Lee Groves

10: Notable Valentine’s Day fights

6. 1945 – Sugar Ray Robinson KO 1 George “Sugar” Costner, Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois

In sports, nicknames are prized possessions that bestow instantaneous – and sometimes everlasting – identity. Up until recently, however, they also were the subject of fierce territorial disputes. Although some deign to call Kobe Bryant “The Black Mamba,” boxing fans know that the nickname truly belongs to Roger Mayweather, who adopted the moniker more than three decades earlier. Longtime San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson was called “L.T.” by the younger generation but even he conceded that whenever he’s in the same room with the original “L.T” – New York Giants Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor – he was willing to defer to his elder. Neither Mayweather nor Taylor put up a major fuss against these name-squatters, but there was a time when this offense was well worth taking offense.

Such was the case with “Sugar” Ray Robinson, who was given the nickname by a sportswriter after manager George Gainford said his fighter’s style was “sweet as sugar.” For several years Robinson was considered the “uncrowned welterweight champion” and, human nature being what it is, other fighters wanted a part of his fame. One such fighter was George Costner, a lanky Cincinnati welterweight who flashed Robinson-like skills to the point that Costner appropriated the nickname for himself. When reporters began referring to him as George “Sugar” Costner, Robinson was more than a little irked.

The “Sugar vs. Sugar” match ignited a firestorm of interest at the box office as 20,193 paid customers generated a $94,000 gate inside Chicago Stadium. The bout was originally set for Feb. 7 but a sore throat prompted Robinson (52-1, 34) to ask for a one-week postponement. No matter: Once the opening bell sounded he made sure the 35-5-3 (23) Costner – who came into the match scoring 17 consecutive wins by KO in a 18-1-1 stretch – knew he would accept no sugar substitutes.

The fight was over practically before it began. A pulverizing counter hook flattened Costner in the closing moments of round one and to punctuate the point Robinson glared down at his victim as the referee administered the count. Costner tried to haul himself up from one knee but the effects of Robinson’s blow were too much to process within such a short amount of time. At the 2:55 mark it was over.

To show there were no hard feelings, Robinson invited Costner to attend his victory party and, to his credit, Costner did just that. According to author Wil Haygood’s “Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson,” the two combatants embraced and posed for photos. But if Costner didn’t get the point on this night, Robinson drove it home when they met again on March 22, 1950. The result? Robinson knocked him out six seconds quicker.

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