This Week In Boxing: The Birth Of A Legend

Fighters legacies are often debated, pound for pound standings and  Who would have beaten who in their primes conversation is everlasting.  These hypotheticals and debates will seemingly go n forever and without any answers. However, there is generally one fighter whose name is untouchable and untarnished. Sugar Roy Robinson, even after more than 50 years since he last fought, a 1964 loss to light hitting Joey Archer in the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, The original Sugar Ray is still considered the number one pound for pound fighter that ever was.

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May 3rd, marks the 97 birthday of Sugar Ray Robinson, who was born Walker Smith Jr in 1921, in Ailey, Georgia, to Walker-Smith Sr. and Leila Hurst. Robinson’s parents separated when he was a child and he moved with his mother to Harlem when he was only 12. By the Time Ray was 15, he tried to enter his first boxing tournament but was told he needed an AAU membership card. However, he could not attain one. Robinson who was forever resourceful circumvented the rules and borrowed a birth certificate from an old buddy named Ray, Walker Smith Jr would assume the name, Ray Robinson. It was during his amateur career that he was told that he was sweet as sugar by a lady attending his amateur bout in Watertown, NY. Giving birth to the legendary nickname “Sugar Ray”

Robinson completed his amateur career with a record of 85-0, winning Golden Gloves titles in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. Robinson’s first professional bout occurred in 1940. He was 19 and was paid $100 about $1700 in today’s dollars. Robinson fought five more times that year, winning four by knockout. By 1942, he faced the rival he would go on to face six times throughout his career: The Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta. (LaMotta once joked he fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times “I almost got diabetes.”) During their first fight, Robinson beat LaMotta by unanimous decision closing out 1942 with a record of 14-0, he was named The Ring magazine’s Fighter of the Year for the first time.

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Robinson was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He served alongside his boyhood idol Joe Louis. The two legendary fighters would put on boxing exhibitions for the troops in Europe. Robinson often fell afoul of military regulations and got in trouble when he refused to perform unless Black troops were also allowed to attend. He was honorably discharged. In 1946 Robinson finally won his first title, claiming the welterweight championship taking a 15-round UD over Tommy Bell.  He was scheduled to fight World Welterweight Champion Marty Servo at Yankee Stadium on September 6th. Servo pulled out in one of the most noticeable and publicized cases of ducking at that time. Servo pulled out with a nosebleed and retired. Maybe Keith Thurman should try the nosebleed excuse in lieu of fighting pence. In a 1947 title defense, Robinson accidentally caused the death of challenger Jimmy Doyle. Robinson tried to pull out of the fight claiming he had a premonition Doyle’s death.

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From 1943 to 1951 Robinson had a 91 fight unbeaten streak. Holding the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951, and winning the world middleweight title late in 1951 by scoring a 13th round TKO over Jake LaMotta. Sugar Ray would retire in 1952, for two and a half years. Returning to the ring in 1955, Robinson quickly became the first boxer in history to win a divisional world championship five times by taking apart the legendary Carmen Basilio in 1958 to once again capture middleweight gold.At a time in his career when most fighters his age would be considered way over the hill, Robinson fought and won epic battles against some of the most feared and legendary fighters of the entire 20th century like Gene Fullmer, Jake ” LaMotta and Carmen Basilio.Robinson was named “fighter of the year” twice: first for his performances in 1942, then nine years and 90 fights later, for his efforts in 1951. By, 1951 he had compiled a professional record of 128–1–2 with 84 knockouts.

The phrase “pound for pound” was created by sportswriters for Robinson to try and do the unthinkable, compare him to heavyweights. A phrase and title that is used by all boxing fans and pundits today when talking about who are the best and most accomplished fighters in the world. More than five decades since his list win, Robinson still holds the title as best Pound for pound fighter in the world of all-time. Hall of Famers Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Roberto Duran and Ray Leonard all credit Robinson as being the best pound-for-pound fighter in history. Ring magazine did the same in 1997.  He was named “welterweight of the century” and “middleweight of the century”, and overall “fighter of the century” by the AP. ESPN also ranked him as the number one fighter of all time and the International Boxing Research Organization ranked him as the number one welterweight and the number one pound-for-pound boxer of all time by.

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Robinson transcended all barriers. He was the worlds greatest boxer and the first celebrity athlete. He was The Beatles and Muhammad Ali rolled into one. He was beloved as an athlete, an entertainer and as a man. Robinson was first in this modern that was broadly accepted across all racial lines. He crossed the color barrier during the late 1940s and early 1950s. These very, very turbulent times and doing so was almost unthinkable. Robinson was friends with the likes of Frank Sinatra (who credits Robinson for saving his life), Jackie Gleason, Nat King Cole and the biggest stars of the day. “He was flawless, he was seamless,” says legendary boxing journalist Burt Sugar. “He was the sweetest practitioner of the sweet science… I once saw him knock a man out going backward, which is like Nolan Ryan throwing a pitch falling away to second base.” Ray Robinson was diagnosed with diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. He died April 12, 1989, at 67. He will certainly never be forgotten. Thanks for the memory RIP champ.

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