Was Sugar Ray Robinson the greatest boxer ever?

Boxing author Wil Haygood was speaking on Off the Ball

BY Simon Maguire 21:03 Wednesday 7 December 2016, 21:03 7 Dec 2016

Sugar Ray Robinson (RIGHT) in action against Randolph Turpin in 1951. Image: ©INPHO/Allsport

Sugar Ray Robinson is generally regarded as the best boxer who ever laced up a pair of gloves.

His record reads like an international phone number: 173-19-6 (108). He compiled an amateur record of 85-0, stopping 69 of his opponents. 

He turned professional when he was 19 and by the age of 30 be had compiled an almost unbelievable record of 128-1-2.

He went on a 91 fight unbeaten streak between 1943 and 1951 and held the world welterweight title for five years. He became middleweight world champion in 1951.

Speaking of Robinson, author of "Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson" Wil Haygood said: "His career was epic. He fought against various weight classes...he was a black prize fighter."

"The people who controlled boxing, the mobsters, wouldn't give him a shot at the title in 1940 because they thought there was already too many blacks at the top of the heap."

"He had to fight against talent. He had to fight against other great fighters. He had to fight against racism - he surmounted all of that" he added.

Asked about what made Sugar Ray the legend he is today, Haygood said: "He was quick. He would throw a left and you wouldn't see it coming...Sugar Ray Robinson perhaps had the fastest gab anywhere. He also was a very sly fighter. He knew how to set the other fighter up."

"He was humble, he was very humble...he could also take a punch," he added.

Remarkably, he was an incredibly active fighter: "He fought sometimes three, four times a month. The fighters nowadays might fight two, three times a year." 

"He was much admired all over the world in Europe, Spain, France and I think that was for the simple reason that he had such style." 

Like any of the greatest fighters in history, their rivals make them who they are. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Ray Leonard dueled with Roberto Duran and Gene Tunney squared off against Jack Dempsey.  

Robinson engaged in a memorable six fight series with Jake LaMotta, winning five of their gruelling bouts. 

Speaking of the rivalry with LaMotta, Haygood said: "It was one of the more titantic battles between two fighters in the history of fighting. They fought 6 time and Jake LaMotta won one of those fights."

"It was so bloody in Chicago that it became known as the St. Valentine's Day massacre." 

"He was quicker than Jake. He wasn't as powerful or as strong as Jake but he could wear him down. Sugar Ray Robinson was always in excellent shape. That's the reason he won those fights."

"Those fights were fought in the 50s at a time when boxing was the number one spectator sport in the world."

Speaking of the early difficulties experienced by Robinson at the start of his pro career, Haygood said: "It was hard because the people who ran boxing in New York City. They already had Joe Lois at the top of the heap and a lot of people bout tickets to see white prize fighters."

"And so Sugar Ray Robinson had to fight through that but he was that good that when he started winning..a lot of people wanted to come and see him fight." 

"He knocked back the racial angle but then he had to wait 6 years before he got the title bout."

As where he stood in the pantheon of boxing greats, Haywood said: "Hands down I think he is the best fighter of all time."    

Off The Ball

Newsletter

The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week