On This Day: The Incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson Wins His First World Title….At An Astonishing 73-1-1

By James Slater - 12/20/2023 - Comments

Numbers don’t lie, but they sure have changed drastically over the years in the sport of boxing. Imagine if you can, a boxer compiling a quite astonishing record of 73-1-1 before he even got a shot at a world title! This is what 25-year-old Sugar Ray Robinson did back in the 1940s.

Going pro in October of 1940, the man born Walker Smith Junior crammed in those 75 fights in the space of a little over six years. What’s more astounding is the fact that Robinson also had a 15-month military career during this period!

Enough for two full careers these days, these 75 pro fights saw “Robbie” finally get a shot at the world welterweight crown. It was on this day, December 20 1946, when the original and so utterly superior Sugar Man bested Tommy Bell via 15 round unanimous decision in Cleveland, Ohio.

Robinson – who had beaten Bell before in a non-title affair and had been beaten only by the ferociously tough Jake LaMotta, the draw on Robinson’s record coming against Jose Basora – refused to “cooperate” with the all-powerful mafia that pretty much ran the sport in those days, and he was denied a title shot for long months as a result. But Robinson was clearly the best fighter in the world, and everybody knew it, what with him having beaten each and every worthy welterweight contender out there.

It was not an easy fight for Robinson, with Bell knocking him down in the second round. Writers of the day described the fight as the toughest yet in the career of Sugar Ray, but in the end, Robinson won via scores of 10-5, 10-5 and 8-6. Robinson would box an amazing ten times as the new champ in 1947, with two of these fights being world title defenses. It would not be until 1951 that Robinson, who had since moved up to become world middleweight king, lost again.

The LaMotta rivalry ended up at 5-1(1) in favor of Robinson, but huge underdog Randy Turpin shocked the world by taking Robinson’s title via 15 round decision in July of ’51. Robinson, who had been a world champion for almost five years, was now 129-2-2. Robinson would avenge the Turpin loss via KO, and he would reign supreme for another year before the terrible heat got the better of him in a failed attempt at winning the light heavyweight crown, this in a losing fight with Joey Maxim.

Robinson would retire, only to return in January of 1955, with the greatest to ever do it, eventually becoming a five-time middleweight ruler. Robinson’s final numbers read a quite mind-boggling 174-19-6-2 no contest (109 KO).

How different was the sport of boxing back then? How especially different.

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Last Updated on 12/20/2023