Ray Robinson’s will to win echoes his struggle to survive
It comes to him sporadically, when his arms are dead tired from pounding on the heavy bag, when he’s watching film on an opponent and he can barely keep his eyes open, or when he’s doing one of those grueling morning runs and his joints begin to ache. It’s then when Ray Robinson reminds himself that things could be far worse than some pain and suffering.
The 32-year-old Philadelphia welterweight southpaw knows a little something about what’s far worse. He was thrown down a flight of steps as a baby by his drug-addled father, and forced to wear a body cast as an infant. He lived for four years in a homeless shelter with his mother and six siblings. He survived whole days without eating. He bore through bone-chilling Philadelphia nights without heat.
“The New Ray Robinson” (24-2, 12 knockouts) hasn’t lost in over seven years; the last setback was a 10-round unanimous defeat to then-rising star Shawn Porter — a fight in which Robinson got up from the canvas in the sixth round. On Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino Events Center in Las Vegas, he is hoping to unfurl a life full of struggle on 31-year-old Cuban expatriate Yordenis Ugas (20-3, 9 KOs) on the undercard of the Danny Garcia-Brandon Rios 12-round welterweight main event (Showtime).
“We had nothing, and we shared two small cots between seven of us,” Robinson recalled. “There were a lot of days when we didn’t eat at all. My mom tried her best for all of us. I went to bed plenty of nights hungry. It’s why I say there is a true hunger every time I fight. It’s why I got into boxing, because my life was a fight. Boxing saved my life.
“The things I have are because of boxing. There was no way I was going to stay down against Shawn Porter. I was in a body cast before I learned how to crawl. I went from the body cast to going right to learning how to walk. My mom, Diane Nettles, saved us all. I never knew my (biological) father and I never want to meet him. It wouldn’t be good if we met today.”
It’s that shadowy face, Robinson says, he sees across the ring every time he fights.
“Every opponent I face, I take all of that baggage with me, and that guy is my father who put me and my family through all of that abuse,” Robinson said. “Fighting to me is freedom. You turn all of that negative energy into a positive. I wasn’t going to let what happened to me tear me down. I use it as motivation.”
Robinson, who is trained by Bozy Ennis, says he’s on weight and should be fine for Ugas, who hasn’t lost in almost four years. Robinson stressed his last defeat still stays with him. He actually fought better after he got knocked down by Porter than he did before the sixth round, and it has helped him prepare in his fights since then.
“In my eyes, I was out-boxing Porter and then, boom, I got dropped,” Robinson said. “I didn’t lay down. The scores weren’t accurate as to how close the Porter fight was. I wasn’t just happy I was in the ring with Shawn Porter. That fight told me that anything someone throws at me I can deal with. It all goes back to how my life has been in general. I grew as a fighter. I faced adversity against a good fighter and took the fight to Porter.”
Robinson is now on a 13-fight winning streak, his most recent win a technical decision over Breidis Prescott in which he won every round.
“I had so many excuses to quit, I didn’t have anything and I never took ‘no’ for an answer,” Robinson said. “Every time someone gets into the ring with me, they have no idea who they’re facing. It’s why my story was made into a documentary, The New Ray Robinson. I know there are guys out there at welterweight that may be more popular than me and have more fans than me, because they’ve been put on a different stage.
“But they’re not better than me, and I want my chance to prove it. Check out the documentary. If you enjoy someone getting constantly knocked down by life, and someone who won’t stay down and won’t give up, they’ll enjoy me. I don’t dislike anyone I fight. We just have a disagreement that we’ll settle on fight day. I respect every fighter that steps in the ring. I just have an edge over everyone I fight. They all say they came from the bottom. I tell them, ‘Hey, you don’t know what the bottom is.’”
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