Wednesday’s two fights looked at how two men coped after they won back their world titles. The first was Sugar Ray Robinson, obliged to face Bobo Olson in a rematch for the world middleweight title. After that we went to the lightweight division for a non-title match-up between rising star Joe Brown and the current holder of the world title, Bud Smith. This match would serve as something of an accurate predictor for the rematch where the belt would be on the line.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Bobo Olson Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 18.05.1956
Carl Bobo Olson showed no interest in fighting anyone but Robinson again. Due to the personal problems, such as his forthcoming divorce, Olson did not activate the 90 day clause for the rematch. The fight took just shy of six months to happen. During this time Robinson did not engage in any non-title bouts. This fight would be the fourth time overall the two had met. The first time was during Robinson’s first rise through the middleweight ranks and had been for the Pennsylvania Middleweight title. Robinson had handed Olson his first knockout, coming in the tenth round. The second time had been Robinson’s first defence of the world title after the champion had won the title back for the first time against Randy Turpin. Olson lost again, but this time to a unanimous decision. Olson eventually won the title when Robinson vacated it in a unanimous decision over Turpin. He’d successfully defended three times in addition to winning nine straight non-title fights. His only loss had been when he had attempted to go up the ranks and been handed a third round knockout care of Archie Moore.
Robinson’s return from retirement had been a rocky road but his second round knockout of Olson, who had been the 3-1 favourite, for the title had caught the public’s imagination. Both were very popular fighters and a rematch was always going to be surefire box office success, despite the fact that Olson had yet beat Robinson in their entire history together despite previously being considered the more likely victor.
Both fighters came in at the 160 lbs mark. The referee was Mushy Callahan, one judge was Tommy Hart and the other judge was Frankie Van. The fight took place at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, California, USA. Dubbed the “Million Dollar Palace” this was a baseball stadium built by chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley Jr.
Round 1 – Olson came out aggressive but Robinson wasn’t giving any ground and the two met in an early clinch. Robinson moved out and scored with a slick left jab, the second it was coupled with his lethal left hook. Robinson became the aggressor and Olson switched to a more defensive style, possibly inspired by the threat of the left hook. Robinson continued set up this technique and Olson consciously kept a high right hand. He scored with his own left hook.
We didn’t see the second and third rounds but were told by the commentator that they were both even. Olson appeared to making good on his promise and had improved since the previous battle.
Round 4- Continuing over from the previous rounds, Olson was adopting a cagier style and doing well to defend Robinson’s left hook. He tied Robinson up and went to the body. The strategy overall appeared to be to protect with the right and wear down his older opponent. However, this was not to be. Robinson threw a left jab to Olson’s chest followed by his hacking right hook to the kidney and then finally dropped the feared left hook to his opponent’s jaw. The challenger hit the canvas in an almost repeat to his previous fight’s knockdown. He couldn’t beat the count and Robinson remained world champion.
Following this second defeat (fourth against Sugar Ray Robinson overall), Bobo Olson announced his retirement. However, he would be back in 1957 to face the former world light heavyweight Joey Maxim again, winning again but by split decision this time. Following this match he lost in a knock out to Pat McMurtry and retired for another year, coming back as a journeyman in the light heavy ranks battling for contender ranking amongst the emerging young bloods.
Bud Smith versus Joe Brown 02.05.1956
Born on 18th May 1926 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Joe “Old Bones” Brown would also go on to be known as “The Creole Clouter”. However, his earliest fights would be the inherent poverty surrounding his family. After working first as a grocery assistant and then as a carpenter, he began boxing at school aged 15. His first recorded fight was a no-contest against Ringer Thompson 12th September 1941 at the Catholic High School Gym, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He then drew against George Bradford and was knocked out in the first round by John L. Robertson in December that year. Not to be deterred, he won his first fight the following year by scoring his own knockout over Kid Alphonse in round three. He then met Ringer Thompson two more times, winning both on points. The second fight, occurring on 15th January 1943 at the Victory Arena in New Orleans, is sometimes listed as his first official professional fight when he was 17. Curiously, his previous five fights are included in his professional record and this particular fight, a four-rounder, is two rounds shorter than the last one he fought against Thompson. He fought six more times before being drafted into the Navy to fight in World War 2, losing only one points decision to Midget Jones. During his time in the Navy he was involved in seven Pacific Island invasions and fought 16 bouts in the service.
After his honourable discharge in 1945, Brown returned to boxing without a lot of success. Melvin Bartholomew knocked him out in round three of his only fight in ’45. ’46 saw him lose to Leonard Caesar on points, an opponent he had twice beaten before his drafting. However, ’46 ended with him winning seven of his 10 fights that year. He drew with Caesar in their fourth match and then beat him again in their fifth. He also beat he old vanquisher, Midget Jones, on points and lost to Buster Tyler on points. He would draw with Tyler at the beginning of ’47 and continued his checkered career with another loss to Bartholomew and then a stunning points victory over the future legendary three-time lightweight world champion Jimmy Carter. However, his next fight saw him stopped in the second round by the fearsome future two-time featherweight world champion, Sandy Saddler. He’d then beat Caesar again and finally defeated Bartholomew. These two victories were followed by five more in a row. However, from this point until the end of ’48 he lost more fights than he won. The last of these was a fourth round knockout loss to Johnny Bratton.
1949 saw Brown begin to make his gradual climb through the lightweight ranks. He won nine of his 10 fights that year and drew once against John L.aBroi. Over the next seven years, he won most of his fights on this very rock road and these included notable victories against Teddy “Red Top” Davies, future welterweight world champion, Virgil Akins (twice), and Isaac Logart.
Meanwhile Wallace “Bud” Smith was not having a good time of it after defending his title for the second time against Jimmy Carter. Carter, one of the most talented lightweights in history, had lost another controversial decision to Smith who had won the title from him. Smith fought three non-title fights in a row before putting his title on the line. His first was a split decision loss to Larry Boardman, 1956’s number 2 rated lightweight, followed by a round nine knockout care of former world welterweight champion, Tony DeMarco.
Joe Brown appears to almost fit the puncher-boxer mould with his record of decision wins keeping just on the edge of an out-boxer. However, his knockout record is probably marred by his lack of experience in the early years where he wasn’t properly managed, lost time to his war service and did not get an opportunity to refine his craft through an amateur career. He had an undeniably hard punch that he could execute in classic fashion, but this did not become prominent until he had matured as a fighter. However, Brown’s greatest weapon was his jab which he used to great effect against Smith in this fight.
Wikipedia has this to say about Brown: “The skilful Brown, standing a lanky 5 feet 7½ inches, with a long reach and solid left hand, came to be viewed as dangerous – too dangerous by some astute managers who frequently appeared to steer their charges away from meeting him. Several times, Brown quit in despair during his thirteen-year wait for a shot at the title.”
Brown was currently ranked at number 10 for the title. Brown’s official record was 76–19–10 (3) and Smith’s was 31–15–6. Being the underdog, Brown had a fair amount of sentimental support from the crowd. He had a reach of 68″ that matched Smith’s, although he came in lighter.
Round 1 – Brown took to the outside and picked off clean jabs throughout the round. Smith did little other than hold the centre of the ring.
Round 2 – Smith seemed to be doing a better job of blocking in round 2 and pressed the fight. However, Brown boxed clever from the outside and displayed some excellent evasive skills and punching. This time the left hook and left uppercut added variation to Brown’s lead shots.
Round 3 – With Brown winning the first two rounds with ease, he began the third chapter with a display of hit and run tactics. However, the plodding Smith finally got his moment and struct with four hard punches that slowed his opponent down at the midway point.
Round 4 – Rolling over from the tempo change in the previous round, Smith seemed to be taking over and the two were now trading. The champion was the heavier of the two, having taken this and his previous two non-title matches over his regulated championship weight. However, despite seemingly fighting on Bud’s terms, Joe was now showing his upper body evasiveness and getting the champion to miss more at this range. Smith suffered a split lip.
Round 5 – Brown attempted to move the fight back into his range, but Bud Smith was determined to pin his man down. He took a lot of punishment on the way in and adopted a more swarmer approach in his strategy, going for Joe’s body to slow his opponent down. Nevertheless, Brown came out on top in the hit and miss department. This was evidenced by Smith now experiencing bleeding on the inside of his mouth.
Round 6 – The strategies were obvious at this point, but Smith’s plodding was not aggressive enough to dominate Brown. However, by the end of the fight the clinching and in-fighting was on.
Round 7 – The round saw Bud Smith go down and it is arguable that perhaps Joe caught him with an uppercut. However, it was not ruled a knockdown. For the most part Brown worked from the outside, only entering a slugfest at the end.
Round 8 – Brown showed his command of the fight at this point. He was now putting together two-punch combinations and landing them with a lot of success. A regular counter-fighter, he tried to bait Smith a lot although this wasn’t always fruitful. The champion looked frustrated.
Round 9 – Brown was ahead on points and largely played a defensive game here. However, Smith wasn’t very forthcoming with his attacks. The cornering and wearing down strategy did not appear to be working now. All that had happened was Smith had accumulated damage.
Round 10 – Smith appeared desperate and out his depth in the final round. His courage and power weren’t in denial but Brown was clearly the better fighter and this round showed it as he hit and got his opponent to miss with regularity.
The Associated Press reported: “Joe Brown from New Orleans, used a vicious right, a strong left and a sharp defense Wednesday night in scoring a popular decision over lightweight champion Wallace (Bud) Smith in a nationally televised 10 rounder. Smith, losing his third straight overweight fight, received a cut lip and a swollen left eye. Smith had no comment about a title rematch but broke into tears of disgust after reaching his dressing room.”
Brown won by unanimous decision and earned his right to challenge for the title. Thinking him less of a threat than Boardman, Smith’s management agreed. Brown won on a 15 round split decision becoming the new undisputed world lightweight champion. He would give Smith a chance to win back his belt in his next fight, their third encounter, in 1957.