On This Day In 1940: The Greatest Fighter In Boxing History Has His Pro Debut

Testimony to the vast number of pro fights the legendary, incomparable “Sugar” Ray Robinson had, is the fact that, when looking up Robinson’s record on invaluable website BoxRec, one has to study three pages, not just one. The sublime, born to fight boxing master who came into the world as Walker Smith Junior but became celebrated across the globe as “Sugar” Ray Robinson, compiled amazing numbers: 173-19-6-2 No Contests (108 KO’s).

Fighting over 25 years, as a lightweight, a welterweight, a middleweight and even, briefly, in the light-heavyweight division, Robinson started in 1940 and he finally walked away, far too late, in 1965. That is one helluva long ring career.

It was on this day in 1940 when a 19 year old Robinson boxed his pro debut. Fighting at Madison Square Garden in New York (scene of so many of his future epics), against a guy from Puerto Rico named Joe Echevarria, Sugar Ray won via second-round TKO. Robinson would fight at a breakneck pace; winning five more fights that year, having 20 fights in 1941, 14 fights in 1942, six bouts in 1943, and five fights in 1944. During this time, in going to 50-1 – truly amazing for a man who had been pro for just over four years – Robinson had been beaten only by the frighteningly tough Jake La Motta, via close decision.

Of course, these two would fight six times in all, with Sugar Ray winning the other five battles.

In December of 1946, having fought a previous fifteen times that year, Robinson defeated former foe Tommy Bell to become world welterweight king. He was now an incredible 74-1-1 (the draw coming in May of 1945, against Jose Basora; a man Sugar would KO in 55-seconds in a 1950 rematch). And yet, despite his already vastly accomplished career, Robinson was really only just getting going!
(To put things in perspective: Floyd Mayweather, who dares to call himself “T.B.E,” took 21 years to get to 50-0. And imagine if Robinson had the luxury of fighting just two or three times a year; with the added benefit of catch-weight bouts. Would Robinson have EVER lost?)
Wars, classic displays of boxing brilliance, and so many world title fights were still to come; with Robinson thrilling millions courtesy of his epics battles with La Motta, Kid Gavilan, George “Sugar” Costner (“there can be only one Sugar,” Robinson told Costner; who he fought and defeated twice), Charley Fusari, Carl “Bobo” Olson, Randy Turpin, Rocky Graziano, Joey Maxim (the sole stoppage loss of Sugar’s career, this at light-heavyweight, with the blistering heat having a whole lot to do with Robinson’s 14th-round corner retirement), Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio.

Much has been written about Robinson over the years, and all but the most biased or hard-nosed critic (usually a younger fan or self-appointed “expert”) refers to him as anything other than the single greatest boxer in the long history of the sport.

That he is, and Sugar Ray’s incredible journey began all those years ago today, against Echevarria in a lightweight bout. Echevarria, by the way, finished at 4-37-5(2). Stopped just eight times, Sugar was the first man to halt the Puerto Rican.

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