Sugar Ray Robinson scored so many scintillating knockouts, too many to keep track of without reaching for the record book. The original, and, for many people, the ONLY Sugar Ray, took out Gene Fullmer with arguably the finest, most expertly placed left hook in boxing history. Sugar Ray wiped out too many fine welterweights to be able to list in a single article, and Robinson destroyed excellent middleweights like Bobo Olson and, in a savagely exquisite display of punching prowess, Jean Stock; this in Paris, on Sugar Ray’s European tour.
But some people point to the job a 31 year old Robinson did on the tough-as-nails Rocky Graziano when it comes to his most memorable KO.
Robinson and Graziano met in Chicago on this day (April 16) 70 years ago. Robinson was making the second defence of his second reign as middleweight king – having won the title by brutalising Jake LaMotta, then losing to Randy Turpin in a monumental upset, before stopping Turpin in the rematch to become a two-time champ – and former champion Graziano was a very live challenger/underdog/fan favourite.
Graziano – who would be immortalised in the classic flick “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” – had fought three barbaric fights with Tony Zale, winning one and losing two. Since the nasty third round KO loss he had suffered at the hands of “The Man of Steel,” Rocky had strung together a record of 20-0-1, with wins over Charley Fusari, Tony Janiro (two wins, this after boxing a draw with Janiro), and Henry Brimm. At age 33, Graziano was still a top contender. And he wanted a shot at Sugar Ray as much as the fans wanted to see it.
Robinson, an insane 131-2-2 going into the fight with Graziano, who was 67-8-6, was still pretty much at the peak of his powers, and most experts felt he would deal with Rocky in any manner he chose. As it turned out, the two legends engaged in a short and sweet slugfest.
Graziano was a barrel of aggression, as always, looking to land his bomb of a right hand on Robinson. Sugar Ray, who often went into the trenches when his silky skills could have/should have seen to it that he stayed away from the battlefield, met Rocky head-to-head and the fight was on. For a little under three rounds, these two were pretty evenly matched. Sugar Ray had the way faster hands, and he stung Rocky with shots upstairs and down in the opener. But Graziano, almost as bull-like as LaMotta (and what a pity these two never fought), bossed the next round with his sheer determination and rage.
Then, in a torrid third, fans witnessed an explosion of violence. Robinson opened up with desire, his blazing hands hurting his challenger, forcing Rocky backwards. But then, having temporarily lost his head after stunning his man, Ray, open and unprepared, was tagged by a Rocky right hand. Sugar Ray went down, for a brief second, with no count given by the referee – before the greatest to ever do it regained his composure and let loose with two swift left hands that steadied Rocky, with Sugar then crashing home with a bullseye right hand.
The beautiful shot landed smack, bang on Rocky’s chin, sending his mouth-piece flying. Graziano’s body went limp and then he fell to the mat. When on the canvas, Rocky tried his best to get his legs going – with him literally kicking his right leg in an attempt at getting it to function. But it was over. In a blur, Robinson had been downed and he had then put his rival’s lights out. Graziano never knew where he was for some time.
It was a good fight, one that had some drama, which was in turn followed by a sweet KO.