Already looked at by many as the finest boxer in the world pound-for-pound, Sugar Ray Robinson set sail for Europe back in November of 1950. The former welterweight king, now campaigning as a middleweight, was already an amazing 115-1-2 (the loss coming at the hands of fierce rival Jake LaMotta, the draws coming in fights with Jose Basora and Henry Brimm) as he arrived in Paris, France to face Jean Stock.
Sugar’s European Tour would see the 29-year-old, in his prime star become a hugely celebrated figure in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. Over the course of two months, Robinson would box five bouts, winning them all. The tour – which saw Robinson sign off with a fight on Christmas Day – expanded Robinson’s name and fame, yet the fights also served as “warm-up” bouts for Sugar Ray. Awaiting him back in America was LaMotta, who would be defending his world middleweight crown against his nemesis in February of the following year.
Sugar Ray was adored in Paris, and his brutal, second-round destruction of Stock did nothing to turn the French fans off (they saw their countryman savaged by Sugar’s masterful handiwork, Stock being sent down three times). Robinson then went down a storm in Belgium, where he KO’d Luc van Dam in four rounds. Sugar then arrived in Switzerland, where he was forced to go the full ten rounds to defeat Jean Walzack. Then Robinson returned to Paris to halt Robert Villermain in nine rounds, before finishing his European Tour with a fifth-round stoppage win over Hans Stretz in Frankfurt.
Nowadays, a superstar of Robinson’s ilk would have had just one tune-up bout ahead of the expected war that was a sixth fight with “The Bronx Bull.” How tougher, how much more demanding the sport was even for superstars back in the golden age that was the 1950s.
Returning to the US with a 120-1-2 record, Robinson was in fine fettle for the LaMotta battle. What followed in February 14, 1951, became the stuff of legend; the brutal and exhausting fight (for both men) being recognized as one of the greatest in boxing history. Sugar Ray got the bloody stoppage in the 13th round and he soon set sail for another tour of Europe. This time, though, Sugar had a little too much fun.
After a couple of non-title fights in the spring of 1951, Robinson again arrived in Paris, where he was treated like a king. Switzerland was visited again, as were Belgium and Germany, and then the American idol fought in Italy. Robinson’s first defence of the middleweight title came in London, as Sugar Ray faced huge underdog Randy Turpin in July. The six fights Robinson had engaged in in Europe (all wins apart from a NC with Gerhard Hecht in Berlin) had taken some of Robinson’s energy, but the fun he’d had doing, well, other things whilst in Europe had drained him a little bit more.
Robinson, who was beaten by Turpin in a momentous upset, said after the fight that he had “left my legs in Paris.” Turpin stunned the world by winning a hard-fought 15 round decision over the pound-for-pound best ever. Sugar Ray soon avenged his loss, and then his simply incredible run of nothing but tough fights continued. The year following his revenge win over Turpin, Robinson boxed three times; with Sugar Ray ending the year on another loss. Robinson, seeking yet more greatness, lost as he challenged Joey Maxim for the light-heavyweight championship. Ahead on points but hitting the wall due to the burning heat that summer’s day, Robinson then retired.
It didn’t last long, and when he did return in 1955 Robinson took off where he’d left off: fighting the best, with scarcely a rest between training and fighting. The second coming version of Robinson had, get this, over 60 more fights!
Does Sugar Ray Robinson deserve to be called the greatest fighter of them all? It takes a stubborn fan armed with nothing but one immense argument to try and prove otherwise, that’s for darn certain.