By Douglas Ward, Marketing Director at TITLE Boxing*
His fundamentally sound fighting style, combined with blazing hand speed and knockout power in both hands, established Sugar Ray Robinson as what many would consider, pound-for-pound, the greatest fighter of the century. He was also one of the pioneers of modern-day boxing.
Even the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali described Ray Robinson as, "The king, the master…my idol." Robinson’s influence on him and many of today’s fighters can still be seen and was absolutely instrumental in some of the liberties boxers of today experience. He was one of the first fighters to begin making demands, dictating his own terms and creating his own rules about how the game would be played. Inside and outside of the boxing ring, Ray Robinson left an indelible mark as a trend-setter, torch-bearer and everlasting example.
Although Robinson had actually been born Walker Smith, Jr (he had no middle name), he learned early on in his career and quest to become a fighter, how to work the system in his favor. When he was just fifteen years old, three years too young to legally fight, he tried to enter his first boxing match and when asked for his AAU membership card (to prove that he was an amateur and not a professional), his coach submitted one from a fellow fighter who no longer showed up at the gym. The certificate he used had the name “Ray Robinson” on it, so from that day forward, that’s who he became. He later picked up the additional nickname of “Sugar” after knocking-out a highly-regarded amateur from Canada who was stopping all of his opponents. At 118lbs. Robinson was giving up eight pounds against a bigger guy, but after stopping him in the very first round with a left hook, a New York sports editor told Robinson’s coach, “That’s a sweet fighter you got there. A real sweet fighter.” A lady sitting ringside overheard the comment and added, “As sweet as sugar!” You can guess how his name read the next day in the paper. “Sugar” Ray Robinson would ultimately go on to amass an amateur record of 85-0 with 69 of his victories ending in a knockout, 40 of them in the very first round!
Turning professional in 1940 at the age of nineteen, Robinson raked up a professional record of 128–1–2 with 84 knockouts by 1951. In that span he began setting new rules in the business of boxing, as it related to the hot commodity called Sugar Ray Robinson, becoming the first fighter to demand and receive a percentage of television, theater and gate revenues. And by the mid 1940s he was commanding an unheard of $50,000 per fight.
He was one of very few fighters at that time, who had enough power and pull on his own that we was able to avoid any mafia ties and outright denied them the ability to have any control over his career. Robinson also understood the value of diversification and the power of leveraging his boxing popularity. In addition to a few ventures into the song and dance and entertainment field, he was also able to capitalize on his celebrity by owning a literal city block of businesses in Harlem. Among a few were; Sugar Ray’s Quality Cleaners, the Golden Gloves Barber Shop, Sugar Ray’s Bar and Grill and Sugar Ray Enterprises.
Robinson was able to accomplish and maintain all of this, while remaining a rising star, at the top of his game. From 1943 to 1951 Robinson was unbeaten in ninety one fights, the third longest streak in boxing history. He held the welterweight title for five consecutive years, from 1946-1951 and was the five-time middleweight champion between 1951 and 1960. His historic battles with Jake LaMotta, who he fought six times and won five of them became instant classics. He took on the best in the game and, during his reign, boxing was long on talent and toughness. There was no mention of a “bum-of-the-month” club when fighters like Kid Gavilan, Gene Fullmer, Randy Turpin, Carmen Basilio were all lining-up for their shot at Robinson’s title. He was the man-to-beat for two decades and was thirty-eight years old when he won his last middleweight title.
After having amassed a career record of 173 wins, just 19 loses with 108 knockouts Robinson finally retired in December of 1965 at the age of forty four. Sugar Ray Robinson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and has left a boxing legacy as sweet as anyone could have every imagined.
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*This post was originally published on December 15, 2014