Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray Robinson is considered by many boxing historians and enthusiasts to be the greatest boxer ever, pound-for-pound. He is ranked among the top three boxers ever in both the welterweight and middleweight classes. Ranked by the Associated Press as the greatest boxer of the 20th Century, Robinson was poetry in motion, a peerless puncher who elevated the sport to an art form. Ray fought 85 amateur bouts and 40 professional bouts before he lost for the first time, not losing again until his 132nd professional fight.
Walker Smith Jr., was born May 3, 1921 in Alley Georgia, and would grow up to be the boxer we all know as Sugar Ray Robinson. His parents, Walker Smith Sr. and Leila Hurst had three children, of which Walker was the youngest. Walker's father was a cotton, peanut, and corn farmer in Georgia, who moved the family to Detroit where he initially found work as a construction worker. According to Robinson, Smith Sr. later worked two jobs to support his family, a cement mixer and a sewer worker. "He had to get up at six in the morning and he'd get home close to midnight. Six days a week. The only day I really saw him was Sunday...I always wanted to be with him more".
Leila moved her three children to Harlem New York when Walker was twelve, after her separation from husband Walker Sr.. Attending De Witt Clinton High School, Walker originally had dreams of becoming a doctor, but by the age of fourteen he had already found a love for boxing. Attempting to enter his first boxing tournament, Walker found out he needed to be sixteen to be granted an AAU card. Not letting the fact he was two years too young stop him, Walker borrowed an AAU card from a friend named Ray Robinson. When future manager George Gainford watched Walker fight, he proclaimed he was "sweet as sugar", thus completing Walker Smith's transition into "Sugar" Ray Robinson.
Sugar Ray Robinson was undefeated as an amateur boxer, with an astounding record of 85-0, with 69 knockouts, 42 of them in the first round. After winning the New York Golden Gloves championship in 1940, 19-year old Sugar Ray turned pro and never looked back. Robinson made his professional debut on October 4, 1940, knocking out Joe Echevarria in the second round. Turning pro didn't stop Sugar Ray's winning streak. He went on to win his first 40 pro fights! Named Fighter of the Year in 1942, Sugar Ray dealt losses to everyone he faced, including Jake LaMotta, who would become one of his more prominent rivals. Sugar Ray Robinson defeated LaMotta by an unanimous decision. Robinson, weighing in at 145 pounds, spotted over twelve pounds to Jake LaMotta, but he was able to control the fight from the outside for the entire bout, and actually landed the harder punches during the fight.
Sugar Ray's first loss came in Detroit on February 5,1943, at the hands of Jake LaMotta in their second of six meetings. LaMotta, now had a 16 pound weight advantage over Robinson. After being controlled by Robinson in the early portions of the fight, LaMotta came back to take control in the later rounds and even knocked Robinson out of the ring in the eighth round. Unable to knock out Sugar Ray, Jake LaMotta won the ten round fight by decision. Robinson stepped back into the ring on February 19th, earning a 10-round decision over California Jackie Wilson, then just a week later, on February 26th, Robinson fought LaMotta again, this time winning a 10-round decision.
By 1946, Robinson had fought 75 fights to a 73–1–1 record, and beaten every top contender in the welterweight division. Refusing to cooperate with the Mafia, which controlled much of boxing at the time, Sugar Ray had been denied a chance to fight for the welterweight championship until December 20, 1946. Tommy Bell and Sugar Ray Robinson fought for the title vacated by Marty Servo. In the fight, Robinson, who only a month before had been involved in a 10 round brawl with Artie Levine, was knocked down by Bell. The fight was called a "war," but Robinson was able to pull out a close 15 round decision, winning the vacant welterweight title and finally becoming the world welterweight champion.
Holding the Welterweight Title for five years, Robinson then moved on to acquiring the world middleweight title, which he held five times between 1951-1960. On February 14, 1951, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta met for the sixth time, this time for the middleweight title. The fight would become known as The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Robinson won the undisputed world middleweight title with a 13th round technical knockout. Robinson out-boxed LaMotta for the first 10 rounds, then unleashed a series of savage combinations on LaMotta for three rounds, finally stopping the champion for the first time in their legendary six-bout series, dealing Jake LaMotta his first legitimate knockout loss in 95 professional bouts. Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson fought a total of six fight, with Sugar Ray winning five of them. "I fought Sugar Ray so often, I almost got hdiabetes," LaMotta later said.
In 1952, Sugar Ray defeated former champion Rocky Graziano by a third-round knockout, then challenged world light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim. In the Yankee Stadium bout with Maxim, Robinson built a lead on all three judges' scorecards, but the 103 °F temperature in the ring took its toll. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, was the first victim of the heat, and had to be replaced by referee Ray Miller. The fast-moving Robinson was the heat's next victim. At the end of round 13, he collapsed and failed to answer the bell for the next round, suffering the only knockout of his career. After the Maxim bout, Robinson gave up his title and retired with a record of 131-3-1.
After his retirement Sugar Ray Robinson began a career in show business, singing and tap dancing, and attempting to become part of Count Basie's band. Robinson, who lived in larger-than-life style, with a pink Cadillac convertible, fur coat, and flashy diamond jewelry, was the owner of a Harlem nightclub where jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis played. During his boxing career Robinson was surrounded by an entourage of assistants, including a barber, secretary, voice coach, masseur, trainers, women, and his manager, George Gainford. He was an entrepreneur when that was an unheard-of thing for African Americans to do and at a time when many African Americans were not even allowed to vote. Robinson was a shrewd businessman and hard bargainer. Sugar Ray Robinson, more than any other black public figure between World War II and the 1960s, epitomized black masculinity and the cool. He was unquestionably the most admired black male among African American males in the 1950s.
Owning a Harlem nightclub himself, Sugar Ray had always been supportive of Harlem's struggling jazz musicians, often feeding everybody in their band and if they were going on tour would pack sandwiches for them and slip them a couple of twenty dollar bills. Some never forgot his kindness and when he was attempting after retirement to make a second career as an entertainer they were eager to include him in their tours, even though he wasn’t on their level musically.
Two years later, Sugar Ray was back in the ring, regaining the middleweight championship by beating Carl "Bobo" Olsen three times. He lost the title in 1957 in a bout against Gene Fullmer, but won it back four months later in a rematch. Robinson knocked Fullmer out in the fifth round with a left hook; it was the first time Fullmer had ever been knocked out.
Later that year, Robinson lost the title again, and won it back in a bloody battle against Carmen Basilio. Robinson gained an early advantage in the first fight, cutting open Basilio's eye and nose. An angered Basilio fought back furiously, leading to a split decision in Basilio's favor. Robinson hated losing, and followed his classic pattern of a rematch six months later. Even though he was sick with a virus, Robinson hit Basilio so hard he couldn't use his left eye and won a split decision, winning the middleweight championship for the fifth and last time. A dominant force in the boxing ring for two decades, Sugar Ray was 38 when he won his last middleweight title.
Only stopped once in over 200 bouts, Sugar Ray Robinson was a six-time world champion, winning the Welterweight Title and then the Middleweight Title five times. During his 25 year career, he defeated many of the greatest boxing champions of his day, among them LaMotta, Kid Gavilan, Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio, Randolph Turpin and Carl "BoBo" Olsen. Sugar Ray Robinson was a legend. We may never see another fighter like him. And as good as he appears on tape, his best days were not even captured on film.
Sugar Ray Robinson was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1967, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006