He’s Walker Smith, who boxed beneath the ring title of Sugar Ray Robinson and lit up the Forties and Fifties with a blinding array of ability, energy, attractiveness and, when he needed to, large braveness. Claude Abrams paid homage to him… the best fighter of all-time
TIME has accomplished little to distort the picture of near-perfection which is Sugar Ray Robinson.
Many years have handed since he final fought and, to the top 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 prospect introduced itself.
Robinson knew do nearly the whole lot – 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 significantly laborious, but knocked him down.
Certainly it could be grudging to permit the minor setbacks on the tail-end of an astonishing profession to offset his fabulous achievements.
Anybody who noticed Robinson struggle will acknowledge he was the most effective, 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 report), packed up for good on December 10, 1965, a month after his closing contest.
Amazingly, solely 15 months separate the top 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 may. His mom, Marie, who watched most of his fights, had all the time advised him, “Get out whenever you’re prepared, not whenever 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 struggle, grew uninterested in dancing on the night-club circuit – apparently an excellent dancer – and introduced his return on October 20, 1954, boxing another 65 occasions over the subsequent 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 nearly 6ft tall, majestic, good-looking and charming, was as near the consummate preventing machine because the world had seen.
He possessed sharp reflexes, superb agility, a vicious punch in both hand, grace, correct timing, intelligent footwork, the flexibility to take a blow and assault entering into any route. He had a singular stance: the left handheld low – all the time able to counter – the suitable fist unclenched, tucked slightly below and to the left of his chin.
He moved on the balls of his ft, all the time balanced completely and poised to spring into motion. Robinson managed opponents together with his jab, may dart at his foes with superb precision, generally doubling and trebling his slashing left hooks – typically 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 suitable 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 never knew what to anticipate. Hardly ever did he enable 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 can 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 most effective”.
Born Walker Smith Jnr in a flat in Black Backside, Detroit on Could 3, 1921, Robinson grew up on 662 Henry Road earlier than the household moved through 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 nearly 15st who solid a partnership with Ray for his whole profession, matched him with a child of the same construct.
Robinson was not registered, so Gainford reached into his pocket to supply an outdated card of a fighter named Ray Robinson. The legend was born.
Quickly Sugar Ray was incomes effectively in “bootleg” bouts to assist his household, quitting faculty when he was younger. He obtained into scrapes on ‘ the streets, however says his sister typically stood up for him.
Robinson turned skilled at 20 (October 4, 1940), having gained all 89 newbie contests (63 inside the gap) – together with a call over Willie Pep, our No.6 – climbing off the ground to cease Joe Echevarria, one in all seven males to knock him down, within the second.
His closing and lasting retirement got here after struggling his fifth defeat of 1964. Ten of his 18 factors setbacks came about after 1962, when his abilities had eroded, his timing slower and his blows had misplaced some chew. However Robinson may nonetheless combine with the most effective proper till the top, even when a lot of his greatness had worn off. He gained 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 didn’t 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 scorching for strolling not to mention preventing. Maxim was nothing. He didn’t hit me for 10 rounds.”
It was a boiling, unbelievable evening. Even referee Ruby Goldstein didn’t 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 another 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 means 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 superb efficiency was comparable immediately 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 beneath a chilly bathe. He and Gainford have been criticised for attempting to bridge the hole in weight – a enterprise taken all too typically as of late – and The Ring journal even prompt a ban ought to be imposed to forestall fighters from doing so once more.
However there’s extra. Far more. Robinson, who had an ego to match his coronary heart and ability and hated to fly or journey by boat, gained his first 40 fights earlier than losing on points to great 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 a huge 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 rigorously then a cat watches a mouse.”
Robinson congratulated his conqueror: “There’s little question 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 offered out from all of the travelling [on his European tour]. It wasn’t the fights, however never sleeping in the identical mattress for greater than two nights. My eyes have been drained. He punches fairly good, however the return gained’t go 15 rounds. I’ll get the title again.”
He was proper. Randy lost the return 64 days later at the Polo Grounds, New York before a crown of 61,370. For 9 rounds Robinson once more couldn’t become familiar with the Briton – till he suffered a horrible minimize over the (similar) left eye which had required stitches within the first conflict.
Sugar Ray noticed purple – actually – and shifted gears nearly immediately, forcing a conclusive end within the tenth as he dropped Randy with an enormous proper hand. Turpin took a rely of 9, went to the ropes, the place he thought he would 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 ft, although many, to at the present time, say Turpin was robbed of glory. A fighter had been killed simply days earlier and plenty of say that influenced referee Goldstein’s choice to step in.
No matter, it was reported in Britain that as a result of 4 million had switched on lights and radios through 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 best hour, however Sugar Ray had larger moments. It’s nonetheless argued he was at his peak as a welter, significantly as his report on the planet middleweight title bouts was solely 8-6-1, however there have been few fighters he didn’t unravel and he fought all types in an age and division the place knockovers hardly ever existed.
Robinson tackled all the good champions of his day. LaMotta stated he boxed Sugar Ray so many timed he was stunned he didn’t get diabetes. “All our fights have been shut,” he stated. “However that’s why we fought six occasions [Robinson won five]. He knew he was in a struggle – 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 in the 13th in their final meeting 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 didn’t ground his nice rival, who had never earlier than hit the canvas in 95 fights.
“I believed the struggle was even for six rounds and that he shaded me within the seventh and eighth,” admitted Robinson. “However I purposely let him acquire false confidence. Then I obtained uninterested in 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 ft however helpless on the ropes. LaMotta’s lips have been nearly too swollen for him to talk. He left the ring beneath his personal steam, however obtained oxygen. Jake’s spouse Vicki, a “Miss America”, stated her husband had struggled to make the load.
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 working. “He was intelligent,” admitted Henry.
However Robinson stated he fought that means as a result of Armstrong was a buddy and wanted the cash. Sugar Ray claimed Henry, his idol who had fallen on laborious occasions, had phoned him and pleaded for the struggle. “It’s tough preventing a fellow you look as much as,” stated Robinson. “You don’t have a really feel for preventing a buddy.”
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 more durable period, was about 13 years away from retirement and had compiled a report of 127-2-2 with one No Contest. Leonard was undoubtedly very good, however Robinson higher.
Rocky Graziano, who gained 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 in the third when his gumshield was sent spinning into the crowd, had yet one more struggle, 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 struggle 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 most effective. 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 Could 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 gap in his subsequent struggle, 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, in all probability due to age. Twice he outpointed robust 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 one in all 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 never 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 tough 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 gained by a cut up choice over 15 rounds. Once 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 shops in 143 American cities with 364,876 clients paying greater than $1,400,000 on the box-office.
Robinson, eight years older at nearly 38 and who earned about $250,000, gained the middleweight crown for a report fifth time and threatened to retire once more – as undefeated champion. He had struggled to make the load and the tough, robust 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 never harm.
“Robinson stored utilizing the suitable uppercut,” he stated. “He knew I bobbed and weaved. He was tall, laborious to catch cleanly, however I fought him with one eye. I had ice on the attention for 3 days to cut back the swelling. However he’d never struggle 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 may beat Robinson,” stated Fullmer. “I skilled laborious and had such a troublesome time getting the struggle. He wasn’t the best the place I used to be involved. My fashion gave him extra bother than most. My fights with him weren’t my hardest apart 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 lots and complained lots too as a result of I used to be rabbit-punching.
“He preferred to punch at lengthy vary. I discovered minimize 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 may 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 report – 32-11-3 1 NC – over the ultimate 5 years of his profession illustrates his decline.
At worst, Robinson may nonetheless muster an excellent opening spherical, when his legs and arms have been recent, however struggled to handle that in opposition to Joey Giardello in Philadelphia in June 1963.
Sugar Ray never ran in need of gusto, although. He tried laborious over the ultimate three rounds to discover a technique to win – having misplaced the earlier seven and brought a rely of eight within the fourth from a left hook – however as one American author put it, “Even my typewriter is working 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 searching patch for the good American.
He beloved Europe, however misplaced three of 4 appearances within the UK; a controversial choice in opposition to Mick Leahy in Paisley in September 1964 adopted the subsequent month by his sole success – a sixth-round stoppage in opposition to teak-tough Nigerian Johnny Angel on the Hilton Lodge 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 effectively, although most of his cash was tied up in property and companies. He cared for his shut household, significantly his mom, who had raised him (when Ray’s father had left residence) 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 buddy, additionally discovered to struggle.
Sugar Ray never had a lot unfastened money. His cash went on his large 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 vital position to play.
Maybe he was simply being modest, however Robinson didn’t take into account himself the most effective. He never lacked confidence, although. In an interview in 1951 Sugar Ray stated, “I don’t suppose I’m so nice. After I hit a fellow and he goes down, I say to myself, ‘I don’t understand how that occurred’. It simply occurs.
“Somebody stated I used to be the most effective fighter since Benny Leonard, however I never noticed him struggle and don’t understand how I match with him.”
Robinson had pure skill in abundance. He was a dancer, fast on his ft and together with his arms. His coach maximised Robinson’s skills.
“He confirmed me punch in order to not harm my arms and preserve from getting hit,” he stated.
“Some champions have been accused of not preventing sufficient, however I used to be accused of preventing an excessive amount of. You never stop studying from the lads you meet, whether or not you win, lose or draw.
“I obtained a kick out of being champion. However when you can’t act like one out of the ring, how are you going to 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 whole $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 obtained that half proper,” he stated.
“I had satisfaction, and a number of it. After Turpin beat me – truthful and sq. – I watched a tape of the struggle and didn’t realise how dangerous I’d seemed. However lightning doesn’t strike twice in the identical place.”
Sugar Ray, a eager golfer, preferred the great life, however didn’t drink or smoke. He skilled laborious, typically going into camp, working 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 preferred to succeed in his peak a couple of days earlier than a struggle after which maintain it.
“If it hadn’t been for boxing I may have been a hoodlum or a gangster,” he stated.
“I escaped all that. I obtained to be a giant man in boxing. I determine boxing was good for me. It may be I used to be fortunate.
“You need to sacrifice to be a fighter. George [Gainford] taught me the whole lot. 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 demise, aged 67, due to coronary heart failure on April 12, 1989.
He had been in poor health with Alzheimer’s Illness for a while and had maybe forgotten a lot of what he had achieved.
However this can be very uncertain, significantly with the pattern of boxers’ careers shortening, his like will be seen once more.