For so many historians, Sugar Ray Robinson ranks as the single greatest fighter of all time. The man born Walker Smith could really do it all: he could take a shot, he could move like lightning, he could fight on the inside, he could fight coming forward, he could fight going backwards, he had immense reserves of stamina, he often fought at what can easily be looked at as a reckless pace. And Sugar Ray could punch.
In over 200 pro fights, fought over a 25-year pro career, Robinson scored a stunning 109 knockouts. Yet Sugar Ray’s lethal fists were never sweeter than on the night of May 1, 1957.
Having been quite badly beaten, battered even, by the tough-as-nails Gene Fullmer in January of 1957, 37 year old Robinson craved revenge for the 15 round decision loss he had suffered. Already a former welterweight king as well as a three-time middleweight ruler, Robinson was an amazing 140-5-2 coming into the rematch with 26 year old Fullmer. But was he past his best, ready to be beaten again by the rough and tough warrior from Utah?
The exquisite punch Robinson landed in the fifth round of what had until that point been a close fight is the absolute stuff of legend. We are so fortunate the cameras were rolling when the shot and the knockout took place. Indeed, it can be argued – and it has been, by many people – that the left hook and the KO Sugar Ray scored with it is the finest knockout ever captured on film. Robinson banged a right hand into the 40-3 Fullmer’s body, and then, in a flashing blur, the greatest to ever do it unleashed his textbook left hook.
The punch landed flush on Fullmer’s jaw, exposed as it had been for just enough time, and the defending, soon to be ex-champion fell. Fullmer was sent down hard, falling in pieces and coming to rest on his back for a second, before he rolled onto his side, his right glove holding him half aloft, with the out of it fighter then falling onto his face. Fullmer said later he never saw the punch and he had no recall of his attempts to push himself upright.
It was a knockout that was as brutal as it was beautiful.
The KO would have been memorable had Robinson laid out a decent fighter; the fact that Sugar Ray ruined, with one masterful punch, a man with as great a chin as Fullmer possessed makes the KO all the more impressive, all the more in a class of its own. In a career that saw him have 55 wins, 6 losses, and 3 draws, Gene was stopped just twice: by Robinson and, in his final fight, by Dick Tiger, this via corner retirement.
65 years ago today, Robinson ruined an immensely durable fighting man, a primed and peaking fighter who had just comprehensively beaten him, and he did it with a single punch. When watching the knockout all these years later, the left hook knockout still sends a buzz down the spine.