We’ve all heard about the boxer called the “Greatest,” the baddest man on the planet, and the Brown Bomber but Sugar Ray Robinson (born Walker Smith Jr.) was the greatest boxer of all time! Robinson’s performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions prompted sportswriters to create “Pound for Pound” rankings, where they compared fighters regardless of weight. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Robinson was one of the first African Americans to establish himself as a star outside sports. According to ESPN.com’s Ron Flatter: “He was the pioneer of boxing’s bigger-than-life entourages, including a secretary, barber, masseur, voice coach, a coterie of trainers, beautiful women, a dwarf mascot and lifelong manager George Gainford.”The Sugar Man was an integral part of the New York social scene in his day. His glamorous restaurant, Sugar Ray’s, hosted stars such as Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Nat “King” Cole, Joe Lewis, and Lena Horne among others.
Robinson was known as a flamboyant personality outside the ring. He combined striking good looks, with charisma, and a flair for the dramatic. He drove a flamingo-pink Cadillac and was an accomplished singer and dancer, who once pursued a career in the entertainment industry. His larger than life persona made him the idol of millions of African American youths in the 1950s. Robinson inspired several other fighters who took the nickname “Sugar” in homage to him such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Shane Mosley, and MMA fighter “Sugar” Rashad Evans.
Robinson was 85–0 as an amateur with 69 of those victories coming by way of knockout, 40 in the first round. He turned professional in 1940 at the age of 19 and by 1951 had a professional record of 128–1–2 with 84 knockouts. From 1943 to 1951 Robinson went on a 91 fight unbeaten streak, the third longest in professional boxing history. Robinson held the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951 and won the world middleweight title.
He retired in 1952, only to come back two and a half years later and regain the middleweight title in 1955. He then became the first boxer in history to win a divisional world championship five times, a feat he accomplished by defeating Carmen Basilio in 1958 to regain the middleweight championship. Robinson was named “fighter of the year” twice: first for his performances in 1942, then nine years and over 90 fights later, for his efforts in 1951.
Renowned for his flamboyant lifestyle outside the ring, Robinson is credited with being the originator of the modern sports “the entourage”. After his boxing career ended, Robinson attempted a career as an entertainer but struggled, and was challenged financially until his death in 1989. In 2006, he was featured on a commemorative stamp by the United States Postal Service.
The Sugar Man was a fluid boxer who possessed a quick jab and knockout power. He possessed tremendous versatility according to boxing analyst Boxing Historian Bert Sugar: Robinson could deliver a knockout blow going backward.” A TIME magazine article in 1951 said, “He was efficient with both hands, and displayed a variety of effective punches… “Robinson’s repertoire, thrown with equal speed and power by either hand, includes every standard punch from a bolo punch to a hook and a few he makes up on the spur of the moment.”
Robinson commented that once a fighter has trained to a certain level; their techniques and responses become almost reflexive. “You don’t think. It’s all instinct. If you stop to think, you’re gone.” Robinson has been ranked as the greatest boxer of all time by sportswriters, fellow boxers, and trainers. To include Hall of Fame fighters such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard have ranked Robinson as the greatest pound for pound boxer in history.
In 1997, The Ring ranked him as the best pound for pound fighter in history, and in 1999, he was named “welterweight of the century,” “middleweight of the century,” and overall “fighter of the century” by the Associated Press. In 2007, ESPN.com featured the piece “50 Greatest Boxers of All Time”, in which it named Robinson the top boxer in history. In 2003, The Ring magazine ranked him number 11 in the list of all-time greatest punchers. Robinson was also ranked as the #1 welterweight and the #1 pound for pound boxer of all-time by the International Boxing Research Organization.
Before all of the rest, the Sugar Man was the best “Pound for Pound”! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…