On This Day: The Greatest To Ever Do It Passed Away

By James Slater - 04/12/2024 - Comments

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the death of the greatest fighter who ever lived, the greatest fighter to ever do it – Sugar Ray Robinson. No matter what anyone says, and we all know everyone has an opinion, if Robinson is not placed somewhere in your top 5 greatest fighters list, you shouldn’t be writing such a list. It’s that simple.

Robinson had absolutely everything a fighter could wish to possess: speed, grace, thunderous punching power in both hands, a great chin, astonishing stamina, genuine heart and desire, toughness, flair, flamboyance, longevity, the ability to box and to slug it out in the trenches. I could go on and on.

Born Walker Smith Jr in May of 1921, Robinson fought under his borrowed named of Ray Robinson when he acquired the ID of a fighter who, unlike himself, was legally old enough to box. The “Sugar” monicker came later, when someone at ringside observed how “sweet” Robinson was, and how he should be called Sugar.

After a hugely impressive amateur career that is listed at a spellbinding 85-0 (69), Robinson went pro, the teenager boxing his first paid fight in October of 1940. So many of Robinson’s early fights, his welterweight fights from when he was at his dazzling best, do not exist on film, and this is a crying shame. But Robinson, who fought for 25 long years, did have many of his big fights filmed.

As a welterweight, Ray was practically untouchable, with him famously losing just one of his first 132 pro bouts, the loss coming in Robinson’s second fight with key rival Jake LaMotta. As a middleweight, Robinson won the crown no less than five times. Sugar Ray took on and defeated superb fighters such as, LaMotta, Sammy Angott, Marty Servo, Fritzie Zivic, Tommy Bell, Henry Armstrong, Kid Gavilan, Bobo Olson, Holly Mims, Randy Turpin, Rocky Graziano, Gene Fullmer, and Carmen Basilio.

Robinson was way ahead on points in a fight for the world light heavyweight title, when the evil heat caused him to collapse against Joey Maxim in 1952. And of course, Robinson arguably gave us THE greatest one-punch KO ever captured on film, this when he iced the rock-chinned Fullmer in a rematch after Robinson had lost the first fight on points over 15 rounds.

Robinson’s wars with Basilio were genuinely X-rated affairs. Robinson carried on too long, in love of the limelight, the money, and the acclaim. Finally walking away in 1965, with a 174-19-6-2 no contest record, in which he scored an amazing 109 knockouts, Robinson gave the world so many special fights and performances.

It’s been written many times and is hardly original, but there was only one Sugar Ray Robinson, and the likes of him will never be seen again. Robinson was not all that old when he passed, just 67 in fact. Ravaged by Alzheimer’s, Sugar Ray had literally given his entire life to the sport of boxing. And the sport we all love so much is much the richer for it.

Robinson at his best made the often ugly sport of boxing look as beautiful as ballet. Robinson when he was no longer the fresh dancing master and had to dig in in order to win, gave us some of the most brutally thrilling fights ever seen. Everyone has a favourite Sugar Ray Robinson fight (mine is the sixth and final battle with LaMotta, Sugar’s exquisite KO over Fullmer being second choice) – and why not?

Robinson gave us so many epics. For as long as boxing survives, Sugar Ray’s name will be spoken in reverent tones.

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