Sugar Ray Robinson
|Sugar Ray Robinson
|Walker Smith Jr.
|May 3, 1921
|April 12 1989 (aged 67)
|Culver City, California
|Wins by KO
Sugar Ray Robinson, born Walker Smith Jr., (May 3, 1921 – April 12, 1989) was a professional boxer. Robinson was 85-0 as an amateur and 69 of those victories came by knock out or TKO. As a holder of many boxing records, Robinson was the first boxer in history to win a divisional world championship five times, a feat he accomplished by defeating Carmen Basilio in 1958 to regain the world middleweight title he had lost to Basilio the previous year. Robinson also held the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951.
Muhammad Ali, who repeatedly called himself "The Greatest" throughout his career, has said that while he does consider himself the greatest heavyweight in boxing history, that he would rank Robinson the greatest pound for pound boxer of all time.  Other all time greats such as Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Leonard have said the same. In 2007, ESPN.com featured the piece "50 Greatest Boxers of All Time," and it named Robinson the top boxer in history, while Ali was second.
Born Walker Smith Jr., Robinson was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in Harlem as well. Robinson's father, Walker Sr., worked as a laborer on construction during the day and on a sewer project at night. His mother, Leila worked as a chambermaid and later would become a seamstress.
Smith Jr.'s parents got divorced when he was only five years old and he proceeded to move to New York City with his mother. In order to help his mother financially, Robinson had day jobs as a window cleaner, shoe shine boy, and delivery boy. In addition, he danced outside Broadway theaters at night in order to gain money.
Soon after, Smith Jr. moved to Harlem. It was here that he befriended Warren Jones. Jones invited Smith Jr. to his uncle's gym, the Salem-Crescent Athletic Club. Robinson was then introduced to Warren's uncle, George Gainford. Gainford would later become Sugar Ray's trainer throughout his career.
Gainford also ran bootleg boxing matches, which would later lead to the introduction of Sugar Ray Robinson. Although he was not allowed to box initially, Smith Jr. was allowed to follow Gainford around simply to take in the sport. One particular night, Gainford was short a fighter and Smith Jr. volunteered to fill his place. Unfortunately, an Amateur Athletic Union identity card was necessary in order to signify Amateur status. Gainford, however, had a card from his friend Ray Robinson, and allowed Smith Jr. to use it, thus Smith Jr. would become the 1940 Golden Gloves lightweight champion under that name. Subsequently told that his style was "sweet as sugar," Walker Smith, Jr. became known as "Sugar" Ray Robinson.
Robinson made his professional debut in 1940 by knocking out Jose Echevarria in two rounds. In 1941, he defeated world champion Sammy Angott, future champion Marty Servo and former champion Fritzie Zivic. The Robinson-Angott fight was held above the lightweight limit, since Angott did not want to risk losing his lightweight title to Robinson. The Robinson-Zivic fight, according to Robinson, was the most difficult fight of his career.
In 1942 Robinson was named "Fighter of the Year" after winning re-matches against Zivic, Servo, Angott, and winning a decision over Jake LaMotta, for a total of 14 fights with no losses.
Robinson built a record of 40-0 before losing for the first time to Jake LaMotta in a 10 round re-match. LaMotta, who had a 16 pound weight advantage over Robinson, won the match in a 10-round decision. Three weeks after his first professional loss, Robinson would fight LaMotta again, coming out with the win. There would be three more fights between the two, with Robinson coming out on top each time in a series that many consider to be one of the better boxing rivalries of all-time.
After Robinson defeated LaMotta for the third time, he defeated former champion Henry Armstrong, who was one of Robinson's idols. Robinson is thought to have fought Armstrong because he was in need of finances. At that time, Armstrong was considered to be an older fighter, and Robinson would later state that he "carried" Armstrong.
Robinson took much less time between fights than any boxer in today's era. In 1941, Robinson fought 20 times, including two fights in August that were only two days apart. In 1943, however, Robinson began to slow down. Robinson was called to the United States Army, a major factor in limiting him to six fights that year. The stint in the army would lead to the real first controversy that Robinson would face in his career. The army was allowing boxers to avoid service by putting on exhibition matches overseas. However, when it was Robinson's time, he chose not to participate. Though he was later awarded an honorary discharge, Robinson's claim of falling down and getting amnesia in order to get out of service was one that would be looked down upon by numerous members of the media.
Prior to winning his first title, the only other blot (besides the LaMotta rematch) on Robinson's record was a 10 round draw against Jose Basora in 1945.
Welterweight Champion of the World
Robinson had dominated boxing with a 74-1 record when the National Boxing Association finally granted him a fight against Tommy Bell for the vacant world welterweight championship.
On December 20, 1946, Tommy Bell, whom Robinson had once beaten by decision, was matched in New York City against Robinson for the world welterweight title once again. Going into the fight, Servo, who had vacated the title, had already lost to Robinson twice. In Robinson's final match of the year and only a month before had been involved in a 10 round brawl with Artie Levine, Robinson was knocked down by Bell. The fight was one of the closer fights of Robinson's career, but he was able to pull out a close 15 round decision, winning the coveted vacant welterweight title.
In 1947, Robinson fought four non-title bouts before defending his title for the first time on June 24 by knocking out Jimmy Doyle in the eighth round. Before the fight, Robinson had a dream that he was going to accidentally kill Doyle in the ring with a left hook. As a result, he decided to pull out of the fight. However, a priest and a minister convinced him to go ahead with the bout. His foe, however, died from the injuries sustained in the fight. Robinson said that the impact of Doyle's death was "very trying." In addition, Robinson's mother, Leila Smith, would later say that she believed her son to be traumatized by the event. Robinson would have five more fights, one of which was a title defense, the rest of the year, winning each by knockout.
In 1948, Robinson fought five times, only one of which was a title defense. Among the fighters he defeated in those non-title bouts, was future world champion Kid Gavilan in a close, controversial 10 round fight. In 1949, he boxed 13 times, but again only defended his title once. In that title fight, a rematch with Gavilan, the challenger was again beaten on points. The first half of the bout had been very close, but Robinson finally asserted his dominance. Gavilan would have to wait two more years to begin his own historic reign as welterweight champion. The only boxer to match Robinson that year was Henry Brimm, who fought him to a 10-round draw in Buffalo, New York.
1950 brought 19 fights to Robinson's reign. He successfully defended his welterweight title against Charley Fusari, which would be Robinson's last defense of that title. Robinson won a lopsided 15 round decision, knocking Fusari down once. This last defense of his title ended the reign of the man many consider to be the best welterweight champion of all time.
Middleweight Champion of the World
Vying for the Pennsylvania state middleweight title in 1950, Robinson defeated Robert Villemain. Later that year, in defense of that crown, he defeated Jose Basora. Basora had previously drawn with Robinson, and defeated Carl Olson, a future title holder at that weight whom Robinson would later meet and beat four times. Robinson's 50-second knock-out of Basora in the rematch set a record that would stand for 38 years.
Robinson never went to the full middleweight limit of 160 pounds, choosing instead to stay around the mid-150s and fighting opponents that had a size advantage. In November and December he toured Europe, winning non-title fights in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany, before going after the world middleweight title.
On February 14, 1951, Robinson and LaMotta met for the sixth time as Robinson made his move for the world middleweight title. The fight would become known as The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Robinson won the undisputed world middleweight title with a thirteenth 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. This bout, and some of the other bouts in the six-fight Robinson-LaMotta rivalry, was depicted in the Martin Scorsese film "Raging Bull."
Robinson's reign as the welterweight champion ended when he won the middleweight title, but his career as a middleweight would last longer, despite many believing that Robinson's title marked the beginning of the end of his prime.
Before making a title defense in 1951, Robinson made another tour of Europe, and won all his bouts except for one in Germany. Robinson nearly initiated a riot when he knocked out German hero Gerhard Hecht, allegedly with kidney punches, a punch considered to be legal in the United States but not in Europe. He was initially disqualified, and had to hide under the ring when angry fans began pelting him with bottles. After an investigation, it was discovered that Hecht had a broken rib and the initial decision was changed to a no-contest.
In London, Robinson lost the world Middleweight title to Randy Turpin in one of the more exciting fights of Robinson's career. Many felt that Robinson was not fully prepared for the fight and three months later he would help prove his case when he knocked Turpin out in ten rounds to recover the title. In that bout Robinson was leading on the cards but Turpin had been able to cut him. With Robinson seemingly losing control, he became the aggressor, knocking him down, then getting him to the ropes and unleashing numerous punches on him, causing the referee to stop the bout.
Robinson would again win the "Fighter of the Year" award for 1951.
In 1952, Robinson fought only three times and defended his title against two strong challengers, Bobo Olson and Rocky Graziano. Then, on June 25, Robinson fought one of his better fights but lost in his attempt for Joey Maxim's light-heavyweight title. Robinson fought at his natural weight of 157 pounds, giving away almost 20 pounds. The fight was held on the hottest night of the year in New York City as the temperature was measured at 104 degrees at ringside, and nearly 140 degrees under the ring lights. With spectators passing out in the crowd, Robinson outboxed Maxim throughout the fight, and was far ahead on all the scorecards, as he got closer to becoming only the third man in boxing history, with Henry Armstrong and Bob Fitzsimmons to win the title in three weight classes.
However, the heat would prove to be the downfall of Robinson. Maxim wore Robinson down by leaning on him with his greater weight throughout the fight. In an indication of just how bad the heat was, referee Ruby Goldstein suffered heat exhaustion and had to be replaced after the 10th round. In the 13th round, Robinson tired visibly and at one point in the round, Robinson missed a punch, falling to the mat. At the end of the round Robinson had to be helped back to his corner by his handlers, who tried frantically to revive him for the last two rounds. However, Robinson could not stand up to begin the 14th round and his only fight for the light-heavyweight title ended in a losing effort. The fight would be the only one of Robinson's career in which he would fail to finish.
Robinson retired initially with a record of 131-3-1-1. During his retirement, he took up numerous different hobbies, including becoming a dancer. For two and a half years, Robinson danced in Las Vegas, touring Europe as well and making an extremely high $15,000 per week for his services.
While touring in Paris, Robinson was called home due to financial troubles. During Robinson's career as a boxer, he built a business consisting of numerous ventures. Robinson was asked to return to the United States because his business, including a Cafe, Sugar Ray's Quality Cleaners, Gainford's Golden Glove Barber shop and a lingerie shop, all valued at $300,000 was said to be in financial trouble.
While touring Europe, Robinson allowed his business manager to run his business. When Robinson returned to the United States, he found that the books showed that he was missing $250,000. To add to his troubles, Robinson was in danger of foreclosures on his mortgages and was also being threatened by the IRS for unpaid taxes.
The only answer for his financial troubles was to return to boxing.
In 1955, Robinson was forced to return to the ring. He won five fights, but the "ring rust" was still there, and he lost a decision to Ralph 'Tiger' Jones. Robinson successfully bounced back, however, and after defeating Rocky Castellani by a split decision, he once again challenged Bobo Olson for the world middleweight title. Olson had been a solid champion during Robinson's absence, but Robinson retained his dominance over Olson, winning the middleweight title for the third time with a two-round knock-out.
The IRS then received Robinson's entire winnings of $81,000. They fought for the last time a year later, and Robinson closed the four fight series with a fourth round knock out in 1956. Once again, the IRS took a substantial amount of the winnings. In this case, $90,000 of the total $150,000 was taken by the IRS, thus forcing Robinson to continue boxing.
In 1957, Robinson lost his grip on the crown against Gene Fullmer. Fullmer's wild, aggressive style gave Robinson trouble, and Robinson was knocked down in the fight. Robinson, however, noticed that Fullmer was vulnerable to the left hook. In the rematch, Fullmer again aggressively stalked after Robinson, and the fight was very even for five rounds. But in the fifth, Robinson was able to win the title back for a fourth time by knocking-out Fullmer with a lightning fast, powerful left hook. Boxing critics have referred to the left-hook which knocked out Fullmer as The Perfect Punch.
Later that year, Robinson lost his title went to Carmen Basilio in 15 rounds. Robinson was to regain it for an amazing record fifth time by beating Basilio in Chicago, Illinois in the rematch, badly damaging Basilio's eye in the process and winning by decision. The first fight won the "Fight of the Year" award for 1957 and the second fight won the "Fight of the Year" award for 1958. Many feel that Robinson was never the same after the Basilio fights.
Robinson's only bout in 1959 was a win against Bob Young in Boston. Robinson was stripped of his title by the National Boxing Association (NBA), the sanctioning body, for not defending it. However, others would still consider Robinson the champion until he lost his title to Paul Pender in Boston in January 1960.
An attempt to regain the crown for a sixth time proved to be too much. Despite Robinson's valiant efforts, Pender won by decision in a rematch. On December 3 of that year, Robinson and Fullmer fought a 15-round draw for the NBA middleweight title, which Fullmer retained by draw. The NBA would later become the World Boxing Association (WBA).
In 1961, Robinson and Fullmer fought for a fourth time, with Fullmer retaining the WBA middleweight title by a unanimous decision in Robinson's last title bout.
The rest of the 1960s were spent fighting 10-round contests, including a victory over future world champion Denny Moyer and a loss to former world champion and fellow Hall of Famer Joey Giardello. Robinson also toured Europe once again.
Robinson gained nearly $4 million during his career, but by the mid-1960s he found himself nearly broke. In 1965, Robinson was forced to fight five times in 35 days in order to gain money, though he received a small amount of nearly $1,100 per fight. After losing ten rounds to Joey Archer, Robinson would finally retire.
Sugar Ray Robinson retired from the ring with a record of 175-19-6-2 (110 KOs) in 202 professional bouts, ranking him among the most prolific knock-out kings of all time. In 2003, Ring magazine ranked him number 11 in the list of all-time greatest punchers in history.
He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame and is featured on a 2006 United States postage stamp, issued in a ceremony on April 7, 2006 in New York City. He is generally considered the greatest fighter of all time, the greatest welterweight champion of all time, and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, middleweight champions of all time.
A month after his last fight, he was honored and presented with a large trophy on Sugar Ray Robinson Night on December 10, 1965 in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Robinson was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1967, two years after he retired. In 1969 he founded the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation for inner-city Los Angeles area.
Robinson was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus that was treated with insulin. In Robinson's last years, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died in Los Angeles at the age of 67 and is buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
In 1997, years after his death, Robinson was picked by Ring Magazine as the best pound-for-pound fighter of the last 75 years, beating out Joe Louis and Muhamma d Ali.
|World Welterweight Champion
December 20, 1946– February 14, 1951
Recognized by NBA
|World Middleweight Champion
Feb 14, 1951 – July 10, 1951
|World Middleweight Champion
September 12, 1951 – December 1952
Carl (Bobo) Olson
Carl (Bobo) Olson
|World Middleweight Champion
December 9, 1955 – January 2, 1957
|World Middleweight Champion
May 1, 1957 – September 23, 1957
|World Middleweight Champion
March 25, 1958 – January 22, 1960
Only recognized by New York and Massachusetts at time of title loss
- In This Corner Ray Robinson: The champions champion, The Boxing Corner.
- Kiernan Mulvaney, 50 Greatest Boxers of All Time, ESPN.com. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
- Stamp News The 2006 Commemorative Stamp Program, United States Post Office. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
- Frank Pace, August 1976, LA Sports Magazine, Keeping Pace with Sugar Ray Robinson, Hall of Fame Magazine. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
- Pace, Keeping Pace with Sugar Ray Robinson, Retrieved June 25, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Boyd, Herb, and Ray Robinson. Pound for pound: a biography of Sugar Ray Robinson. New York: Amistad, 2005. ISBN 0060188766
- Robinson, Sugar Ray, and Dave Anderson. Sugar Ray. New York: Viking Press, 1970. ISBN 0670681415
- Shropshire, Kenneth L. Being Sugar Ray: the life of Sugar Ray Robinson, America's greatest boxer and first celebrity athlete. New York: BasicCivitas, 2007. ISBN 0465078036
All links retrieved February 26, 2023.
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