'Pound for Pound': Sugar Ray Robinson's Legacy

Then-welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson swings at Kid Galivan of Cuba, Sept. 24, 1948 i i

Then-welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson swings at Kid Galivan of Cuba in a 10-round bout in Yankee Stadium, Sept. 24, 1948. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

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Then-welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson swings at Kid Galivan of Cuba, Sept. 24, 1948

Then-welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson swings at Kid Galivan of Cuba in a 10-round bout in Yankee Stadium, Sept. 24, 1948.

Bettmann/CORBIS
Robinson is declared the winner of the Feb. 14, 1951 "Valentine's Day Massacre" bout

Robinson is declared the winner of the Feb. 14, 1951 "Valentine's Day Massacre" middleweight championship bout against Jake LaMotta. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

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Edna Mae Robinson hugs her husband in bed, Dec. 10, 1955

Edna Mae Robinson hugs her husband in bed, Dec. 10, 1955. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption Bettmann/CORBIS
Robinson works on his LP record

Robinson works on his LP record I'm Still Swingin' in 1962. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption Bettmann/CORBIS

This Saturday night in Los Vegas, Felix "Tito" Trinidad will square off against Ronald "Winky" Wright in the most anticipated boxing match of the year. Each fighter considers himself, pound for pound, the best in the sport.

That phrase "pound for pound" — used to describe a boxer whose skill in the ring puts him head and shoulders above every other fighter in the world, in any weight division — was first coined for the one fighter most boxing aficionados agree was the best fighter in history: Sugar Ray Robinson.

Sugar Ray Robinson's boxing career is unparallelled. He fought professionally for a generation, from 1940 to 1965. In his first 128 bouts he lost only once, and amassed an astounding 84 knockouts.

At a time in his career when most fighters would be considered over the hill, Robinson fought and won epic battles against some of the most ferocious champions of the 20th century — furious competitors like Gene Fullmer, Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta and Carmen Basilio.

"He was flawless, he was seamless," says boxing journalist Burt Sugar. "He was the sweetest practitioner of the sweet science... I once saw him knock a man out going backwards, which is like Nolan Ryan throwing a pitch falling away to second base."

Born in Detroit, Robinson moved to Harlem on Manhattan Island when he was 11. As a teen, he decided to making a career out of boxing, and he quickly became a sensation.

By the mid-1940s, Robinson was the king of Harlem, and eventually owned a whole city block of buildings that were at the heart of his entrepreneurial empire. He married a beautiful young dancer and seemed to be on top of the world. He bowed out of the ring, more or less gracefully, in the mid-60s.

Herb Boyd, who has written a new biography of Robinson called Pound for Pound, says Robinson's life parallels the heyday and decline of Harlem itself.

Robinson fought well into his 40s. Taxes and unscrupulous business partners would devour his enterprises, and at the end of his career Robinson found himself fighting not for the glory, but for the payday. He died in 1989, poor and largely forgotten.

Books Featured In This Story

Pound For Pound

A Biography Of Sugar Ray Robinson

by Herb Boyd and Ray Robinson

Hardcover, 316 pages | purchase

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