It was thirty years ago today when the one and only Sugar Ray Robinson passed away. The man born Walker Smith Junior was a relatively young man when he died at age 67, yet the numerous ring wars had begun to take their toll on Robinson in the late 1970s, 13 or 14 years after the former welterweight and middleweight king had finally retired – this after an astonishing 201 pro bouts.
Robinson died due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease. History, though, remembers Robinson for his elegance, his ring beauty, for his unrivaled greatness. Simply put, nobody – nobody – did it like Sugar Ray. Look at the list handed in by any boxing historian, and Robinson’s name sits commandingly at the top of the greatest of the great. The untouchable welterweight and five-time middleweight ruler is above Ali, Leonard, Louis, Duran, Monzon and Mayweather. And so he should be.
Why was Robinson the greatest?
Just look at the opposition of the man: Jake LaMotta, Gene Fulmer, Henry Armstrong (admittedly a faded version), Fritzie Zivic, Tommy Bell, Rocky Graziano, Bo Bo Olsen, Joey Maxim, Randy Turpin, Sammy Angott, Carmen Basilio and so many others. Robinson didn’t win all of his fights, but he only failed to avenge two defeats suffered during his prime – a loss to light-heavyweight champ Maxim, who beat Ray with the assistance of the scorching heat that day in June of 1952, and Ralph “Tiger”Jones, who won an upset non-title decision over Ray during his comeback and was never given a return.
The amazing level of ring activity he had is another thing that made Robinson so special. Fighters fought far more often back then compared to these days, and Sugar Ray once boxed an incredible three times in as many weeks. The fact that twice during this spell his opponent was the monster-tough LaMotta makes it all the more mesmerizing.
But above all when it comes to Sugar’s greatness is his style, his class, his ability to put poetry into motion – the fact that he could do it all. Fight going forward? Certainly. Fight going backwards ( and score a killer KO whilst doing so – see his knockout for the ages over Fulmer in 1957)? Yes. Take a great shot himself? No doubt. Fight on the inside? Yeah. Indeed, whether he was boxing like a ballet dancer or was punching like a destroyer, Ray Robinson was the master. Great balance, blinding speed and killer accuracy and seemingly limitless stamina were other assets belonging to the king of kings.
His kind will almost certainly never be seen again. Sugar Ray Robinson: 174-19-6(109).
Pro debut 1940, final fight 1965. Lived 1921-1989.