Tuesday night’s “Learn from the Fight” gave us arguably Sugar Ray Robinson’s toughest fight since he first fought Jake La Motta, as he put his world title on the line against the great Randolph Turpin.
After his sixth and final bloody match with Jake La Motta, taking the World Middleweight Championship, Sugar Ray Robinson beat Americans Holly Mimms by unanimous decision and Don Ellis in a first round KO before embarking on a European tour. Now a legitimate superstar, Robinson had his own night club in Harlem known as “Sugar Ray’s”, where he would park his famous pink Cadillac, and would only travel with his entourage in tow. Said Cadilliac and entourage would join him on tour. This included his personal hairdresser, a dance instructor, a golf coach, a singing coach and, for whatever reason, a hired dwarf nicknamed “Arabian Knight”.
He fought seven times in six weeks before he defended his title at the tour’s finale at Earl’s Court Arena, London. He stopped Kid Marcel in round five in Paris, won a unanimous decision over Jean Wanes in Switzerland, and stopped Jan de Bruin and Jean Walzack in Beligium in rounds eight and six respectively. In Germany knocked Gerhard Hecht down with a right-hand kidney punch in round one. Hecht was carried back to his corner and given one minute to recover in addition to his one minute respite between the rounds. In round two Robinson dropped the German again with another shot to the kidneys with his right hand. Amidst shouts of foul from Hecht’s corner, the referee waved the fight off and the ring was showered with bottles and other debris from an angry crowd. Robinson was escorted to his dressing room by the police where he was told he had been disqualified. The referee had told Robinson that he had to do this in order to get out of the ring alive. The West Berlin Boxing Commission changed the fight to a “no-contest” result the next day, making it Robinson’s first on his record.
The following week he fought the Belgian, Cyrille Delannoit in Turin, Italy. Delannoit was at the end of his middleweight career. He became quite the celebrity and a national hero for Belgium. He was the first man to defeat Marcel Cerdan after 104 straight victories and won the European Middleweight title in process. He would lose it in a rematch to Cerdan but win it back against the Dutch boxer, Luc van Dam before losing it one more time to the Italian boxer, Tiberio Mitri. Delannoit retired on his stool in round three of his contest with Robinson. His glory days were over.
Robinson’s opponent was Randolph Turpin, born on 7th June 1928, standing at 5’9½”with reach of 74½”. As per his nickname, “The Leamington Licker”, Turpin was born and fought out of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. To this day a bronze statue commemorates him in Warwick’s Market Square. The reason for its position in Warwick and not Leamington will be later revealed along with the surprising origin of his nickname.
Turpin had a black father and a white mother. His father, Lionel, originally came from Guyana, a British colony before 1966. After fighting in the Second Battle of Somme in 1918 as part of the Warwickshire Regiment of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, Lionel was hospitalised with injuries to his lungs caused by a gas attack. Soon after leaving hospital he met and married Beatrice Whitehouse. He was reportedly the first black man to settle in the area. They had five children but Lionel died of capillary bronchitis and emphysema in 1929. With only a small war pension, Beatrice had to work all day as a cleaner and her children had to split between relatives. However, Beatrice would remarry in 1931 and reunite the entire family.
Randolph, the youngest of the five children, spent most of his childhood in nearby Warwick, where he went to school. His grandfather on his mother’s side had been a bareknuckle boxer and Beatrice apparently installed in all her children an attitude of standing up for themselves against the racial abuse they would suffer. The eldest of the children was Lionel Jnr who was the first to become a professional boxer, fighting under the name “Dick Turpin”. He fought as a middleweight, winning the British and Commonwealth titles, and finishing his career in 1950 with 104 fights, including 77 wins, 20 losses, six draws and one no-contest. His most notable opponents included Tiberio Mitri, Albert Finch, the aforementioned Cyrille Delanoit and Marcel Cerdan. He is also regarded as the first black fighter to win the British title, although Len Johnson had won the British Empire title previously. The second eldest was Joan, followed by John who also became a professional boxer under the name “Battling Jackie” Turpin. Jackie fought at featherweight from 1941 until 1954 129 times, winning 86, losing 35 and drawing eight. He was trained by Mick Gavin and would also go on to train his son, Jackie Turpin Jnr. They had another sister, Kathleen, and then Randolph. In addition to the racial abuse, Randolph also almost drowned when he was child, leaving him with a burst eardrum and almost dying of pneumonia and bronchitis.
His nickname, “The Leamington Licker”, apparently came from his inability as a young child to say “littlest”. Joan, Jackie and Randolph were all born in June but Randolph’s birthday was the earliest in that month. He figured that made him the eldest but Joan would tell him he was the “littlest”. This would lead to a fight with Randolph proclaiming he wasn’t “lickerist” hence the “Licker” title having nothing originally to do with his boxing prowess.
All three of the brothers sparred in a makeshift gym outside the back of their house before moving to the Rose and Crown and then Sgt Arthur Batty’s converted shed. This old building was part of a sweet factory; called Nelson’s that Batty converted into a gymnasium. He made use of all the discarded metal found at the factory, creating weights and ingenious devices for strength conditioning. At a time when weight training was frowned upon by a lot of boxing coaches, Batty was a pioneer and had some medical training as well as completed a course on physiotherapy. His father had owned the nearby paper shop the boys had done their paper rounds with and they had a business relationship with Nelson’s. Batty launched Nelson’s Gymnasium and the Turpin boys made it their training home. A good deal of their impressive physicality has been credited with the conditioning work they did at Nelson’s.
All the Turpin boxers cut their teeth on the fairground boxing booth circuit. Indeed, this would be the same place Jackie Turpin returned to in ‘70s when his son couldn’t get a licence. It seems that Dick mainly handled Randolph’s training. He officially began his amateur career fighting at the Leamington Boys Club and continued fighting when he joined the Royal Navy in World War 2. Prior to joining the Navy he had worked as a labourer on building sites. His official title in the Navy was as assistant cook, but he was mainly allowed to continue training for his upcoming fights. All in all he fought around 100 amateur contests. He fought first at welterweight, winning three national junior titles and one senior national ABA title. This was the only time this had happened and the rules have since changed not allowing juniors to compete as seniors. He won the senior ABA middleweight title in 1946 and also won a first round knockout in an international television competition with the USA. He turned professional that year and was managed by Dick’s manager, a local man called George Middleton. However, he also officially remained employed by the Navy until 1948.
All three Turpin boxers appear tohave had good defensive skills, Jackie being the most obvious example of this as he had to fight much larger opponents. However, Randolph developed into an aggressive slugger. This he put down to the work he put in with his strength training at Nelson’s and 44 of his 66 wins were by knockout. He sacrificed some of his footwork mobility for a peculiarly wide stance that allowed for more power and, when coupled with his elevator style level changing, allowed for a lot of upper-body mobility.
He won his first 15 bouts, the majority by a stoppage and usually a straight KO. After drawing with Mark Hart, he won his next three straight fights and then experienced his first professional defeat when he fought Albert Finch in 1948. He then beat Alby Hollister in an eight round points-victory before losing to Jean Stock the same year. His Stock fight was his worst performance to date, getting knocked down four times and retiring on his stool in the fifth round. This is the same Stock we saw fight during the last lesson on Robinson, where Sugar Ray had knocked him out in the second round with little effort two years following the victory over Turpin. Turpin’s defeats were put down to the messy divorce he was having his wife and the fact that she had been granted custody of their son. They wouldn’t be divorced until 1953. He had told Dick that he was probably going to lose to Stock and took a five month break from boxing following the defeat. Three years previously, Turpin had tried to commit suicide by drinking liniment following an argument with his then fiancée. The incident had been ruled as accidental and he wasn’t charged with what was then considered to be an offence at the time.
Turpin returned to the ring with vigour. He had immersed himself in Batty’s strength conditioning and came back stronger than ever. He won 12 bouts before challenging Albert Finch to a rematch and the British Middleweight title. This time he knocked Finch out in round five. He won three more matches before beating Luc van Dam for the vacant European Middleweight title. Next, in 1951, he avenged his humiliating loss to Jean Stock with a fifth round knockout before knocking out Billy Brown and Jan de Bruin to retain his European belt. Jackie Keogh was then stopped in round seven just one month before he was scheduled to take on Sugar Ray Robinson for the world title at Earls Court Arena, Kensington, London.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Randolph Turpin 10.07.1951
Robinson was 31 years old and weighed 154lbs. Randolph Turpin was 23 years old and weighed 159lbs. It was noted that Robinson did not train much for his fight. He was followed by one photographer who said that all he saw him do was play golf and be carried around by the police due to being mobbed wherever he went. By contrast, Turpin had studied the champion profusely by watching films of his fight and yet went unnoticed with virtually no build up to the fight. This despite the fact that the fight was well attended and even George VI reportedly tuned in on the radio to listen to the play-by-play. Whereas Robinson had his colourful entourage and was mobbed wherever he went, Turpin quietly travelled by tube to his fight like any other attendee. Robinson’s purse for the fight was $84,000 whereas Turpin’s was $25,000. Robinson went in as the 4-1 favourite.
Robinson’s greatest problem with Turpin was his superior reach and his unusually wide stance. Robinson, it has been noted, had trouble with pressure fighters and Turpin, unlike his brothers, especially fitted that category. Turpin’s condition was also a big factor. He was strong, younger and would demonstrate superb stamina in their fight despite having never gone longer than eight rounds so far in his career. Robinson later remarked on Turpin’s strength. Furthermore, Turpin’s study of Robinson’s style allowed him to formulate an effective game plan for timing his power jabs over the champion’s low left hand guard and right hand leads. He also aimed to spoil Robinson’s explosive combinations by tying him up.
Round 1 – Turpin was shown to be relaxed and cut Robinson’s mouth. He demonstrated an up and down elevator style with Robinson mainly scoring with light lefts.
Round 2 – Turpin kept the pressure on and appeared the stronger of the two as they clinched.
Round 3 – Turpin showed a keen defence to Robinson’s low shots dropping levels. Robinson caught him with a sharp left that almost sent the challenger down. There was lots of roughing up in the clinch with plenty of head shots. This got both men warnings in the clinch. Then Turpin later caught Robinson with a left hook of his own, creating a swelling under Robinson’s left eye. Robinson left the round with swelling under his eye, bleeding from the nose and mouth.
Round 4 – Again Turpin landed some heavy shots and pressed his opponent, bullying him a lot in the clinch. Here is where a lot of the damage was done. Although both used out-boxing styles, Turpin was clearly opting to swarm and spoil Robinson’s attempts to fight from the outside.
Round 5 – Turpin caught Robinson with an overhand early in this round that caused a fair amount of damage to the champion. Robinson’s hands were faster but he had trouble adapting to Turpin’s elevator style of switching levels. Again, Turpin landed some punishing blows that won him another round. Once in close, Turpin was back to delivering head shots with his overhand. At a distance his peculiar lunging jabs were continuing to aggravate Robinson’s bloodied and swollen face.
Round 6 – Robinson tried to pick up the pace but his signature techniques were not landing. Here we saw a demonstration of how much Turpin’s style was aggravating him as the champion repeatedly missed with his quick jab and almost lost his balance with his famous straight arm hook. Turpin was using his excellent upper-body movement and elevator tactics to good effect in addition to the usual clinching and rabbit-punching to throw Robinson off his stride.
Round 7 – This is the round that most note Robinson realised he needed to up his game with Turpin and turn things around. Turpin still seemed to dominate in the clinch and did well to bob and weave from Robinson’s punches. The gash over Robinson’s eye also opened up more due to an accidental head-butt. Prior to the end of the round, Robinson landed some sharp punches to the body and excelled in some outside rallies.
Round 8 – Robinson switched styles, going to Turpin’s body more and using an uppercut. Having looked tired in the previous round he came out with renewed vigour at the start of the eighth. He circled more on Turpin, landing a right uppercut in an exchange. He back-peddled around the challenger, looking more in control as began landing upward shots in response to Turpin’s level changing. He also tried to play for time in the clinch but Turpin was as active as ever at this range. Robinson continued to find his mark with the right uppercut.
Round 9 – The first time Turpin had gone over eight rounds in his professional career. He certainly didn’t show signs of tiring and, in fact, was clearly the fresher of the two. Nevertheless, Robinson was fully engaged and fighting back against his younger, stronger aggressor. At one point he landed a perfect right hook at long range that caught Turpin on the chin. Robinson’s rights continued to land and this time Turpin looked hurt. At one point Robinson’s uppercuts resembled bolo punches. This was Robinson’s best round so far.
Round 10 – Robinson continued to send his shots to the body. This time Turpin began to back up. The challenger seemed slower now and Robinson’s strategy seemed to be working, although it has been speculated that this might have been down to Turpin’s unfamiliarity with having fought for this length of time in a single bout. Robinson took this round.
Round 11 – Turpin came back much harder this round, scoring lefts and rights to Robinson’s head and renewing his pressuring. Using his elevator bobbing again he ducked several of Robinson’s jabs and beat him to the punch, eventually landing a left hook that hurt the champion. Robinson immediately retreated out of range with Turpin in pursuit. This didn’t last for long. Robinson came back hard again.
Round 12 – Turpin began to move things back up a gear again, having coasted somewhat since round nine. Robinson just missed with a left and looping right before circling round, finding his range and landing it hard on Turpin. The challenger was hurt and clinched to recover. Robinson began to follow Turpin as he dropped levels.
Round 13 – Again, Turpin was on the advance and pressed Robinson who was also aware of how serious this fight had become. Turpin dropped almost to the canvas as he came up with an uppercut that that caught the champion on the chin. After breaking from the clinch, he continued the offensive and wobbled Robinson with his power jab but he back-peddled out of trouble. Turpin continued to rough up his opponent in the clinch and Robinson did well to endure, eventually breaking away to edge of range. He caught Turpin with a stinging left hook as he continued to circle round. It was noticed that Robinson’s low digs to the stomach were pretty much ignored by Turpin who had studied the champion’s films and saw them for the distraction they were intended.
Round 14 – Turpin still looking the fresher of the two came with some powerful left hooks that connected with Robinson’s jaw. Robinson tried to press the fight but so did Turpin and the latter won the exchange in this round, showing himself to be far stronger. He ragged the champion around in the clinch and pressed with his power jab at long range. Turpin kept dropping and Robinson forgot to match him, ending up in punishing entries to more damaging clinches. The champion was definitely looking very tired by this time. Yet he gathered himself together again and tried to launch an offensive from the outside with his jabs and left hooks, but they were missing by a mile. At one point Robinson tumbled forward into a guillotine hold. He still showed tremendous heart and kept the round competitive to its end.
Round 15 – At this stage, Robinson must have realised that he was in need of a knockout. The problem was he lacked the weight and the wind to stop the stronger Turpin in this round. Turpin was not going to clinch to hold on. He was doing it to continue actively bully his opponent and to spoil his long and mid-range assaults. Mind you, we could see that Turpin was more than happy to match Robinson at these ranges too. Not only did he exchange with Robinson here, but he even did some circling and back-peddling work of his own for the first time, demonstrating how much energy he still had in reserve. By the end it was great to see the two fighters hug each other as the bell went, not in a battling clinch but as a show of respectful sportsmanship. There was no question who had won the day as Turpin’s arm was raised by the referee.
Turpin won on points over Sugar Ray Robinson in a stunning upset. This was Robinson’s first defeat at middleweight and the second defeat for the entirety of his career. Randolph Turpin was the new undisputed World Middleweight Champion. This was the first time a British fighter had won the World Middleweight Championship since 1891 when future world heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons took the belt. The inscription under Turpin’s statue, erected in Warwick market place in honour of his achievement, reads: “In palace, pub and parlour, the whole of Britain held its breath.”
As per the clause in their contract, a rematch was hastily arranged just 60 days later.
This important day in boxing history where the first black Britain won the world middleweight championship was commemorated this year Parliament. This article also mentions the fact that the great Muhammad also paid his respects to Randy Turpin when he visited Warwick in 1983.