Sugar Ray Robinson biography
Sugar Ray Robinson was an American professional boxer who is frequently cited as the greatest boxer in history. He turned pro in 1940 and won his first 40 fights. Over his 25-year career, Robinson won the middleweight and welterweight crowns and was dubbed "pound for pound, the best." He finished with 175 victories. Robinson died in Culver City, California, in 1989.
Sugar Ray Robinson, whose birth name was Walker Smith Jr., was born May 3, 1921, in Detroit. Robinson was 11 when his mother, tired of her husband's absence from the family's life, up and left him, moving herself, her son and two daughters to Harlem in order to start a new life.
But New York proved rough in other ways. With little money—Robinson helped his mother save for an apartment by earning change dancing for strangers in Times Square—the Smiths built their new life in a section of Harlem dominated by flophouses and gangsters.
Fearful that her son would get pulled into this shady world, Robinson's mother turned to the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, where a man by the name of George Gainford had just started a boxing club.
It didn't take much for Robinson, who'd been a neighbor of heavyweight champ Joe Louis back in Detroit, to strap on fighting gloves. In 1936, for his first-ever bout he borrowed the Amateur Athletic Union card of another boxer, whose name was Ray Robinson, to enter the ring. Robinson never went back to his original name. The nickname of "Sugar" came from Gainford, who had described his young boxer as "sweet as sugar."
"Sugar Ray Robinson had a nice ring to it," he later said. "Sugar Walker Smith wouldn't have been the same."
Robinson quickly moved up the ranks. He won his first Golden Gloves in 1939, and then repeated the accomplishment in 1940. He turned pro shortly after.
In a career that spanned 25 years Robinson amassed 175 wins, with 110 knockouts, and suffered just 19 losses.
Robinson began his career with an astonishing 40 straight victories, and was called the "uncrowned champion" by boxing fans on account that the mob, which Robinson refused to play nice with, refused him the chance to fight for the welterweight title until after the war.
When Robinson finally did get his shot at the belt in 1946, he took home the crown with a unanimous 15-round decision over Tommy Bell. Six years later Robinson captured the middleweight title for the first time by defeating Jake LaMotta.
His ability to cross weight classes caused boxing fans and writers to dub him "pound for pound, the best," a sentiment that that has not faded over the years. Muhammad Ali liked to call Robinson "the king, the master, my idol." Robinson inspired Ali's famous matador style, which he used to defeat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title in 1964. In 1984 The Ring magazine placed Robinson No. 1 in its book "The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time."
Outside the ring, Robinson relished his celebrity, parading around Harlem with a pink Cadillac and making appearances at his high-profile Harlem nightclub.
Wherever he went, he brought a large entourage of trainers, women and family members. Robinson, who was unapologetic for his lavish spending, is estimated to have earned more than $4 million as a fighter, all of which he burned through, forcing him to continue boxing much longer than he should have.
Robinson finally retired from the sport for good in 1965. Two years later he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
In his later years, Robinson worked in show business, even doing some television acting. The work greatly helped salvage his finances and was the reason he eventually settled in Southern California with his second wife, Millie. Robinson, who had a son from a previous marriage, helped raise Millie's two children.
In his last years Robinson battled Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. He died at the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California, on April 12, 1989.