6. Sugar Ray Robinson – World champion (February 14, 1951-July 10, 1951, September 12, 1951-December 1952, December 9, 1955-January 2, 1957, May 1, 1957-September 23, 1957, March 25, 1958-January 22, 1960)
If one was to assemble a list of boxing’s most perfect fighting machines, Robinson would be at the very top. He had an overabundance of speed, reflexes, timing, footwork, power in both hands, ring intelligence and combination punching. But as wonderful a fighter as Robinson was, he wasn’t the most wonderful middleweight champion, especially when it came to consistency. One look at the previous paragraph proves that.
By the time he destroyed Jake LaMotta to win his first 160-pound belt, Robinson was at the tail end of his zenith, a zenith no other fighter could comprehend. That he still had enough in the tank to remain at world-class level for another 10 years speaks to his wondrous skill set but the Robinson that campaigned at 160 wasn’t the Robinson that lit up the welterweight division for the better part of a decade.
Here’s a stunning stat: From the time Robinson beat LaMotta in February 1951 to his final middleweight championship fight in March 1961, Robinson was 23-8-1 with one no-contest overall and just 8-6-1 in middleweight title fights – and three of those wins came against Carl “Bobo” Olson.
Robinson’s presence in the middle of this list is a nod to two realities. On the one glove, he showed a tremendous capacity for bouncing back from adversities – he knocked out Turpin and Fullmer in rematches and outlasted Basilio in THE RING’S 1958 Fight of the Year. Also, three of his six middleweight title losses were split decisions. But on the other glove, he lost more than his share of important fights at middleweight, and on a list like this one that cuts deeply.