In the history of the Middleweight division, two fighters stand heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to pure, physical ability; Roy Jones, Jr. and Sugar Ray Robinson. Jones didn’t stay active long enough to be on my list of greatest Middleweights of all-time. Robinson is only the third greatest Middleweight of all-time because he retired in his prime and then when he made his comeback, lost several fights to fighters who were never as great as him. I will explain in great detail why Robinson is the third greatest 160-pound fighter of all time.
After dominating the 147-pound division throughout the 1940’s into 1951, Robinson moved up to the 160-pound Middleweight division. With an incredible record of 120 wins against only one loss and two draws, Robinson fought the reigning 160-pound champion Jake LaMotta on February, 14, 1951 in Chicago. his would be the sixth time they would face each other, as LaMotta was the only man to have ever defeated Robinson. The early part of the fight saw LaMotta out-jab Robinson, which in of itself was an incredible feat as Robinson’s left jab was one of the greatest jabs in the history of the sport. However, by round 10, Robinson had seized control of the fight. His dancing and landing stinging, razor-sharp combos were beginning to take their toll on LaMotta. Beginning with the 13th, Robinson stopped dancing and stayed in the pocket, pounding LaMotta with one flurry after another. Finally, in the 13th round, Robinson staggered the granite chinned LaMotta and reeled off several uncontested punches. The referee finally stopped the fight, and Robinson was now Middleweight Champion of the world. He would not hold it long.
Five months later, on July 10, 1951, Robinson traveled to London to defend his title against European and British Middleweight Champion Randy Turpin. In one of the most incredible upsets in boxing history, Turpin out-hustled Robinson to become Middleweight Champion of the world. It wasn’t a case of Robinson’s skills declining, as he was 30 and in his prime. It also wasn’t a case of Robinson taking Turpin lightly as in the rematch two months later at New York’s Polo Grounds, in front of over 60,000, Turpin opened up a huge cut over Robinson’s eye and the referee was dangerously close to stopping the fight. With his career and legacy on the line, Robinson dropped Turpin in the 10th round and after Turpin got up, almost killed him with a barrage of punches. The referee stopped the fight and Robinson regained his title. Turpin was never the same after this beating, which resulted in Turpin losing many fights and then going bankrupt after retiring from boxing. In 1966, Turpin committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, seconds after shooting his four year old daughter twice. Miraculously, she survived.
After regaining the title from Turpin in March of 1952, Robinson defeated Carl “Bobo” Olson in a workmanlike 15-round decision. Then, on April 16, 1952, once again in Chicago, Robinson defended his title against one of the most popular Middleweights in the storied history of the division; Rocky Graziano. Graziano was a rugged brawler with tremendous charisma. He was a softer, cuddlier version of LaMotta. Despite his popularity, Graziano had no shot at beating Robinson. Robinson easily danced and jabbed his way to winning the opening two rounds. Early in the third round, Graziano scored a flash knockdown with a right cross. Robinson got up before the count of one, unhurt and unfazed. He went back to dancing and moving and later in the round, landed a spectacular right cross of his own. Graziano went down, fully aware of where he was, but unable to get up as his legs seemed temporarily paralyzed. It was a sensational third round knockout by the original Sugar Man.
Two months later, Robinson moved up to fight World Light Heavyweight Champion Joey Maxim at the historic Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. A record temperature of 103 degrees that night caused many fans in attendance, as well as referee Ruby Goldstein, to collapse from the heat. Robinson dominated the fight, but since he was moving all night to avoid the larger Maxim, he began to drain himself due to the heat. At the end of the 13th round, Robinson also collapsed from the heat. Despite losing 12 of the 13 rounds to a superior fighter, Maxim was awarded the fight by technical knockout. Robinson would immediately retire after this fight and his record stood at at an incredible 131 wins, three losses and two draws. The Dance Master had decided, at the age of 31, to become a professional dancer. Along with several stores he owned and operated in Harlem, it looked as though this would be a fruitful retirement. Less than three years later, Robinson would make his return to the ring.
On January 19, 1955, in his second comeback fight, Robinson was defeated by journeyman Ralph “Tiger” Jones. At 33, Robinson looked listless losing by decision to a fighter he had no business losing to. Robinson would then win his four fights, securing a title shot against the man that had defeated Turpin for Robinson’s vacant Middleweight crown; Carl “Bobo” Olson. Robinson was considered washed up and although he had defeated Olson twice before, was a considerable underdog going into the December 9, 1955 title fight. In what was one of the greatest performances of his career, Robinson turned back the clock, knocking out Olson cold with a devastating six punch combination that began and ended with his signature left hook. In the rematch five months later, Robinson, now 35, knocked out Olson in the fourth round with a singular left hook. Robinson was again considered pound-for-pound, the best fighter in the world. Unfortunately, this would be the last time Robinson would successfully defend the Middleweight Championship.
In his next defense, on January 2, 1957, Robinson would lose a convincing 15-round decision to Gene Fullmer. Fullmer would be one of Robinson’s toughest opponents. However, in their rematch four months later, Robinson scored what many consider to be the greatest left hook ever landed, as he knocked out Fullmer in the fifth round to regain the title. Fullmer never remembered what happened before or after that hook landed. It would be the last great performance of the Sugar Man’s career, as he traded the title in a two fight series with legendary brawler Carmen Basilio before finally losing the title for good to Paul Pender in Boston on January 22, 1960.
Robinson would fight five more years at way past his prime. When he lost the title to Pender, his record was 142-7-2. The last five years of his career saw him go 31-12-4 before finally retiring at the age of 44. While he held the Middleweight Championship a record five times, he only successfully defended it three times, and while still good enough to be the third greatest Middleweight of all time, he lost too many times to inferior fighters and fought far too long past his prime for me to consider him the greatest Middleweight of all-time. Yes, he was the greatest fighter of all-time. Yes, he defeated many great Middleweights. But he wasn’t, like many experts claim, the greatest Middleweight of all-time.