Was “Sugar” Ray Robinson Best at Welterweight or Middleweight?
By Ken Hissner: There is no other name mentioned more when it comes to “who was the greatest boxer pound for pound than “Sugar” Ray Robinson, who at birth was named Walker Smith, Jr. in Vidalia, GA, In May of 1921. He was both the world welterweight and world middleweight champion.
Robinson’s career was from October 1940 until November of 1965 when he lost to Joey Archer, 44-1, at the Civic Center, in Pittsburgh, PA. His final record was 175-19-6, with 109 stoppages and one stoppage loss.
Robinson was 40-0 before his first loss to Jake “Bronx Bull” LaMotta, 30-5-2, on February 5, 1943, at the Olympia Stadium, in Detroit, MI, in their second meeting. In their previous fight, which was their first meeting Robinson defeated LaMotta, 25-4-2, in October of 1942 at Madison Square Garden, NY.
Three weeks later, on February 26th, in their third fight, Robinson defeated LaMotta, 31-5-2, back in Detroit. The next day he would be inducted into the Army touring camps with Joe Louis doing exhibitions. In June of the following year, he would be discharged in June of 1944. During that period of time, he had three fights, including defeating former champion Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, 132-17-8, in August of 1943 at Madison Square Garden, NY. Many consider Armstrong possibly the second best pound-for-pound fighter of all time, though past his prime in their meeting. It would be fourteen months before he would fight again.
In February of 1945, Robinson and LaMotta, 45-8-2, had their fourth meeting with Robinson, giving away a ten-pound advantage winning by decision at Madison Square Garden, NY.
In Robinson’s next fight, he fought a draw with Jose “Joe M.” Basora, 54-9-4, at the Convention Hall, in Philadelphia, PA, in May of 1945. In September of 1945, in their fifth meeting, Robinson won a split decision at the Comiskey Park in Chicago, IL. Afterward, Robinson remarked, “This is the toughest fight I ever had with LaMotta.”
In December of 1946, in his seventy-sixth fight Robinson, 73-1-1, won the vacant world welterweight title defeating Tommy Bell, 39-10-3, in a rematch after Robinson had defeated him in January of 1945. In his previous fight, he had to come off the canvas to knock out Artie Levine, 46-9-5, in 10 rounds. Robinson would defend his title five times with numerous non-title wins before relinquishing it to enter the middleweight division.
Robinson’s last welterweight title defense was defeating Charlie Fusari, 63-7-1, in August of 1950 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ. In his next fight, he won the PA State Middleweight title in a rematch with the person he had drawn with Jose Basora knocking him out in the first round.
In October of 1950, Robinson, in a title defense of his PA title he knocked out future world champion Carl “Bobo” Olson, 41-3, in the twelfth round. In November, he had his first fight out of the country in France, stopping their champion Jean Stock, 37-11-3, in two rounds. This was the first of five European bouts. He would go on to stop Luc van Dam, 89-12-3, decision Jean Walzack, 43-17-2, and stop Robert Villemain, 44-4-1, and Hens Stretz, 30-2-5, all of this in less than a month.
Upon his return to the U.S, Robinson fought for and won the World Middleweight title against his old foe LaMotta, 78-14-3, stopping him in the thirteenth round at the Chicago Stadium. He would go on to win eight non-title bouts before making his first title defense in London in July of 1951, losing to Randy “The Leamington Licker” Turpin, 40-2-1, by decision. He was 129-1-2 at the time.
Two months later, in a rematch at the Polo Grounds, NY, Robinson won his title back, stopping Turpin in the tenth round. Then in a rematch, he defeated Olson in March of 1952, and a month later, in another title defense, he knocked out Rocky “The Rock” Graziano 67-8-6, in three rounds at the Chicago Stadium.
In June, Robinson tried to win his third world title against Light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim, 78-18-4, losing after thirteen rounds of heat exhaust. Robinson was ahead on all scorecards by 10-3, 9-3-1, and 7-3-3. He was outweighed by over fifteen pounds. It would be the only time in his career he was stopped. He went 5-1 in non-title fights, only losing to Ralph “Tiger” Jones, 32-12-3, in January of 1955 at Chicago Stadium. Jones, in his next fight, lost to Olson.
In December of 1955, Robinson defended his title facing Olson again, knocking him out in two rounds in Chicago. In January of 1957, he lost his title to Gene “Cyclone” Fullmer, 37-3, in Madison Square Garden. Four months later, he re-won his title, knocking out Fullmer in five rounds in Chicago.
In Robinson’s next fight, he lost his title to Carmen “The Upstate Onion Farmer” Basilio, 51-12-7, in Yankee Stadium, NY, in September of 1957. In March of 1958, he re-won his title, defeating Basilio by split decision in Chicago. It would be almost two years, and one non-title win later, he lost his title to Paul Pender, 35-5-2, by split decision in Boston. In June, he lost the rematch in Boston.
After the second Pender loss, Robinson fought a draw with Fullmer for his NBA Middleweight title. This was not the world title. From the second loss to Pender, Robinson’s career had its ups and downs, starting with a loss in the rematch to Fullmer. He was 144-8-3 at the time of the loss. He went 30-11-3 after that.
Like too many great fighters, Robinson stayed around much too long, which tarnished his final record, as stated previously at 174-19-6. The point is he was a better welterweight than a middleweight!
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