If British hero Tony Bellew sees his boxing career come to an end today, he will be in good company. It was on this day in 1965 when the curtain came down on quite simply the finest – or the sweetest – boxing career of them all; the one belonging to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. The first and best fighter to be handed the Sugar nickname, Robinson was 44 years old when he boxed his swansong, dropping a ten-round decision to a good fighter in Joey Archer.
Back in Robinson’s day there was no such thing as pay-per-view and fighters had to be content with their purse being generated by the money brought in at the live gate. And Sugar Ray, still fighting in his fifth decade largely because he needed the money, had no monster payday to console him as he met his Waterloo
Was it tougher being a fighter back then? Is The Pope Catholic? ! But Sugar has something none of today’s great fighters have – total and utter respect from anyone and anybody who knows a damn thing about boxing, or aspires to learn. Had he been around today, it’s entirely possible Robinson would have walked away with an unbeaten record, an armful of world titles and enough money to last him for decades – certainly enough money to allow him to follow his real passion, his love of dance.
Instead, after enjoying his way through career earnings of a then amazing $4 million, the man born Walker Smith Junior was a fighter who had overstayed his welcome in the prize ring. After 202 pro bouts, Sugar Ray had been stopped just once (this by the scorching heat, and at a time in the fight that would not have existed in today’s 12-round world title fights) and it was largely the incredible chin Ray had that, along with his numerous other gifts, allowed him to stick around so long and for so many fights.
In the end, Robinson paid for his overtime in the ring, battling pugilistic dementia in his later years. But far more than being a warning of what can happen to any fighter if he continues to fight for too long, Sugar Ray Robinson is a shining example of how great, how special, how celebrated a boxer can be. Not that there will ever be another Ray Robinson.
In a class all by himself, the prime Sugar Ray made it look so easy: the fighting, winning, the ability to ooze class. He may have gone out on a loss but Sugar Ray was at one time the world’s biggest, best and most admired winner in all of boxing.
Just imagine the weight divisions this king of Kings would have dominated today! From 140 right up to 168, Sugar would have been the sweetest.