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24 APRIL 2018


Ray Robinson: The champions’ champion

By Patrick Kehoe: As the year 2000 approached most major sporting publications and news organizations published their "Best of the Century" in every imaginable category blanketing sports, indeed every human endeavor. Such was the need to give a quantifiable review of that which had characterized the very best in human achievement in the last century of the Millennium. For with the invention of the camera giving rise to the cinematic universe, then television and satellites bringing the phenomena of broadcasting and amplification to the global community we never had to forget the images and events that marked the passage of the now transgressed modern world. Inside that emerging electronic vista, the seminal fighter of the 20th Century, the one deemed it's most accomplished exponent on poll after poll was found to be "Sugar" Ray Robinson.

When we consider Robinson, 175-19-6 2NC (109), from any standpoint be it statistical, journalistic, anecdotal or even mystical no other fighter can compare. Ray Robinson was the summation of the first half of 20th Century boxing and the profit of the second half. Take a survey based on categorical measure of any of the best fighters you wish and try to find a better overall package, I dare you. Robinson simply was and is the yardstick of technical mastery, scintillating power, effortless movement, raw boned toughness, inventive combination punching, essential courage, with a peerless ring intellect that made him a champion for longer than many top fighters even box.

"Ray Robinson was the best. When you look at greatness and talent and courage he's how we define it in boxing," Bouie Fisher told SecondsOut before his charge Bernard Hopkins knocked out Felix Trinidad in September.

"He was so good, such a supreme talent, they had to invent the idea of being the pound for pound best in boxing to do justice to his stature in the fight game traditionally dominated by heavyweights," was how Larry Merchant described it to me in December, 2000.

Muhammad Ali himself, the self professed "Greatest" - always acknowledged he meant he was the greatest heavyweight, the fastest heavyweight of all time, but that his boy hood hero Ray Robinson was the greatest fighter of all time. We remember that in the ring as he prepared to face Sonny Liston for the world title in 1964, with Ray Robinson being introduced, Ali bowed to Sugar Ray, who glided over to shake the challengers hand good luck. It was a signature gesture enacting a sign of deference to the man he considered thee champion of the boxing ring.

Robinson's numbers alone are staggering. In his first 123 fights (121-1-2), he was defeated only once by middleweight Jake LaMotta, whom he defeated on 5 other occasions. And from 1943 till 1951 Robinson was undefeated in 93 straight contests. Just as incredibly, in those first 123 pro contests the Sugar Man scored a total of 78 knockouts. Ring historians always hasten to add that in the mob ruled club-boxing scene of the 1940's, in which Robinson came to maturity, he was often 'expected' to not knockout certain fighters under fear of reprisals. And he's a snapshot: in his first 40 fights the future welterweight and middleweight champion defeated 7 former or future world champions.

One of the real tragedies of boxing history is that almost no footage of Ray Robinson in his absolute welterweight prime from 1945 to 1950 exists. But in his captivating run of middleweight epics spanning the 1950's, we can glimpse the majesty of this formidable a boxer-puncher, extrapolating how truly unique Robinson must have been during the 1940s.

Jesse Abramson, in 1951 described Robinson as "the ultimate in ring class, an artist who can do everything, move, hit, defend, think and all of it with swiftness, precision and poise."

Most writers who admired the class and artfulness of his boxing never forgot to mention his ruthless savagery and penchant to dominate. The smile blinded, the fists laid waste.

Born Walker Smith in Detroit, May 3, 1921 - growing up in New York - the man who became known as Sugar Ray Robinson built his legend on speed of foot and hand, balanced out by an uncanny sense of distance and inventiveness fueled by a raging hunger to shine. With a laser like left jab he could hook of his lead and knock a fighter cold, even granite-jawed ones such as Gene Fullmer. When he wanted to get down off his tap dancing toes and wad in with his combinations he could out land any other fighter of his generation. Vain about his looks and sporting an entourage that was the precursor to every Rock and Roll star there after, Robinson never backed down from waging war on the inside against Rock Graziano or Carmen Basilio. Speed did not translate into defense at all costs with the prime Robinson.

Instinctively aggressive, Robinson flowed effortlessly from a circling jab-right cross left hook offense into a flurry of crippling hooks to the body and head. His favourite punch to the body was the right-hook to the liver, then a short left hook on the inside to keep you honest.

Watch the early rounds of Robinson's middleweight winning bout February 14, 1951 against Jake LaMotta [the St. Valentines Day Massacre] and see if you don't see the blue print for Muhammad Ali a short decade later. Beyond the entourage, the pink Cadillac, self-management, Greek drama losses and victories, glamorous looks, ethnic pride, Ray Robinson was the ultimate boxer. His peers despised his talent, style, arrogance and tendency to relegate them into obscurity. Boxing professionally from lightweight to light heavyweight he set the standard for all time. If the greatest is the fighter judged to have dominated over the longest time frame while defeating the best fighters... well... it's all admittedly a subjective thread of contention tied to a welter of speculation knotted as a theory. Still, brutalizing ability, hall of fame opposition vanquished and durability over time embodied are the elements of absolute greatness, surely? But just to make sure check Robinson's resume, read the names, consider the results. He was and remains a boxer's yardstick.

Read Anthony Evans arguing that Ali was the greatest of all time >>

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