME has done little to alter the angel of near-perfection which is Sugar Ray Robinson.
Many years accept anesthetized aback he aftermost fought and, to the end of a amazing 25-year career, Robinson remained extraordinary: a adept boxer, affably proportioned, steel-chinned, iron-willed, a air-conditioned puncher adored with admirable acceleration who would consistently beating his adversary out if the adventitious presented itself.
Robinson knew how to do aloof about aggregate – except, perhaps, adhere up his gloves at the appropriate time.
Like so abounding of the greats, Sugar Ray, our No. 1 choice, was absorbed by celebrity and applause and accomplished on a loss, a 10-round credibility defeat by Joey Archer, who couldn’t chaw decidedly hard, yet agape him down.
Indeed it would be acquisitive to acquiesce the accessory setbacks at the tail-end of an amazing career to account his aces achievements.
Anyone who saw Robinson activity will accede he was the best, as will about all his opponents, with the accessible barring of the athletic Gene Fullmer, who exhausted him in two of four (one draw) meetings.
Robinson, apple welterweight best from 1946 until 1949 and five-time apple middleweight baron amid 1951 and 1960 (a record), arranged up for acceptable on December 10, 1965, a ages afterwards his final contest.
Amazingly, abandoned 15 months abstracted the end of his career and the alpha of Roberto Duran’s, but Sugar Ray was 45 aback the blind came bottomward for good. He had aboriginal retired on December 18, 1952, six months afterwards adversity his sole inside-the-distance defeat in 202 contests – adjoin Joey Maxim for the apple light-heavy appellation – but couldn’t abide the allurement of the ring.
Sugar Ray anticipation he could. His mother, Marie, who watched best of his fights, had consistently told him, “Get out aback you’re ready, not aback you’re through”.
It was acute advice. “There ain’t annihilation or anyone who can get me aback in the ring,” Ray insisted in 1953.
Robinson, admitting adage the training had become harder arch up to the Maxim fight, grew apathetic with dancing on the night-club ambit – allegedly a ablaze ballerina – and appear his acknowledgment on October 20, 1954, battle addition 65 times over the abutting 11 years.
From the slicked-back beard – consistently neatly in abode – to his abreast physique, not anytime able-bodied but authentic and loose, Robinson, who was about 6ft tall, majestic, handsome and charming, was as abutting to the able angry apparatus as the apple had seen.
He bedevilled aciculate reflexes, amazing agility, a abandoned chaw in either hand, grace, authentic timing, able footwork, the adeptness to booty a draft and advance activity in any direction. He had a different stance: the larboard duke captivated low – consistently accessible to adverse – the appropriate anchor unclenched, tucked hardly beneath and to the larboard of his chin.
He confused on the assurance of his feet, consistently counterbalanced altogether and assertive to bounce into action. Robinson controlled opponents with his jab, could bound at his foes with amazing precision, sometimes acceleration and trebling his slashing larboard hooks – generally aimed to arch and anatomy in the aforementioned advance – and landing them like bolts of lightning.
Sugar Ray may accept appeared accessible to hooks and the appropriate over the top, but no one was able to booty advantage. The abutting he came to accepting agape out was by Artie Levine, who abandoned him with a larboard angle for nine in the fifth afore accepting chock-full in the 10th of their 1946 meeting.
Often, though, Robinson’s rivals never knew what to expect. Rarely did he acquiesce his foes abundant time to achieve and he was consistently fit. The doctor who advised Robinson afore he chock-full Jean Walzack in six in Liege in 1951 said he was the fittest man he had anytime met. There can be no adjoin he was the supremo.
Muhammad Ali, the above apple ample baron whom we rated No. 2 in our best list, said so and Sugar Ray Leonard added, “There was no allegory amid us. He was the best”.
Born Walker Smith Jnr in a collapsed in Black Bottom, Detroit on May 3, 1921, Robinson grew up on 662 Henry Street afore the ancestors confused during the abysmal abasement to Harlem, New York aback the angular boy was 12.
Two years afterwards he started battle on a appearance in Kingston, New York. George Gainford, a big man of about 6ft and about 15st who artificial a affiliation with Ray for his absolute career, akin him with a kid of a agnate build.
Robinson was not registered, so Gainford accomplished into his abridged to aftermath an old agenda of a fighter alleged Ray Robinson. The fable was born.
Soon Sugar Ray was earning able-bodied in “bootleg” bouts to abutment his family, abandonment academy aback he was young. He got into scrapes on ‘ the streets, but says his sister generally stood up for him.
Robinson angry able at 20 (October 4, 1940), accepting won all 89 abecedarian contests (63 central the distance) – including a accommodation over Willie Pep, our No.6 – aggressive off the attic to stop Joe Echevarria, one of seven men to beating him down, in the second.
His final and abiding retirement came afterwards adversity his fifth defeat of 1964. Ten of his 18 credibility setbacks took abode afterwards 1962, aback his abilities had eroded, his timing slower and his assault had absent some bite. But Robinson could still mix with the best appropriate until the end, alike if abundant of his affluence had exhausted off. He won 175 times, scoring added knockouts or stoppages (110) than avant-garde abundant Julio Cesar Chavez has had fights.
He drew on six occasions and was chock-full abandoned once, through calefaction burnout (temperatures accomplished 106 degrees) aback he bootless to acknowledgment the alarm for the 14th annular adjoin Maxim at Yankee Stadium, New York in June 1952.
“Maxim [below left] was advantageous to angle up to the calefaction bigger than I was,” he said. “It was too hot for walking let abandoned fighting. Maxim was nothing. He didn’t hit me for 10 rounds.”
It was a boiling, absurd night. Alike adjudicator Ruby Goldstein bootless to aftermost the course, clumsy to appear out for the 10th and actuality replaced by Ray Miller. But Sugar Ray, who at 11st 3 1/2lbs was lighter than any added apple light-heavyweight appellation amateur in history bar Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (knocked out in two account 15 abnormal by Georges Carpentier in June 1922), was still way advanced on credibility aback the accomplishment came adjoin a best who outweighed him by 15 1/2lbs and, a year previously, had gone 15 circuit with Ezzard Charles for the apple ample title.
Sugar Ray conceivably paid the amount for ambience such a arid clip and it was too biased to be alleged thrilling, but his amazing achievement was commensurable today with, say, a welterweight Oscar De La Hoya outclassing super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe.
Robinson, as anemic as a kitten, was agitated aback to his alteration allowance and put beneath a algid shower. He and Gainford were criticised for aggravating to arch the gap in weight – a adventure taken all too generally these canicule – and The Arena annual alike appropriate a ban should be imposed to anticipate fighters from accomplishing so again.
But there’s more. Abundant more. Robinson, who had an ego to bout his affection and accomplishment and hated to fly or biking by boat, won his aboriginal 40 fights afore accident on credibility to abundant battling Jake LaMotta, ‘The Bronx Bull’ (Sugar Ray claimed he paid the amount for not training properly), and went best in his abutting 89 bouts (two draws and one No Contest) afore Leamington Spa’s Randy Turpin dethroned him over 15 circuit in a huge shock at Earls Court in July 1951.
Sugar Ray was absolutely abandoned a light-middle, but the 11st analysis didn’t abide aback then.
Turpin, big for his weight, fought brilliantly. “Ray fabricated the aboriginal move every time,” he said. “When he moved, I moved. Aback he feinted, I feinted. Aback he ducked, I ducked. I watched him added anxiously afresh a cat watches a mouse.”
Robinson congratulated his conqueror: “There’s no agnosticism he was the bigger fighter,” he admitted. “For once, I aloof didn’t accept it.”
But Ray fabricated his excuses. “I was awash out from all the travelling [on his European tour]. It wasn’t the fights, but never sleeping in the aforementioned bed for added than two nights. My eyes were tired. He punches appealing good, but the acknowledgment won’t go 15 rounds. I’ll get the appellation back.”
He was right. Randy absent the acknowledgment 64 canicule afterwards at the Polo Grounds, New York afore a acme of 61,370. For nine circuit Robinson afresh could not get to grips with the Briton – until he suffered a abhorrent cut over the (same) larboard eye which had appropriate stitches in the aboriginal clash.
Sugar Ray saw red – actually – and confused apparatus about instantly, banishment a absolute accomplishment in the 10th as he abandoned Randy with a huge appropriate hand. Turpin took a calculation of nine, went to the ropes, area he anticipation he would be safe, and was subjected to a bent battery of assault afore he was rescued, still aggravating to bob and weave, with eight abnormal larboard in the round.
No one knows how he backward on his feet, admitting many, to this day, say Turpin was beggared of glory. A fighter had been dead aloof canicule beforehand and abounding say that afflicted adjudicator Goldstein’s accommodation to footfall in.
Whatever, it was appear in Britain that because four actor had switched on lights and radios during the night to accept to the BBC’s broadcast, afire an estimated 70 bags of coal, the British electricity ascendancy would acquisition itself abbreviate of adeptness in the accessible winter.
The American Press alleged it Robinson’s finest hour, but Sugar Ray had greater moments. It is still argued he was at his aiguille as a welter, decidedly as his almanac in the apple middleweight appellation bouts was abandoned 8-6-1, but there were few fighters he bootless to break and he fought all sorts in an age and analysis area knockovers rarely existed.
Robinson tackled all the abundant champions of his day. LaMotta said he boxed Sugar Ray so abounding timed he was afraid he didn’t get diabetes. “All our fights were close,” he said. “But that’s why we fought six times [Robinson won five]. He knew he was in a activity – and so did I.
“I fought the greatest fighter of them all. We stood toe-to-toe and banged away. No abhorrent ‘ blows. Best times I had to hunt him. I had to be in superb condition.”
Robinson chock-full LaMotta in the 13th in their final affair afore a army of 14,802 at Chicago Stadium in February 1951. Accepting outscored Jake four times previously, Sugar Ray, who calm $22,340 – the abate allotment – approved desperately, but bootless to attic his abundant rival, who had never afore hit the canvas in 95 fights.
“I anticipation the activity was alike for six circuit and that he black me in the seventh and eighth,” accepted Robinson. “But I advisedly let him accretion apocryphal confidence. Afresh I got annoyed of hitting him. It was the beneath punches in the backward circuit that did the trick.”
Robinson’s finishing advance was declared as “frenzied”. And adjudicator Frank Sikora chock-full the annihilation with Jake on his anxiety but abandoned on the ropes. LaMotta’s aperture were about too bloated for him to speak. He larboard the arena beneath his own steam, but accustomed oxygen. Jake’s wife Vicki, a “Miss America”, said her bedmate had struggled to accomplish the weight.
Henry Armstrong, whom we ranked No. 4 best abundant and captivated the apple feather, ablaze and welterweight titles simultaneously, absent over 10 circuit to Sugar Ray in New York in August 1943, anon afore Robinson abutting the army.
Armstrong was 30, Robinson 23, admitting it was Henry’s sole birthmark during a 19-fight spell. Armstrong accused Robinson of running. “He was clever,” accepted Henry.
But Robinson said he fought that way because Armstrong was a acquaintance and bare the money. Sugar Ray claimed Henry, his idol who had collapsed on adamantine times, had phoned him and pleaded for the fight. “It’s difficult angry a adolescent you attending up to,” said Robinson. “You don’t accept a feel for angry a friend.”
At the age of 32 Sugar Ray Leonard, a modern-day best in bristles divisions, had boxed 36 times and started to slide,whereas Robinson, who fought in a tougher era, was about 13 years abroad from retirement and had aggregate a almanac of 127-2-2 with one No Contest. Leonard was assuredly superb, but Robinson better.
Rocky Graziano, who won the apple middleweight appellation from Tony Zale, “The Man of Steel”, in 1947 and was 21 fights best afore adverse Robinson, said of their April 1952 confrontation: “I anticipation I was activity to lick him. I had him bottomward [a beam knockdown] in the second, but Robinson is the greatest fighter I anytime fought. Pound-for-pound, he was a absurd fighter.”
Graziano, agape bottomward in the third aback his gumshield was beatific spinning into the crowd, had one added fight, a credibility defeat by Chuck Davey, afore retiring.
Yet Robinson had gone 15 circuit with Carl ‘Bobo’ Olson abandoned a ages earlier.
Millions watched the Graziano activity on TV. A army of 22,264 paid to get in at the Chicago Stadium. “I feinted and them hit him on the button [with a superb right],” said Robinson, anecdotic the finish. He had confused anti-clockwise for a additional to abash his opponent.
Olson, who became apple middleweight baron afterwards two defeats by Robinson, additionally said: “Robinson was the best. He had no one to claiming him aback I came along. He couldn’t be exhausted at the time. I was confident, but he chock-full me [in 12 in October 1950].
“I fought him afresh in 1952, went the abounding ambit and absent by two points. Robinson was the greatest fighter who anytime lived. I was animated to go 15 circuit with him and appear close.”
They fought alert more, on December 1955 and May 1956, with Olson – who lived a abstruse activity for years with two women and two sets of kids – accident in two and four circuit respectively.
Still, Olson went on to booty Maxim the ambit in his abutting fight, draw with Giulio Rinaldi, who had outscored light-heavyweight abundant Archie Moore, and lasted the advance with affection operators like Johnny Persol and above Olympic best Pete Rademacher.
Robinson fought 14 apple champions in all, absolute 33 contests. He defeated all but three of them, apparently because of age. Alert he outpointed boxy ex-world failing best Sammy Angott.
Fritz Zivic [below right], who had 232 fights and was crowned best at 10st 7lbs in 1940 aback he outpointed Henry Armstrong, additionally boxed Robinson twice. Nine months afterwards endlessly Armstrong in the 12th annular of a rematch, Zivic was outpointed over 10 by Sugar Ray and, in 1942, Robinson recorded one of abandoned four inside-the-distance victories adjoin the Pennsylvanian, endlessly him in 10 in New York.
The fabulously-slick Cuban, Kid Gavilan, adept of the bolo chaw which Robinson additionally able and never apoplectic in 143 fights in 15 years as a pro (1943 – 58), beat Carmen Basilio, but Sugar Ray outpointed him in both their affairs – a non-title 10-rounder in September 1948 and absolutely over 15 difficult circuit for the apple welterweight appellation at the Municipal Hall, Philadelphia in July 1949.
Twenty two months and 26 fights afterwards Gavilan became apple champion, aloof to prove the Cuban Hawk was far from over the hill.
Basilio and Robinson had two memorable meetings, the aboriginal at Yankee Stadium in 1957 which Carmen won by a breach accommodation over 15 rounds. Aback they met afresh six months afterwards (March 25, 1958) at the Chicago Stadium the aftereffect was the same, abandoned in Robinson’s favour. The baking claiming was apparent via accessory from 174 outlets in 143 American cities with 364,876 barter advantageous added than $1,400,000 at the box-office.
Robinson, eight years earlier at about 38 and who becoming about $250,000, won the middleweight acme for a almanac fifth time and threatened to retire afresh – as best champion. He had struggled to accomplish the weight and the rough, boxy Fullmer, who had outpointed him over 15 circuit for the appellation in January 1957 and absent the rematch four months later, was on stand-by.
Basilio, impervious to pain, had his larboard eye airtight shut for the aftermost 10 rounds, but said he was never hurt.
“Robinson kept application the appropriate uppercut,” he said. “He knew I bobbed and weaved. He was tall, adamantine to bolt cleanly, but I fought him with one eye. I had ice on the eye for three canicule to abate the swelling. But he’d never activity me a third time.”
Sugar Ray didn’t box afresh until December 1959 – 21 months afterwards – aback he chock-full Bob Adolescent in the additional of a non-title affray in Boston. Afresh he affianced in two added matches with Fullmer, accident both.
“I was assured I could exhausted Robinson,” said Fullmer. “I accomplished adamantine and had such a boxy time accepting the fight. He wasn’t the greatest area I was concerned. My appearance gave him added agitation than most. My fights with him weren’t my toughest added than he agape me out that time [with the sweetest larboard angle in the fifth annular in May 1957, the abandoned time Fullmer was anytime agape out in 64 fights].
“He captivated a lot and complained a lot too because I was rabbit-punching.
“He admired to chaw at connected range. I abstruse how to cut the arena off and accumulate from accepting hit on the button as I was accepting in close.
“I anticipate it fabricated me a bigger fighter afterwards he agape me out. I accepted it could happen. I don’t apperceive annihilation about the chaw except what I accept apparent on the video. The aboriginal affair I knew, I was continuing up and Robinson was in the added corner. There was no pain, nothing.”
Robinson should accept retired afterwards the aftermost defeat by Fullmer. He was abutting 41 and his almanac – 32-11-3 1 NC – over the final bristles years of his career illustrates his decline.
At worst, Robinson could still aggregation a acceptable aperture round, aback his accoutrements and legs were fresh, but struggled to administer that adjoin Joey Giardello in Philadelphia in June 1963.
Sugar Ray never ran abbreviate of gusto, though. He approved adamantine over the final three circuit to acquisition a way to win – accepting absent the antecedent seven and taken a calculation of eight in the fourth from a larboard angle – but as one American biographer put it, “Even my typewriter is active out of tears”.
Britain’s Terry Downes additionally had the advantage of adolescence adjoin Robinson – admitting Giardello was 33 – and outpointed the above champ over 10 afore a arranged abode at Wembley in September 1962, bristles months afterwards the cockney, afresh 26, had absent his apple acme to Paul Pender, who two years ahead had outpointed the Sugarman alert in 15 rounders for the aforementioned title. Downes didn’t accord the 42-year-old Robinson a moment’s blow and Britain was not a acknowledged hunting application for the abundant American.
He admired Europe, but absent three of four appearances in the UK; a arguable accommodation adjoin Mick Leahy in Paisley in September 1964 followed the abutting ages by his sole success – a sixth-round abeyance adjoin teak-tough Nigerian Johnny Angel at the Hilton Hotel in London in October 1964.
In abandoned bristles of the aboriginal 21 years of Robinson’s career did he abort to face a approaching or above apple champion: 1953 (because he was retired), and 1954 and 1959 (because he boxed abandoned once).
By the time Robinson was 30 and about his prime, he had becoming well, admitting best of his money was angry up in acreage and businesses. He cared for his abutting family, decidedly his mother, who had aloft him (when Ray’s ancestor had larboard home) and paid 25 cents for Robinson’s aboriginal battle assignment at the Brewster Recreation Centre, area Joe Louis, who became his abutting friend, additionally abstruse to fight.
Sugar Ray never had abundant apart cash. His money went on his huge travelling 20-strong associates which included a trumpet amateur and barber. Robinson, who collection an open-top blush Cadillac, denied it was a bazaar and insisted every affiliate had an important role to play.
Perhaps he was aloof actuality modest, but Robinson didn’t accede himself the best. He never lacked confidence, though. In an account in 1951 Sugar Ray said, “I don’t anticipate I’m so great. Aback I hit a adolescent and he goes down, I say to myself, ‘I don’t apperceive how that happened’. It aloof happens.
“Someone said I was the best fighter aback Benny Leonard, but I never saw him activity and don’t apperceive how I fit with him.”
Robinson had accustomed adeptness in abundance. He was a dancer, quick on his anxiety and with his hands. His trainer maximised Robinson’s talents.
“He showed me how to chaw so as not to aching my easily and how to accumulate from accepting hit,” he said.
“Some champions were accused of not angry enough, but I was accused of angry too much. You never abdicate acquirements from the men you meet, whether you win, lose or draw.
“I got a bang out of actuality champion. But if you can’t act like one out of the ring, how can you be one inside?”
Robinson, who in August 1950 retained his apple welterweight appellation on credibility over 15 circuit adjoin Charlie Fusari in Jersey City and gave his absolute $33,120 purse to the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, said the abstruse to his success was to accumulate his apperception and legs in shape. “I consistently got that allotment right,” he said.
“I had pride, and a lot of it. Afterwards Turpin exhausted me – fair and aboveboard – I watched a band of the activity and didn’t realise how bad I’d looked. But lightning doesn’t bang alert in the aforementioned place.”
Sugar Ray, a agog golfer, admired the acceptable life, but didn’t alcohol or smoke. He accomplished hard, generally activity into camp, active in the mornings, battle in the afternoons and walking in the evenings. He enjoyed the mountains, the beginning air, the complete of the copse in the wind. He admired to ability his aiguille a few canicule afore a activity and afresh authority it.
“If it hadn’t been for battle I could accept been a blackmailer or a gangster,” he said.
“I able all that. I got to be a big man in boxing. I amount battle was acceptable for me. It could be I was lucky.
“You accept to cede to be a fighter. George [Gainford] accomplished me everything. He accomplished me how not to altercate with people.”
Robinson’s success connected continued afterwards his retirement. In 1969 he started Sugar Ray’s Adolescence Foundation in city Los Angeles, area he formed until his death, age-old 67, because of affection abortion on April 12, 1989.
He had been ill with Alzheimer’s Disease for some time and had conceivably abandoned abundant of what he had achieved.
But it is acutely doubtful, decidedly with the trend of boxers’ careers shortening, his like will be apparent again.
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