The greatest of the greats can often go on for far too long, attempting to do what came so effortlessly to them once. Classic case in point: Muhammad Ali, the finest heavyweight in the long history of the sport, a man who conquered the odds on a regular basis and seemed, at one point, to be able to work miracles. Yet an ageing Ali was beaten in his last two fights, badly and sadly beaten in his penultimate fight.
Ali was 39 when he boxed his last. His idol, the only man Ali confessed was greater than he was, fought on until his 44th birthday, losing his final fight on this day back in 1965. The one and only Sugar Ray Robinson, a man who never put a foot or a hand wrong during his prime years and a good deal beyond, finally came to the realization that he had nothing left when he lost a non-title decision to a good and clever fighter in Joey Archer, who he fought in Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t quite as sad, or as pathetic a spectacle as the one that saw a badly weakened Ali offering almost nothing against Larry Holmes, but Robinson, as tough as they come as well as being so super-slick in his prime, was knocked down on the way to losing just about every single round against non-puncher Archer (apparently, Archer stated after his win over the former pound-for-pound king that Robinson was just the second fighter he had ever managed to knock down during his entire career). This was the end.
After a quarter of a century in the ring, during which Sugar Ray fought over 200 times, it was no real shock that Robinson had nothing left. Wars with the likes of Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer and Randy Turpin had taken far too great a toll on the finest of the fine.
The lesson today (not that many fighters this side of Floyd Mayweather Jr take time to listen to it) is that it’s oh, so hard to go out a winner if you stick around too long. How many greats, Mayweather aside, managed to exit with a win? Sugar Ray Leonard? No. Mike Tyson? No. Joe Louis? No. Roberto Duran? No. Jack Dempsey? No. You get the point, it’s so tough to defeat your opponent AND Father Time. Some have managed it, for a while, but even astonishing human beings like Bernard Hopkins and George Foreman suffered a defeat eventually.
If Sugar Ray Robinson was unable to go out a winner, no fighter who fights too long can expect a happy ending (Rocky Marciano got it right, though even he was tempted to come back). But Robinson, the former welterweight king and former five-time middleweight ruler, has another distinction all his own: he is universally recognized as the finest boxer of all-time. No loss at the age of 44 could ever diminish that.
As for Archer, he never became a world champion but he did twice push Emile Griffith very close in middleweight title challenges. Archer, who was never stopped, walked away with a fine 45-4(8) ledger. Joey, who managed big wins over Rubin Carter and Dick Tiger, was arguably the slickest fighter to have come out of the Bronx.