Was there ever a greater, indeed sweeter fighter than the original Sugar Ray, Ray Robinson? To this day, fight historians, fans, fellow fighters … in fact just about everyone with any interest in boxing, they all bow down willingly and give the man born Walker Smith Jr the distinction of greatest boxer ever. And with good reason. Sugar Ray was untouchable as an amateur (most listings have him at an astonishing 85-0(40) at amateur level), and he was unbelievably brilliant as a pro; at both welterweight and middleweight.
But becoming world champion was no easy task for Sugar Ray. Far from it. In fact, it took Robinson no less than 76 pro fights – that’s right, 76 – to become world welterweight champion. And Robinson had to go through, or get through, the likes of Jake LaMotta, Sammy Angott, Marty Servo, Fritzie Zivic, Henry Armstrong (a faded version) and…..Tommy Bell, before finally getting his hands on the crown. Robinson defeated the tall, rangy and skilled and tough Bell in a January 1945 ten-rounder, this by unanimous decision.
Then, on December 20th 1946, 25 year old Robinson again met Bell, with the vacant welterweight championship on the line (Servo had retired, thus vacating the crown). Dubbed “The Uncrowned Champion” for around five years, Robinson had a tough time of things with Bell. Decked in the second-round that night in New York, Sugar Ray had to dig deep over the course of 15 hard rounds. Bell was a terrific fighter in his own right and he was able to drag Robinson into a war.
Bell, 39-10-3, had beaten Zivic, he had twice dropped decisions to LaMotta, and he had recently beaten an underrated fighter in California Jackie Wilson. Bell was as determined to win gold as Robinson felt it was his right to hold the title. It proved to be a great fight, and a testing fight for both men. Robinson returned the favour of being knocked down in the 11th round and Sugar closed the fight strong. In the end, the judges awarded Robinson a unanimous decision win, with the scores being 10-5, 10-5 and 8-6-1 for the new champ.
And Robinson, now 74-1-1 and only beginning his championship reign, would not lose for almost five years, over the course of over 50 fights! And Robinson, by the time of his shock loss to Randy Turpin, had done defending the welterweight title and had won the middleweight crown. Sugar Ray truly was an exceptional fighter. One of a kind. The best to ever do it. The Greatest.
But Tommy Bell should also be remembered. Bell pushed Sugar Ray hard, twice, and he compiled amazing numbers of his own. At one point in his career, Bell won 34 fights on the spin. At another point in his pro career, Bell scored five knockouts over the course of just five days! Bell retired with a 53-29-4(32) record in 1951. He was stopped just seven times.
Bell passed away in July of 1994, some five years after Robinson died.