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20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from the United States: Sugar Ray Robinson

The great Robinson (left) nails Kid Gavilan.
21
Oct

Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.

In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.

The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.

The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.

Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.

UNITES STATES

SUGAR RAY ROBINSON

Birthdate / place: May 3, 1921 / Ailey, Georgia
Years active: 1940-65
Record: 174-19-6 (109 KOs)
Major titles: Ring welterweight (1946-51), world welterweight (1946-50), Ring and world middleweight (1951, 1951-52, 1955-57, 1957 and 1958-60)
Greatest victories: Sammy Angott (three times), Henry Armstrong, Kid Gavilan (twice), Jake LaMotta (five times), Fritzie Zivic (twice)

Background: The United States has produced an inordinate number of great fighters. The “five more” listed below could easily be expanded to 15, 20 or more without a significant drop off in ability, arguably including such modern fighters as Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. That said, all American boxing legends had weaknesses. All but one, that is. Sugar Ray Robinson was as close to perfect as any boxer in history. In baseball terms, he would be called a five-tool player. By all accounts, he had sublime all-around skills, blazing speed, uncanny timing, what the Associated Press called “murderous” punching power (109 KOs, 20 in the first round) and unusual durability. In almost 200 fights, he was stopped only once. And that was the result of heat exhaustion in a fight he was winning against light heavyweight champ Joey Maxim. Muhammad Ali spoke for a lot of people when he called Robinson, “the king, the master, my idol.” Robinson won the first 39 fights of his pro career, lost a decision to fellow Hall of Famer Jake LaMotta (who outweighed him by 16 pounds) and then went undefeated in his next 91 fights (not including a no-contest) against many of the best welterweights and middleweights of an era wonderfully deep in talent. That gave him a record of 129-1-2 to start his career, perhaps the greatest run the sport has known. It was another Hall of Famer, Randy Turpin, who upset Robinson in 1951 to win the middleweight title and end his unbeaten streak at 91 but Robinson won the rematch two months later, as he was wont to do. No fighter beat him twice until he was near retirement. He proved to be mortal not long after the Turpin series, losing a number of big fights, but he remained a championship-caliber fighter as he approached 40 in spite of tremendous wear and tear over more than two decades as pro. He finally lost the world middleweight title to Gene Fullmer two months before he turned 40 and would retire at 44. In the end, he was almost untouchable as a welterweight – losing only to a great middleweight he would beat five times – and was arguably the greatest 160-pounder ever during an era with only eight divisions. Indeed, he set a standard that no fighter since has been able to meet. “That man was beautiful,” Ali said. “Timing, speed, reflexes, rhythm, his body, everything was beautiful. And to me, still, I would say pound for pound. I’d say I’m the greatest heavyweight of all time, but pound for pound, I still say Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest of all time.”

Quote: “Ray Robinson was the perfect fighter because he had no weakness,” boxing writer Jack Newfield said. “He had one greatest chins of all time. He was never really knocked out in a 25 year career. Another special thing about Robinson was how many times he was able to get off the floor to win. He always rose to the occasion.”

Five more from the United States (in alphabetical order): Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong, Benny Leonard, Joe Louis, Willie Pep

Ones you missed:

Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles
France: Marcel Cerdan
Germany: Max Schmeling
Ghana: Azumah Nelson
Ireland: Barry McGuigan
Italy: Nino Benvenuti
Japan: Fighting Harada
Mexico: Julio Cesar Chavez
Panama: Roberto Duran
Philippines: Manny Pacquiao
Puerto Rico: Wilfredo Gomez
Russia: Kostya Tzsyu
South Africa: Brian Mitchell
Thailand: Khaosai Galaxy
Ukraine: Wladimir Klitschko
United Kingdom: Jimmy Wilde

 

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