Sugar Ray Robinson - by Terry Pettifer
Born Walker Smith on May 3, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan, the athlete who came to be known as Sugar Ray Robinson is the consensus choice as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.
Dominant as a welterweight, Robinson's most compelling triumphs, however, came at 160 pounds, where he captured the world middleweight title a record five times and reigned on and off for nine years. A masterful all-around ring man, Robinson could jab and dance or trade punches toe-to-toe and his left hook kayo of Utah "iron-man" Gene Fullmer in 1957, rivals Rocky Marciano's right cross demolition of Jersey Joe Walcott as the most unforgettable in ring history.
Experts normally agree that only the brilliant boxing Willie Pep had as much grace and athletic ability as Robinson and the Detroit ringster is routinely rated as one of the three finest middleweights in that annals of the sport, even though he never really belonged at the weight, seldom weighing more than 154.5 pounds.
Among Robinson's most bitter rivals was Jake LaMotta, of "Raging Bull" fame, whom he fought on six occasions, despite giving away poundage. Ray won five of those grueling contests and in addition also posted wins over the likes of Carmen Basilio, Randy Turpin, Bobo Olsen and Rocky Graziano, world middleweight champions all.
Robinson regained the middleweight title for the first time after 2.5 years in retirement, and like the great Joe Louis always improved in rematches. Active between 1940-1952 and then 1954-1965, Sugar Ray compiled an overall record of 175 wins (110 knockouts), 19 defeats and 6 draws and once he reached his prime continually faced blue-ribbon competition. Moreover, 10 of Robinson's losses occurred after he'd turned 40.
In June 1952, Robinson challenged Joey Maxin for the world light heavyweight title and was ahead on points when he collapsed from heat exhaustion in the 14th round. It was the only stoppage loss on his resume of 200 bouts.
Sugar Ray Robinson died on April 12, 1989 in Culver City, California. He was 67 years old.
*NB: Sugar Ray was past his best during the sixties - as a featherweight maestro Willie Pep - and therefore neither of these ring immortals figured in the author's compilation of stand-out greats of the past 50 years.
Postscript: In 1996, "The Ring" magazine rated Robinson the greatest middleweight in history above the likes of Carlos Monzon, Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchel and Marvin Hagler.