He’s Walker Smith, who boxed below the ring title of Sugar Ray Robinson and lit up the Forties and Fifties with a blinding array of ability, energy, beauty and, when he needed to, super braveness. Claude Abrams pays homage to him… the best fighter of all-time
TIME has performed little to distort the picture of near-perfection which is Sugar Ray Robinson.
Many years have handed since he final fought and, to the tip of a staggering 25-year profession, Robinson remained extraordinary: a grasp boxer, splendidly proportioned, steel-chinned, iron-willed, a chilling puncher blessed with dazzling velocity who would all the time knock his opponent out if the possibility introduced itself.
Robinson knew the right way to do nearly every thing – besides, maybe, dangle up his gloves on the proper time.
Like so most of the greats, Sugar Ray, our No. 1 alternative, was transfixed by glory and adulation and completed on a loss, a 10-round factors defeat by Joey Archer, who couldn’t punch notably exhausting, but knocked him down.
Certainly it will be grudging to permit the minor setbacks on the tail-end of an astonishing profession to offset his fabulous achievements.
Anybody who noticed Robinson battle will acknowledge he was the perfect, as will practically all his opponents, with the potential exception of the sturdy Gene Fullmer, who beat him in two of 4 (one draw) conferences.
Robinson, world welterweight champion from 1946 till 1949 and five-time world middleweight king between 1951 and 1960 (a document), packed up for good on December 10, 1965, a month after his last contest.
Amazingly, solely 15 months separate the tip of his profession and the start of Roberto Duran’s, however Sugar Ray was 45 when the curtain got here down for good. He had first retired on December 18, 1952, six months after struggling his sole inside-the-distance defeat in 202 contests – in opposition to Joey Maxim for the world light-heavy title – however couldn’t resist the lure of the ring.
Sugar Ray thought he might. His mom, Marie, who watched most of his fights, had all the time advised him, “Get out once you’re prepared, not once you’re via”.
It was good recommendation. “There ain’t nothing or anybody who can get me again within the ring,” Ray insisted in 1953.
Robinson, regardless of saying the coaching had turn into more durable main as much as the Maxim battle, grew tired of dancing on the night-club circuit – apparently an excellent dancer – and introduced his return on October 20, 1954, boxing one other 65 occasions over the following 11 years.
From the slicked-back hair – all the time neatly in place – to his primed physique, not overly muscular however outlined and unfastened, Robinson, who was virtually 6ft tall, majestic, good-looking and charming, was as near the consummate combating machine because the world had seen.
He possessed sharp reflexes, wonderful agility, a vicious punch in both hand, grace, correct timing, intelligent footwork, the power to take a blow and assault entering into any course. He had a singular stance: the left handheld low – all the time able to counter – the best fist unclenched, tucked slightly below and to the left of his chin.
He moved on the balls of his toes, all the time balanced completely and poised to spring into motion. Robinson managed opponents together with his jab, might dart at his foes with wonderful precision, generally doubling and trebling his slashing left hooks – usually aimed to move and physique in the identical assault – and touchdown them like bolts of lightning.
Sugar Ray could have appeared open to hooks and the best excessive, however nobody was capable of take benefit. The closest he got here to getting knocked out was by Artie Levine, who dropped him with a left hook for 9 within the fifth earlier than getting stopped within the tenth of their 1946 assembly.
Typically, although, Robinson’s rivals by no means knew what to anticipate. Hardly ever did he permit his foes a lot time to settle and he was all the time match. The physician who examined Robinson earlier than he stopped Jean Walzack in six in Liege in 1951 stated he was the fittest man he had ever met. There may be no disputing he was the supremo.
Muhammad Ali, the previous world heavyweight king whom we rated No. 2 in our all-time listing, stated so and Sugar Ray Leonard added, “There was no comparability between us. He was the perfect”.
Born Walker Smith Jnr in a flat in Black Backside, Detroit on Might 3, 1921, Robinson grew up on 662 Henry Road earlier than the household moved in the course of the deep melancholy to Harlem, New York when the thin boy was 12.
Two years later he began boxing on a present in Kingston, New York. George Gainford, a giant man of about 6ft and virtually 15st who solid a partnership with Ray for his total profession, matched him with a child of an identical construct.
Robinson was not registered, so Gainford reached into his pocket to supply an previous card of a fighter named Ray Robinson. The legend was born.
Quickly Sugar Ray was incomes nicely in “bootleg” bouts to help his household, quitting faculty when he was younger. He acquired into scrapes on ‘ the streets, however says his sister usually stood up for him.
Robinson turned skilled at 20 (October 4, 1940), having received all 89 newbie contests (63 inside the space) – together with a call over Willie Pep, our No.6 – climbing off the ground to cease Joe Echevarria, considered one of seven males to knock him down, within the second.
His last and lasting retirement got here after struggling his fifth defeat of 1964. Ten of his 18 factors setbacks passed off after 1962, when his abilities had eroded, his timing slower and his blows had misplaced some chew. However Robinson might nonetheless combine with the perfect proper till the tip, even when a lot of his greatness had worn off. He received 175 occasions, scoring extra knockouts or stoppages (110) than trendy nice Julio Cesar Chavez has had fights.
He drew on six events and was stopped solely as soon as, via warmth exhaustion (temperatures reached 106 levels) when he did not reply the bell for the 14th spherical in opposition to Maxim at Yankee Stadium, New York in June 1952.
“Maxim [below left] was fortunate to face as much as the warmth higher than I used to be,” he stated. “It was too sizzling for strolling not to mention combating. Maxim was nothing. He didn’t hit me for 10 rounds.”
It was a boiling, unimaginable evening. Even referee Ruby Goldstein did not final the course, unable to come back out for the tenth and being changed by Ray Miller. However Sugar Ray, who at 11st 3 1/2lbs was lighter than some other world light-heavyweight title challenger in historical past bar Ted ‘Child’ Lewis (knocked out in two minutes 15 seconds by Georges Carpentier in June 1922), was nonetheless method forward on factors when the end got here in opposition to a champion who outweighed him by 15 1/2lbs and, a yr beforehand, had gone 15 rounds with Ezzard Charles for the world heavyweight title.
Sugar Ray maybe paid the value for setting such a torrid tempo and it was too one-sided to be known as thrilling, however his wonderful efficiency was comparable right this moment with, say, a welterweight Oscar De La Hoya outclassing super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe.
Robinson, as weak as a kitten, was carried again to his altering room and put below a chilly bathe. He and Gainford had been criticised for attempting to bridge the hole in weight – a enterprise taken all too usually today – and The Ring journal even recommended a ban must be imposed to stop fighters from doing so once more.
However there’s extra. Rather more. Robinson, who had an ego to match his coronary heart and ability and hated to fly or journey by boat, received his first 40 fights earlier than shedding on factors to nice rival Jake LaMotta, ‘The Bronx Bull’ (Sugar Ray claimed he paid the value for not coaching correctly), and went undefeated in his subsequent 89 bouts (two attracts and one No Contest) earlier than Leamington Spa’s Randy Turpin dethroned him over 15 rounds in an enormous shock at Earls Courtroom in July 1951.
Sugar Ray was actually solely a light-middle, however the 11st division didn’t exist again then.
Turpin, huge for his weight, fought brilliantly. “Ray made the primary transfer each time,” he stated. “When he moved, I moved. When he feinted, I feinted. When he ducked, I ducked. I watched him extra fastidiously then a cat watches a mouse.”
Robinson congratulated his conqueror: “There’s little doubt he was the higher fighter,” he admitted. “For as soon as, I simply didn’t have it.”
However Ray made his excuses. “I used to be bought out from all of the travelling [on his European tour]. It wasn’t the fights, however by no means sleeping in the identical mattress for greater than two nights. My eyes had been drained. He punches fairly good, however the return received’t go 15 rounds. I’ll get the title again.”
He was proper. Randy misplaced the return 64 days later on the Polo Grounds, New York earlier than a crown of 61,370. For 9 rounds Robinson once more couldn’t become familiar with the Briton – till he suffered a horrible lower over the (similar) left eye which had required stitches within the first conflict.
Sugar Ray noticed pink – actually – and shifted gears virtually immediately, forcing a conclusive end within the tenth as he dropped Randy with an enormous proper hand. Turpin took a depend of 9, went to the ropes, the place he thought he can be protected, and was subjected to a livid fusillade of blows earlier than he was rescued, nonetheless attempting to bob and weave, with eight seconds left within the spherical.
Nobody is aware of how he stayed on his toes, although many, to this present day, say Turpin was robbed of glory. A fighter had been killed simply days earlier and plenty of say that influenced referee Goldstein’s determination to step in.
No matter, it was reported in Britain that as a result of 4 million had switched on lights and radios in the course of the evening to hearken to the BBC’s broadcast, burning an estimated 70 tons of coal, the British electrical energy authority would discover itself in need of energy within the forthcoming winter.
The American Press known as it Robinson’s most interesting hour, however Sugar Ray had larger moments. It’s nonetheless argued he was at his peak as a welter, notably as his document on the planet middleweight title bouts was solely 8-6-1, however there have been few fighters he did not unravel and he fought all kinds in an age and division the place knockovers not often existed.
Robinson tackled all the good champions of his day. LaMotta stated he boxed Sugar Ray so many timed he was shocked he didn’t get diabetes. “All our fights had been shut,” he stated. “However that’s why we fought six occasions [Robinson won five]. He knew he was in a battle – and so did I.
“I fought the best fighter of all of them. We stood toe-to-toe and banged away. No foul ‘ blows. Most occasions I needed to chase him. I needed to be in very good situation.”
Robinson stopped LaMotta within the thirteenth of their last assembly earlier than a crowd of 14,802 at Chicago Stadium in February 1951. Having outscored Jake 4 occasions beforehand, Sugar Ray, who collected $22,340 – the smaller share – tried desperately, however did not ground his nice rival, who had by no means earlier than hit the canvas in 95 fights.
“I believed the battle was even for six rounds and that he shaded me within the seventh and eighth,” admitted Robinson. “However I purposely let him achieve false confidence. Then I acquired bored with hitting him. It was the shortened punches within the late rounds that did the trick.”
Robinson’s ending assault was described as “frenzied”. And referee Frank Sikora stopped the slaughter with Jake on his toes however helpless on the ropes. LaMotta’s lips had been virtually too swollen for him to talk. He left the ring below his personal steam, however obtained oxygen. Jake’s spouse Vicki, a “Miss America”, stated her husband had struggled to make the burden.
Henry Armstrong, whom we ranked No. 4 all-time nice and held the world feather, mild and welterweight titles concurrently, misplaced over 10 rounds to Sugar Ray in New York in August 1943, shortly earlier than Robinson joined the military.
Armstrong was 30, Robinson 23, although it was Henry’s sole blemish throughout a 19-fight spell. Armstrong accused Robinson of operating. “He was intelligent,” admitted Henry.
However Robinson stated he fought that method as a result of Armstrong was a pal and wanted the cash. Sugar Ray claimed Henry, his idol who had fallen on exhausting occasions, had phoned him and pleaded for the battle. “It’s troublesome combating a fellow you look as much as,” stated Robinson. “You don’t have a really feel for combating a pal.”
On the age of 32 Sugar Ray Leonard, a modern-day champion in 5 divisions, had boxed 36 occasions and began to slip,
whereas Robinson, who fought in a harder period, was about 13 years away from retirement and had compiled a document of 127-2-2 with one No Contest. Leonard was undoubtedly very good, however Robinson higher.
Rocky Graziano, who received the world middleweight title from Tony Zale, “The Man of Metal”, in 1947 and was 21 fights unbeaten earlier than dealing with Robinson, stated of their April 1952 confrontation: “I believed I used to be going to lick him. I had him down [a flash knockdown] within the second, however Robinson is the best fighter I ever fought. Pound-for-pound, he was a unbelievable fighter.”
Graziano, knocked down within the third when his gumshield was despatched spinning into the group, had yet one more battle, a factors defeat by Chuck Davey, earlier than retiring.
But Robinson had gone 15 rounds with Carl ‘Bobo’ Olson solely a month earlier.
Tens of millions watched the Graziano battle on TV. A crowd of twenty-two,264 paid to get in on the Chicago Stadium. “I feinted and them hit him on the chin [with a superb right],” stated Robinson, describing the end. He had moved anti-clockwise for a second to confuse his opponent.
Olson, who grew to become world middleweight king after two defeats by Robinson, additionally stated: “Robinson was the perfect. He had nobody to problem him once I got here alongside. He couldn’t be beat on the time. I used to be assured, however he stopped me [in 12 in October 1950].
“I fought him once more in 1952, went the complete distance and misplaced by two factors. Robinson was the best fighter who ever lived. I used to be glad to go 15 rounds with him and are available shut.”
They fought twice extra, on December 1955 and Might 1956, with Olson – who lived a secret life for years with two ladies and two units of children – shedding in two and 4 rounds respectively.
Nonetheless, Olson went on to take Maxim the space in his subsequent battle, draw with Giulio Rinaldi, who had outscored light-heavyweight nice Archie Moore, and lasted the course with high quality operators like Johnny Persol and former Olympic champion Pete Rademacher.
Robinson fought 14 world champions in all, comprising 33 contests. He defeated all however three of them, most likely due to age. Twice he outpointed powerful ex-world light-weight champion Sammy Angott.
Fritz Zivic [below right], who had 232 fights and was topped champion at 10st 7lbs in 1940 when he outpointed Henry Armstrong, additionally boxed Robinson twice. 9 months after stopping Armstrong within the twelfth spherical of a rematch, Zivic was outpointed over 10 by Sugar Ray and, in 1942, Robinson recorded considered one of solely 4 inside-the-distance victories in opposition to the Pennsylvanian, stopping him in 10 in New York.
The fabulously-slick Cuban, Child Gavilan, grasp of the bolo punch which Robinson additionally perfected and by no means halted in 143 fights in 15 years as a professional (1943 – 58), beat Carmen Basilio, however Sugar Ray outpointed him in each their conferences – a non-title 10-rounder in September 1948 and unanimously over 15 troublesome rounds for the world welterweight title on the Municipal Corridor, Philadelphia in July 1949.
Twenty two months and 26 fights later Gavilan grew to become world champion, simply to show the Cuban Hawk was removed from over the hill.
Basilio and Robinson had two memorable conferences, the primary at Yankee Stadium in 1957 which Carmen received by a cut up determination over 15 rounds. After they met once more six months later (March 25, 1958) on the Chicago Stadium the consequence was the identical, solely in Robinson’s favour. The blistering contest was proven through satellite tv for pc from 174 retailers in 143 American cities with 364,876 prospects paying greater than $1,400,000 on the box-office.
Robinson, eight years older at virtually 38 and who earned about $250,000, received the middleweight crown for a document fifth time and threatened to retire once more – as undefeated champion. He had struggled to make the burden and the tough, powerful Fullmer, who had outpointed him over 15 rounds for the title in January 1957 and misplaced the rematch 4 months later, was on stand-by.
Basilio, impervious to ache, had his left eye slammed shut for the final 10 rounds, however stated he was by no means harm.
“Robinson stored utilizing the best uppercut,” he stated. “He knew I bobbed and weaved. He was tall, exhausting to catch cleanly, however I fought him with one eye. I had ice on the attention for 3 days to scale back the swelling. However he’d by no means battle me a 3rd time.”
Sugar Ray didn’t field once more till December 1959 – 21 months later – when he stopped Bob Younger within the second of a non-title conflict in Boston. Then he engaged in two extra matches with Fullmer, shedding each.
“I used to be assured I might beat Robinson,” stated Fullmer. “I skilled exhausting and had such a troublesome time getting the battle. He wasn’t the best the place I used to be involved. My model gave him extra bother than most. My fights with him weren’t my hardest aside from he knocked me out that point [with the sweetest left hook in the fifth round in May 1957, the only time Fullmer was ever knocked out in 64 fights].
“He held quite a bit and complained quite a bit too as a result of I used to be rabbit-punching.
“He favored to punch at lengthy vary. I realized the right way to lower the ring off and preserve from getting hit on the chin as I used to be getting in shut.
“I believe it made me a greater fighter after he knocked me out. I understood it might occur. I don’t know something concerning the punch besides what I’ve seen on the video. The very first thing I knew, I used to be standing up and Robinson was within the different nook. There was no ache, nothing.”
Robinson ought to have retired after the final defeat by Fullmer. He was approaching 41 and his document – 32-11-3 1 NC – over the ultimate 5 years of his profession illustrates his decline.
At worst, Robinson might nonetheless muster a great opening spherical, when his legs and arms had been recent, however struggled to handle that in opposition to Joey Giardello in Philadelphia in June 1963.
Sugar Ray by no means ran in need of gusto, although. He tried exhausting over the ultimate three rounds to discover a approach to win – having misplaced the earlier seven and brought a depend of eight within the fourth from a left hook – however as one American author put it, “Even my typewriter is operating out of tears”.
Britain’s Terry Downes additionally had the benefit of youth in opposition to Robinson – although Giardello was 33 – and outpointed the previous champ over 10 earlier than a packed home at Wembley in September 1962, 5 months after the cockney, then 26, had misplaced his world crown to Paul Pender, who two years beforehand had outpointed the Sugarman twice in 15 rounders for a similar title. Downes didn’t give the 42-year-old Robinson a second’s relaxation and Britain was not a profitable looking patch for the good American.
He beloved Europe, however misplaced three of 4 appearances within the UK; a controversial determination in opposition to Mick Leahy in Paisley in September 1964 adopted the following month by his sole success – a sixth-round stoppage in opposition to teak-tough Nigerian Johnny Angel on the Hilton Resort in London in October 1964.
In solely 5 of the primary 21 years of Robinson’s profession did he fail to face a future or former world champion: 1953 (as a result of he was retired), and 1954 and 1959 (as a result of he boxed solely as soon as).
By the point Robinson was 30 and round his prime, he had earned nicely, although most of his cash was tied up in property and companies. He cared for his shut household, notably his mom, who had raised him (when Ray’s father had left house) and paid 25 cents for Robinson’s first boxing lesson on the Brewster Recreation Centre, the place Joe Louis, who grew to become his shut pal, additionally realized to battle.
Sugar Ray by no means had a lot unfastened money. His cash went on his enormous travelling 20-strong entourage which included a trumpet participant and barber. Robinson, who drove an open-top pink Cadillac, denied it was a circus and insisted each member had an necessary position to play.
Maybe he was simply being modest, however Robinson didn’t contemplate himself the perfect. He by no means lacked confidence, although. In an interview in 1951 Sugar Ray stated, “I don’t suppose I’m so nice. Once I hit a fellow and he goes down, I say to myself, ‘I don’t know the way that occurred’. It simply occurs.
“Somebody stated I used to be the perfect fighter since Benny Leonard, however I by no means noticed him battle and don’t know the way I match with him.”
Robinson had pure skill in abundance. He was a dancer, fast on his toes and together with his palms. His coach maximised Robinson’s skills.
“He confirmed me the right way to punch in order to not harm my palms and the right way to preserve from getting hit,” he stated.
“Some champions had been accused of not combating sufficient, however I used to be accused of combating an excessive amount of. You by no means stop studying from the boys you meet, whether or not you win, lose or draw.
“I acquired a kick out of being champion. However when you can’t act like one out of the ring, how will you be one inside?”
Robinson, who in August 1950 retained his world welterweight title on factors over 15 rounds in opposition to Charlie Fusari in Jersey Metropolis and gave his total $33,120 purse to the Damon Runyon Most cancers Fund, stated the key to his success was to maintain his thoughts and legs in form. “I all the time acquired that half proper,” he stated.
“I had satisfaction, and quite a lot of it. After Turpin beat me – truthful and sq. – I watched a tape of the battle and didn’t realise how unhealthy I’d regarded. However lightning doesn’t strike twice in the identical place.”
Sugar Ray, a eager golfer, favored the great life, however didn’t drink or smoke. He skilled exhausting, usually going into camp, operating within the mornings, sparring within the afternoons and strolling within the evenings. He loved the mountains, the recent air, the sound of the timber within the wind. He favored to succeed in his peak a number of days earlier than a battle after which maintain it.
“If it hadn’t been for boxing I might have been a hoodlum or a gangster,” he stated.
“I escaped all that. I acquired to be a giant man in boxing. I determine boxing was good for me. It may very well be I used to be fortunate.
“You need to sacrifice to be a fighter. George [Gainford] taught me every thing. He taught me how to not argue with folks.”
Robinson’s success continued lengthy after his retirement. In 1969 he began Sugar Ray’s Youth Basis in downtown Los Angeles, the place he labored till his dying, aged 67, due to coronary heart failure on April 12, 1989.
He had been sick with Alzheimer’s Illness for a while and had maybe forgotten a lot of what he had achieved.
However this can be very uncertain, notably with the pattern of boxers’ careers shortening, his like will likely be seen once more.