Michael Rosenthal

The best of all time A to Z: Robinson

This is the 18th in a 26-part series in which RingTV.com endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment –- the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) -– demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar -– who provided input –- tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes … today’s letter: “R.”

R: SUGAR RAY ROBINSON
Lifespan: 1921 – 89
Hometown: New York
Record: 173-19-6 (108 KOs)
Active: 1940-65
Weight class: Lightweight through light heavyweight
Titles: Welterweight and middleweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 1
The thought process: Find a flaw. Sugar Ray Robinson, born Walker Smith, was as close to perfect as any fighter in history. Boxing ability? It was his skills that were “sweet as sugar.” Or, as sportswriter Barney Nagler put it: “He boxed as though he were playing the violin.” Power? 108 knockouts. His one-punch KO of Gene Fullmer might be the single greatest punch in boxing history. Chin? He succumbed to extreme heat, not Joey Maxim, in the only fight among 200 that he couldn’t finish. And, by all indications, he had all the intangibles. Discipline. Courage. Fire. Add it all up and the results are striking. Robinson, according to some sources, was 85-0 (69 knockouts) as an amateur and then started his pro career with a record of 128-1-2 (84 KOs), meaning he was 213-1-2 (153 KOs) before his second defeat. He held the welterweight title from 1946 to 1951 and never lost a fight at that weight, his only setback during that period of his career coming against middleweight Jake LaMotta in 1943. Robinson won five of their six meetings, leading LaMotta to once say about his rival: “I fought Sugar Ray so many times, I almost got diabetes.” Robinson began to look remotely human only as he approached 30 and fought as a middleweight. He won the 160-pound title by stopping LaMotta in the 13th round in the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” He lost his belt – and his second fight — to underdog Randy Turpin on a tour of Europe but won it back two months later in New York. The next year he tried to wrest the light heavyweight title from Maxim but collapsed because of 100-plus-degree heat during a fight he was winning, after which he “retired” to pursue a career in entertainment. That lasted two-plus years. He returned to win the middlweight championship three more times, for a record five total. He almost certainly was the greatest welterweight champion ever and many believe he also was the best at middleweight, giving him all-time supremacy in 25 percent of the original eight divisions. Robinson was not Robinson into his 40s but he remained a competitive fighter. He was 30-10-3 (15 KOs) (with one no-contest) after turning 40, including victories over capable Denny Moyer and Ralph Dupas. He finally walked away for good in 1965, having fought a reported 18 world champions and leaving with the admiration of fans around the world. Sportswriters first used the term “pound for pound” to make it clear that he was the greatest fighter on earth, regardless of weight. He also reportedly was the first athlete to whom the word “entourage” was attached. He traveled with a long list of characters, including a secretary, barber, masseur, voice coach, a midget who served as a mascot and his ever-present pink Cadillac. And he owned “Sugar Ray’s,” a popular nightclub in Harlem. Yes, Robinson also lived big outside the ring. Make no mistake, though: Nothing was as big – or enduring — as his boxing talent. Muhammad Ali had the ego to refer to himself as “The Greatest” but even he knew who the greatest really was, Robinson. “The king, the master, my idol.”
Five more (alphabetical order): Jose Luis Ramirez, Luis Rodriguez, Maxie Rosenbloom, Barney Ross and Tommy Ryan.
Sugar quote: “No single label for Robinson is adequate. He was boxing’s version of Rashomon; everyone saw something different: He could deliver a knockout blow going backward; he was seamless, with no fault lines; his left hand, held always at the ready, was purity in motion; his footwork was superior to any that had been seen in boxing up to that time; his hand speed and leverage were unmatchable; and on and on. There was an unaltered chemistry to Ray Robinson. He was magic; he was Hemingway’s “Grace under pressure.”

A: Armstrong: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2203/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_armstrong/

B: Burley: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2204/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_burley/

C: Charles: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2205/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_charles/

D: Duran: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2219/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_duran/

E: Elorde: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2223/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_elorde/

F: Foreman: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2227/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_foreman/

G: Greb: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2228/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_greb/

H: Hagler: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2231/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_hagler/

I: Ibeabuchi: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2238/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_ibeabuchi/

J: Johnson: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2244/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_jack_johnson/

K: Ketchel: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2248/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_ketchel/

L: Louis: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2252/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_louis/

M: Moore: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2258/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_moore/

N: Napoles: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2259/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_napoles/

O: Olivares: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2263/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_olivares/

P: Pep: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2267/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_pep/

Q: Qawi: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2271/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_qawi/

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