By James Slater: Eighty-six years ago this month, Sugar Ray Robinson, arguably the single greatest boxer of all time-was born in Ailey, Montgomery County, Georgia.
Robinson was born Walker Smith Jnr on May 3, 1921 and it was also the month of May that Robinson produced the finest performance of his legendary career, as well as the finest exhibition of knockout punching ever witnessed in the ring.
Fifty years ago this month, Robinson knocked out the rock-chinned Gene Fullmer with one superb punch at the Chicago Stadium, and thus regained the world middleweight title from the man he‘d lost it to four months earlier. What is also mightily impressive is the fact that Robbinson’s awesome display came at a time when he was a 37 year old veteran. For my legends feature this week, I recall Sugar Ray’s clinically delivered knockout.
The former champion and now challenger was under pressure from the first bell as the much younger Fullmer advanced in his usual rough handed manner. The first four rounds saw the reigning middleweight king working at a very active rate, while the ageing Sugar Ray bided his time and looked for openings. What happened when he found one was something no-one had been expecting.
With Fullmer right on top of him as he had been in the first four rounds, Ray took a step back and then flashed out a stunning left hook. The crunching blow landed flush on Fullmer’s exposed jaw and he went down as though shot with a gun. Never has a more exquisite one punch knockout been captured on film. Gene hit the canvas and though instinctively he tried to rise, he was totally gone. As he tried to climb to his feet his right glove remained stuck to the canvas. It looked to all the world as though there was a hundred pound weight in his glove, such was the visual effect of him trying to stand. After an agonising looking struggle Fullmer crashed face first back to the canvas. The fight was over in the fifth round.
Ray Robinson had produced the perfect punch. He was also the new, and now four-time, middleweight champion of the world. Only three years shy of his 40th birthday, ’Sugar’ had looked sweeter than ever! For his part, Fullmer had no recollection of either the left hook that flattened him or his incredible struggle to get up. He was to share with us later how, when he’d come to, he had looked across the ring and seen Ray pumping his arms in the air as he celebrated victory. Gene, in his still dazed state, had thought how super fit Sugar must have been, exercising in between rounds as he was! That just goes to show how incredibly groggy a Ray Robinson punch was capable of making a fighter,feel. Gene had been KO’d for the first time in his life and he said the sensation was one he did not relish the idea of experiencing ever again!
The two did meet again though. Twice more. They fought again in December of 1960, with Ray looking unfortunate to have been given only a draw, and in March of the following year, with Fullmer winning his second unanimous decision over Sugar Ray.
Four times they may have met in total, but it is the second fight of the series that is by far the most famous.
Fifty years ago this month the perfect punch was unleashed. The knockout it caused remains the greatest ever seen in a boxing ring - even half a century later.