Sugar Ray Robinson 1940-1946 (diary entry)


220px-Sugar_Ray_Robinson_1966Tonight’s learn from the fight/fight history lesson shone its light on Sugar Ray Robinson. Using what scant and poor footage there was available of Robinson during his pre-title welterweight years, we reviewed highlights from four fights.

Born Walker Smith Jnr., he changed his name to Ray Robinson in order get an Amateur Athletic Union membership card when he was just 15. The card was denied to fighters who were under 18. He borrowed a birth certificate from an older friend called Ray Robinson. Years later he gained the “Sugar” nickname when a lady in the audience of one of his fights in Watertown, New York, said he was “As sweet as sugar”. His family moved from Ailey, Georgia to Detroit when Robinson was a child. Apparently he lived on the same block as a teenage Joe Louis. His parents separated and Robinson went to live with his mother in Harlem, New York when he was 12. Robinson joined a street gang as a teenager was married by the age of 16 and had a son, Ronnie, but divorced when he was 19. His boxing idols were Henry Armstrong and Joe Louis. He was sometimes known as the Harlem Hurricane, which bears some similarity to Armstrong’s Hurricane Hank moniker.

Robinson’s unsung main trainer was Harry Wiley.

Robinson is usually defined as a boxer-puncher due his superb outside footwork combined with his undeniable knockout ability. He usually led with a hooking jab and then piled on huge wide punches. These shots were delivered at such speed and precision it was difficult for his opponent’s see them, but they were also camouflaged by the fact that Robinson would often change his target i.e. he would turn a haymaker into an overhand right. However, he was an excellent all-rounder who was comfortable fighting at all ranges.

In 1939 Robinson won the New York Golden Gloves Featherweight Championship, defeating Louis Valentine on points.

Sugar Ray Robinson versus Andy Novella 1940 Golden Gloves Lightweight Final

We began our look at the great Sugar Ray by viewing highlight footage from the finals of the Golden Glove tournament. Round one saw Novella open with a short right and a push that sent Robinson down on one knee. However, Robinson was quickly up and taking the fight to his opponent. A few savage flurries inside a clinch turned into Robinson dominating with a powerful lead hook. At the end of the first round Novelle was sent down by a powerful rear uppercut/lead hook/rear hook/lead hook combination. Robinson continued to take the lead in round 2 and a powerful overhand sent Novella followed by a swift combination sent him down again. The next time, Robinson didn’t hang around and went straight in with an even more dynamic overhand that sent Novella down and out.

This was Robinson’s final fight as an amateur where he had a record of 85-0 amateur with 69 knockouts. Robinson stormed through the professional ranks winning most of his fights by knockout or technical knockout. His 20th fight saw him defeat World Lightweight Champion Sam Angott by decision in a 10-round non-title bout in 1941. Angott was an 80 professional fight veteran at the time and had won the vacant title when Lou Ambers had been stripped of it when he refused to defend it against Davey Day. Robinson’s next noteworthy opponent was Marty Servo who he beat on a unanimous decision.

Robinson then went on defeat Fritizie Zivic twice in the same year. Zivic had won the Welterweight World Championship the previous year by defeating Henry Armstrong by technical knockout. He beat Armstrong again in their rematch when he first defended the title. Zivic finally lost the title on points to Freddie Cochrane in 1941. He won his next fight against Milt Aaron before fighting Robinson the first time. The match finished with unanimous decision to Robinson. Zivic would fight three more matches, winning two and losing one, before meeting Robinson for a rematch at the beginning of 1942. This time Robinson would put him away via a technical knockout in round 10.

Sugar Ray Robinson had now beaten a newly dethroned world welterweight champion, a man who had decisively ended Henry Armstrong’s time at the top. His record was 27-0.

After three TKOs and one KO, Robinson faced Marty Servo again. He won the rematch, but it was on a split decision. Servo’s boxing career would be interrupted by World War 2. When he came back he would win the undisputed World Welterweight Championship, but then made the mistake of immediately going for the middleweight division where the formidable and much heavier slugger, Rocky Graziano cut his career short. Graziano knocked Servo out in round 2, severely damaging his nose. Servo fought twice more, but he couldn’t get over his over injuries and his last fight saw him knocked out in the first round by journeyman Joe DiMartino.

Back in 1942 Robinson outpointed Sammy Angott again. He continued what seemed to be an unstoppable rise for the rest of the year. However, on the way he would meet his famous rival and future World Middle Champion, Jake La Motta, in 1942 and beat him by unanimous decision. After finishing the year off with four more victories, tidying up most questions regarding ranked contenders in the welterweight division Robinson went into his rematch with La Motta on 5th February 1943 with an incredible professional record of 40-0 in just under three years. However, this time matters were quite different. Robinson was giving up 16lbs and was dominating in a near repeat performance for the first seven rounds. However, La Motta’s swarming style really ramped up in round eight and just ahead of the bell he put Robinson down with a right hook to the body. Almost definitely saved by the bell, Robinson held on for the remaining two rounds and lost the unanimous decision along with these undefeated record. However, he would be back for La Motta before the month was out after putting away another opponent. This time Robinson got the unanimous decision as he had done the first they met, but La Motta was still able to knock his man down in round seven for an eight count. One of boxing’s most memorable feuds was on and it would outlast this decade.

With a record of 44-1, Robinson got an opportunity to face one of his all-time heroes, Henry Armstrong. Armstrong, observers noted, was now past his prime. He had a record of 134–18–8. He had lost the last of his three titles, the World Welterweight Championship, to Fritzie Zivic in 1940 and then their rematch in January 1941. Since then and for the rest of his career he would not fight another match that was scheduled for more than 10 rounds. Journalists noted that the usual rowdy and excitable crowds of Madison Square Gardens who watched the fight showed surprising restraint in the way Robinson clearly held back when fighting his idol, winning every round and claiming a unanimous decision.

Robinson’s winning streak continued into 1944 and he met Jake La Motta again with a 54-1 record. Robinson went in as the 3-1 favourite and clinched a third victory over his rival, once again by unanimous decision. This time, it was noted, the fight was more one sided with La Motta only putting Robinson in danger in round six when he pummelled him into the ropes.

Robinson would receive his first draw in his next match when he went up against the hugely overlooked and largely forgotten Jose Basora. Basora was a Puerto Rican middleweight who had also fought Jake La Motta twice in two spectacularly bloody confrontations. The first one had been a draw and Basora won the second on points. Basora would then fight Ezzard Charles the same year in a terrible mismatch. Charles was a weight division climber who began his career as a featherweight and end up as a light heavyweight. A light heavyweight – it should be noted – who would dethrone Joe Louis to become the World Heavyweight champion. Back in 1942 he beat Bosara by technical knockout in 1942.  The following year La Motta would get a unanimous decision of Bosara in their rubber match.

Moving to 1945 and Robinson took an early lead in his fight with Bosora who he would later say was tough, not as tough as La Motta, but tough enough. In round five Bosora hurt Robinson and began to turn the fight around. By round 10 Robinson had to pull out all his reserves to avoid losing and inching in a draw. Bosora would fight La Motta a fourth time, but by now it would appear that the Bronx Bull was at his destructive peak and won by technical knockout in in round nine.

After Robinson receiving his first draw against Bosara he won his next four fights, two by TKO, one by KO and one by unanimous decision.

ray robinson 4Sugar Ray Robinson versus Tony Riccio 1946

We viewed scant and poor footage of Robinson’s fight with Riccio from 5th February. Riccio appears to have been a journeyman with a record of 50 wins, 37 losses and 13 draws. The footage is taken from ringside. Prior to round 4 we see a spirited defence from Riccio keeping his head low and trying to land with his right, but Robinson easily slips his punches. Round 4 was all Robinson pummelling Riccio to a knockout.

ray robinson 2Sugar Ray Robinson versus Cliff Beckett 1946

On 27th February Cliff Beckett was knocked out by Robinson in round 4. Of the three journeymen, Beckett showed the most promise, although that might be down to the quality of the footage. He appeared to be more on out-boxer in style and the footage showed him at long range more than either Riccio or the later match with Flores. Robinson knocked him down with a lead hook

ray robinson 2Sugar Ray Robinson versus Sammy Angot (third meeting) 1946

On 4th March 1946 Sammy Angott fought Sugar Ray Robinson for the third time. Robinson came into the fight with a record of 61-1-1 and weighing in at 147lbs. Since Angott had last fought Robinson in 1942 he had broken his hand and been forced to vacate his World Lightweight Championship. However, 1943 would be very eventful for him. He began this year beating the rising featherweight star, Willie Pep, by decision only to lose by decision to Henry Armstrong. Two fights later he won back the vacant World Lightweight Championship in a match with Slugger White. Two fights later he lost it again, this time outright to southpaw Juan Zurita, the first native-born Mexican to win a world boxing title. He would never fight for the title again. However, he would continue fight important fighters. One of these was future World Lightweight Champion, Ike Williams, who would defend his title eight times and be declared Ring magazine’s Fighter of the Year in 1948. Williams beat Angott twice, both on split decisions in 1944. However, when the fought in 1945 Ike would suffer a rare technical knockout to Angott in round six of a 10 round match. By now Williams was the current title holder having knocked out Angott’s usurper, Zurita, in the second round, but his loss to Angott was a non-title bout. Perhaps Angott thought he could pull off the same “third time’s a charm” deal he experienced with Williams when he faced Robinson again.

He came into the fight with a 78–22–7 record. He was giving up 4lbs to Robinson at 143lbs. Angott was a swarmer by nature and gained the nickname “The Clutch” for his tactic of landing a cleaning punch before immediately clinching.

According to BoxRec:

“    The gate was $47,867.

Robinson’s purse was $12,595.72, and Angott’s was $9,000.

Angott was knocked down for a one-count in rounds one and eight.

The Associated Press scored the fourth round even and gave the rest to Robinson.”

The above gives an indication to where Robinson and Angott were in their respective careers. This fight was only covered in the lesson because it is the next piece of footage I could find that was available in the chronology of Robinson’s boxing career. There only appears to have been five to six minute highlight videos rather than the full fight.

From the first we see of the fight, which is possibly round 2, Robinson and Angott fight out of a clinch. Robinson flicks out his lead punch and Angott retaliates swarming in his usual style that resulted in a clinch. Robinson then controlled the middle of the ring but Angott swarmed in again pushing his opponent into the ropes. Demonstrating his ability to fight at all ranges, Robinson seemed to work well in the clinch only to move to outside again and take control. His long lead hook came into play and some fast-paced exchanges went his way. Angott continued to clinch trying to get in overhands and rabbit punches.

Highlights of round 3 showed Robinson continuing to stalk and use fast head movement. He controlled the distance with his jab and his lead jab. Angott looked to duck in and swarm, resulting in the usual clinches. Round 4 showed much of the same with stiffer exchanges inside the clinch, but Robinson mainly landing his main shots from outside. Round 5 showed more combination work from Robinson and being more than happy to brawl with Angott at close range, leading the latter to press into him the ropes. The only footage available for round 6 showed Angott displaying some footwork of his own whilst back peddling. Robinson could be seen punching from various angles in round 7. Angott’s knockdown in round 8 is cut from the footage. We see him charge into a clinch and then the next shot shows him receiving the one-count. Robinson then clearly puts the pressure on and starts landing uppercuts and hooks to a very defensive Angott. At one point Angott tried to go back on the offensive, but Robinson deftly avoids him using pivots. We then shifted to round 10 with Angott looking lively again and Robinson clearly still in control but little else.

ray robinson 3Sugar Ray Robinson versus Freddie Flores 1946

On 21st March Robinson faced Freddie Flores. Flores was another journeyman fighter, like Riccio. He ended his carrier with 21 wins, 41 losses and 10 draws. The available footage shows him totally outmatched by Robinson who drops him with a body shot and knocks him out in round 5.




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