It’s no myth, instead a true story, that Paul McCartney, arguably the finest songwriter of the 20th century, dreamed one of his finest compositions: ‘Yesterday’ And it’s no myth, instead a true story, that Sugar Ray Robinson, arguably the finest boxer of the 20th century (if not of all-time) dreamed ahead of one of his word title fights that he would actually kill his opponent: Jimmy Doyle.
In no way are these two stories related, yet both tales remind us how the power of the mind, the subconscious mind, cannot be underestimated. And yet Ray Robinson was talked out of listening to his own. The story differs – Sugar either had the disturbing dream the night before the tragic Doyle fight or three nights before – but the fact is, Robinson, the world welterweight king, wanted out. As in out of the fight:
“I woke up in a cold sweat, yellin’ for Jimmy to get up – get up – get up! My yellin’ woke me up, I guess. And the sight of Jimmy lyin’ there on the canvas in the dream seemed so real that I had the jitters when I woke up. And I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just laid there, tossin’ around in bed.. And I felt lousy the next day. And in the back of my mind I felt scared every time I thought about the coming fight.”
A quite vivid and chilling recollection of the dream Robinson had, without a doubt. Yet the fight went on. A priest was summoned, Sugar Ray was assured it was ‘only a dream’ and Doyle was permitted to meet his fate. The fight took place on June 24th in 1947 and Robinson scored a KO that was as chilling as his bad dream had been. Doyle crashed in the eighth-round, a clinical and devastating left hook doing the job. To make matters worse, Doyle’s head bounced off the canvas with a nasty thud as he hit down.
The 22 year old never regained consiousness and he passed away the next day. It had been Robinson’s first title defence.
Immediately after the fight, a shocked and dazed Robinson informed reporters of his premonition by dream, letting out a good deal of the emotion he had managed to bottle up as he engaged in the fight he strongly felt in his heart would end in tragedy. Amidst fresh calls to ban the sport – Doyle was the first fighter to die in a world title fight – Robinson quietly set up a trust fund, the money to go to Doyle’s parents; $50 a month over ten years.
Asked after the fight if it had been his intention to “get Doyle in trouble” (this the basic equivalent of asking a succesful football striker, after a match, if he had intended to score goals), Sugar answered, “Mister, it’s my business to get him in trouble.” Robinson was soon exonerated of all blame for Jimmy’s death.
The sport rumbled on despite the cries of outrage and Robinson, though initially a little gun-shy, went on to secure his place in boxing immortality. Doyle had been a fine fighter, a skilled contender who had wins over the likes of Tommy Bell and Lew Jenkins. Yet Jimmy had been stopped in a March, 1946 fight, by Artie Levine (interestingly, years later, as a guest on a TV show, Sugar Ray said Levine was the hardest puncher he himself ever faced) – and it’s entirely possible the damage had been inflicted in this fight, and that Robinson was facing an injured man.
An injured man never to recover.
All these years later, and who knows what might have happened if Robinson had had his way and skipped the fight. Robinson was never a fight fan, as he said himself many times, the sport being too brutal for the man born Walker Smith Junior to enjoy watching. Sugar really wanted to be a dancer, yet his sheer, unparralled skill in the ring proved irresistable; to him, to the fans and to the sport’s paymasters.
In no way did Sugar Ray Robinson ever enjoy knocking out any man. Least of all Jimmy Doyle.
Jimmy Doyle: 1924 to 1947
Ray Robinson: 1921 to 1989