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29 AUGUST 2014

 

Nostalgia vs. Evolution Part 1 - Robinson and Mayweather




By Tom Gray: The argument will carry on forever. Could a modern day champion win a fantasy fight against a long retired all time great who is still idolized by fans? Could Lennox Lewis have lived with Ali? What happens in a battle between Sugar Rays? How about Frazier vs. Tyson? Could Rocky Marciano really carry Larry Holmes jock strap? This reporter can’t think of many sports which haven’t evolved in terms of quality over the last fifty years. Soccer gets played at a higher level now than it did in the fifties, right? Can anyone deny that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player in history? Was there ever a faster runner than Usain Bolt?

When it comes to boxing this type of literal thinking doesn’t sit well with the majority of fans. All time greats such as Robinson, Grebb, Armstrong, Dempsey, Louis and Marciano are considered Gods amongst mortals. Their respective legends shrouded in unique and glorious history, magnified by countless books and documentaries. This reporter fully admits to almost shedding a tear at the end of HBO’s Bright Lights and Dark Shadows and all but idolizes Sugar Ray Robinson. He is amongst the finest to ever lace up gloves across two weight classes, welterweight and middleweight, and arguably retains the title that was coined for him - pound for pound best ever. Robinson was thirty or forty years ahead of his time; the skill, technique, versatility, punch power and accomplishments were exemplary and if he were around today he’d be a PPV superstar. Was he unbeatable though?

While attending the weigh in for Floyd Mayweather vs. Shane Mosley this reporter was privy to a conversation between two fans. One was suggesting that Sugar Ray Robinson would have defeated Floyd Mayweather “without breaking sweat”.

The other fan disagreed vehemently and said both men would have had their work cut out for them. The Robinson supporter, who was English and apparently a trainer, looked like he was literally ready to fight over the matter. The angry fan also stated that fighters of yesteryear were infinitely tougher than modern champions but provided no argument as to why this was the case. I was going to mention Arturo Gatti, Arthur Abraham and Evander Holyfield but quickly decided the conversation was beneath me. This avid Robinson supporter looked no older than thirty five and wasn’t even born when Sugar Ray was throwing punches. Like many fans he’d heard amazing stories, watched fight films, read some books and assumed that The Sugar Man could beat Superman without kryptonite in his gloves.


The original Sugar Ray competed at a time when fighting several times a month was commonplace, not just for him, but for most professionals. These days, championship fights aren’t arranged by the mob and elite fighters get paid big money, so there’s no need to fight thirty times a year.

Also, in modern boxing a super fight is signed three or four months prior to it taking place and is preceded by an orgy of promotional gimmickry and marketing. Therefore Robinson retired with a career record of 173-19-6 whereas Mayweather is currently 41-0. If Floyd fought more often would his record look any less spectacular? Doubtful! Mayweather can do everything that Robinson could do and what he lacks in hitting power is evened out with ghost like elusiveness. It was considered “a happening” when Mayweather (at 33 years of age) was momentarily stunned and wobbled by Shane Mosley. That is how good the man is, nobody expects him to get hurt in a fight. Genius should be respected whether it’s today or yesterday, correct?

Mayweather stated recently that he is better than both Ali and Robinson. That is typical Floyd but he’s not the first great fighter to rank himself highly. Muhammad Ali used to refer to Joe Louis as “slow” and “shuffling”, chastising The Brown Bomber’s fighting style. The Greatest was even less impressed with Jack Dempsey; “From what I see Dempsey wouldn’t have a chance against me fighting like that. Look at this man and look at me and you wouldn’t even rate him. This is a joke.” It must be said that the talent gap between Dempsey and Ali is massive, even the untrained eye can detect that. In Mayweather’s case is it really surprising that an undefeated, magnificently skilled, multi weight world champion and pound for pound star rates himself better than anyone past or present? I actually admire Floyd for having the guts to say what many pound for pound champions before him have probably thought.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sugar Ray Robinson will always be remembered as the first true pound for pound king, he was wonderful, and this reporter wouldn’t write him off against any man between 147 and 160lbs. His position in boxing history is both mystical and timeless so anyone being compared to him is six rounds down before the conversation starts. In fifty years time Mayweather will be armed with the same advantages in fantasy fights and another generation will label him untouchable. Very few will question this out of unlimited respect for a great old champion but will their opinions be realistic?

Please send comments to tomgray2404@live.co.uk

October 28, 2010



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