During his legendary, and very long career, the simply incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson fought many hard-hitters – fellow greats like the recently departed Jake La Motta, Rocky Graziano, Gene Fullmer and many, many more.
Despite his willingness to face the most dangerous, heavily-equipped sluggers of his day, however, Robinson was stopped just once: this by light-heavyweight Joey Maxim, when the torturous heat got the better of Robinson, forcing him to remain on his stool after the 13th-round of a fight he was winning handily on points.
But who hit Robinson the hardest during his 174-19-6(109) career? During his dazzling prime, Robinson hit the deck on occasion, yet he always got up – usually to win. But there is one man who hit Sugar so hard he almost never made it back to his feet after being dropped: a guy named Artie Levine from Brooklyn New York.
Levine, a pro from 1941 to 1949, never ever fought for a world title, but he did face Robinson in a middleweight encounter in November of 1946. It was during this quite amazing (and controversial) fight that the peerless Robinson says he got hit the hardest he’d ever been hit in his entire boxing career.
In the 1970s, when both were long retired, Sugar Ray and former foe Rocky Graziano met on a U.S T.V show hosted by Curt Gowdy and co-hosted by legendary announcer Don Dunphy. It was on this show that Ray said, while being asked who hit him hardest, that “It was a guy named Artie Levine. You remember him, Rocky?”
Well, Graziano sure remembered the name, and Robinson himself had good reason to. Robinson recalled how, when he’d been decked and badly hurt in the 4th-round of his fight with Levine, that he came to at the ref’s count of five. “Gee,” Ray said, “I thought, this guy’s starting off at five!”
It was a great line (as was Ray’s “when you fight Rocky Graziano, you either be sharp or you be flat!” quip), but in all seriousness, Robinson may have been legitimately KO’d that November night of 71 years ago this very week (Nov. 6 1946). Many older fans may have read about this fight before, but seeing Robinson on the Gowdy show (courtesy of You Tube) sure provides interest in this often overlooked moment in Sugar’s career.
In the 4th-round of the fight, Levine cracked Robinson with a left hook to the head followed by a right cross upstairs and down when the Pound-for-Pound best-ever. Then, the referee, Jackie Davis, instead of beginning a count, walked Levine to his corner, then walked back to Robinson to start the count. It is estimated that Ray received a count of close to 20-seconds.
Was Levine cheated out of a history-changing victory? Very possibly. In any case, Robinson, in a tough fight, came back and KO’d Levine in the 10th. Artie, trained by Charley Goldman of Rocky Marciano fame, never had another fight as high profile; retiring in 1949 – having lost five of his last 12 bouts. The Brooklyn man’s final career record reads 52-15-5(36). Levine passed away in January of 2012 at the age of 86.
An amazing part of the amazing career of boxing’s finest-ever fighter, the Levine-Robinson fight is worthy of being far more than a mere footnote.