Book Review: "Sugar Ray" by Dave Anderson


Autobiography of "Sugar" Ray Robinson, the consensus, all time, P4P no.1.


Of where he was born in Detroit:

" It was known as Black Bottom. And it was. Black because we lived there, Bottom because that's where we were at."

On Gene Fullmer:

"Fullmer's style bothered me. He had a barroom brawler's style, which i hadn't expected because Mormon's don't drink"

From Dave Anderson:

"Don't be fooled by the title. This is not Sugar Ray Leonard's autobiography. This is the real Sugar Ray's book. Sugar Ray Robinson. The real Sugar Ray should have copyrighted his nickname. For those who think Sugar Ray Leonard was a good fighter, think again. The real Sugar Ray, the original Sugar Ray, the only Sugar Ray, would have flattened Leonard with either hand. No later than the sixth round."

If, like me, you are put off a bit by that last quote, please read on as i found this book to be well worth my time and thankfully, for me at least, Dave Anderson only writes the foreword and afterword. The rest of the book is straight from Ray's mouth.

Pro Record: from the Ring magazine - 202-19-6 (109) (includes exhibitions) - from Boxrec - 173-19-6 (108).

Amateur Record: 85-0 (69) with 40 first round KO's.

Won two Golden Gloves titles at featherweight and lightweight.


Sugar Ray Robinson retired in 1965, fourteen years before i was even born, so some might think i am not really old enough or qualified enough to give my opinion on this book, however, i believe the greats of yesteryear should never be forgotten in any sport, even more so in boxing, where the opinion of many is that the sport was at it's peak in the 1950's and has been steadily declining ever since. Personally i do not totally agree with that assumption but i do know it's true that some of the greatest all time fighter's plied their trade between the 40's and 50's. Along with Robinson there was the likes of Joe Louis, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, "Jersey" Joe Walcott, Charley Burley, Ezzard Charles, Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basillio, Kid Gavilan, Gene Fullmer, etc. These names are all Hall of Famer's and all time great's.

I am writing this review for anyone who is interested in boxing history but mainly for the younger fans who might have heard about Robinson but would like to know just why he is so revered as a fighter.

Ray starts off by telling us about his dirt poor upbringing in Black Bottom, Detroit, and his move to the even more depressingly named Hell's Kitchen in New York where he used to dance on the street corners as a kid to earn himself some cash. The family didn't stay there long and soon settled in Harlem.
A priest catches a fifteen year old Ray gambling in an alley behind his church and advises him to stop doing that and come training at the boxing gym in the basement under the church.A man called George Gainford was the trainer there, and he would train Ray for the rest of his amateur and pro career.

Under his real name Walker Smith, Robinson makes his mark pretty quickly as a natural who has exceptionally quick hands. He likes going to the amateur fights but doesn't have an AAU card to certify that he is an amateur, not a professional, and so uses the card of another fighter from his club who had stopped boxing. The kid's name is Ray Robinson. Walker Smith likes the sound of that name and decides to keep using it.

He goes on to become the best amateur at the club and either wins his fights easily on points or demolishes the opposition by KO. He runs into a fellow future all time great by the name of Willie Papaleo, better known as Willie Pep, when both are unbeaten. Ray says of the fight, "I got the decision, a close one. It broke his winning streak, but he was some fighter."

After defeating another unbeaten amateur, someone shouts out as he is leaving the ring, "that's one sweet fighter". A member of the press adds, "sweet as sugar", and so, "Sugar Ray Robinson" is born.
He turns pro on the undercard of Henry Armstrong in his defence of his welterweight title against Fritzie Zivic. After being "roughed up around the eyes" Armstrong loses his title by fifteen round decision to Zivic, a notoriously dirty fighter.

What i found really impressive early on in this book is the fact that Robinson was only one year into his pro career when he beat Zivic by decision. Fritzie had lost the world title to Freddie Cochrane two fights previously but was still only 28 and had been boxing for ten years. Ray was 20 when he beat him the first time and KO'd him in 10 in the rematch. Zivic was no weak champion either. He is a Hall of Famer.

Robinson's first loss comes at the hands of "Raging Bull" Jake LaMotta. He is 40-0 (29) going into that fight in 1943. He beats LaMotta in the rematch just two weeks later and does not lose again until 1951 when England's Randy Turpin beats him on points in London.
Turpin loses the immediate rematch in New York by tenth round KO.
Ray would fight LaMotta six times over the years, winning the series 5-1 and finishing it with the brutal "Valentine's Day Massacre" fight in 1951 when he wins his first middleweight title.

He has a dream about killing a fighter he is due to meet in the ring and despite having reservations about it, he is persuaded to take the fight. His premonition comes eerily true as Jimmy Doyle is carried from the ring on a stretcher.

The book kind of skims over the mid-late 1940's and i would have liked to have read more about his fights with Kid Gavilan and La Motta from this period, but he doesn't go into much detail. He reigned at welterweight at this time, and most observers consider these be his absolute peak years

He talks of his love of France, especially Paris and the warm welcome he receives there and also on his visit to England for the Turpin fight. He gives Turpin a lot of respect but also adds that he was really not 100% going into the fight. He says this about some of his other losses too.

Ray played his part in fighting racism and inequality, mainly when enlisted in the army with Joe Louis, where he refused to follow orders and fight exhibitions unless blacks were allowed to watch the fights along with the whites.
A few years later when invited to speak in front of American businessmen in Paris he receives a standing ovation after an hour long speech. On the way out he is approached by one of the club members.
Here's how Ray tells it:

"Mistuh Robinson", he said with a 'Bama drawl.
"Yes Sir", i replied, put on guard by his accent.
"Mistuh Robinson", he said, "I'm from Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama, and i must tell you that when you were invited here, i resented the idea. But having heard you speak, suh, let me say that i'm proud we're both American's."

There is so much more i could talk about in this book but this fanpost would go on forever. There's an interesting and moving chapter about what Ray thought of his friend, a young Cassius Clay. He calls him "one of the most likeable people i have ever met" but also remarks that Clay could be strange when it came to his religious beliefs and he comments on the Black Muslims who surrounded Ali at the time. He also calls Ali "the fastest heavyweight ever" and says he thinks he would have beat Rocky Marciano but lost to Joe Louis.
Ali regularly referred to SRR as " the king, the master, my idol ".

There are other interesting facts like how Ray would slap women occasionally if he wasn't geting his way with them and he does come across as somewhat egotistical, domineering and vain but also has a very generous side.
His entourage lived off of him for years.

I will end this by saying that in all of his 208 fights, Robinson was never truly KO'd. His only stoppage defeat was due to heat exhaustion in the 14th round, up at light heavyweight, in a fight he was winning handily. Astoundingly, he fought 11 Hall of Famers and beat them all except Joey Maxim, in the aforementioned light heavyweight match. And these were mainly, if not truly, all time greats, not some of the slightly lesser fighters who sometimes manage to squeeze into the IBHOF.

Through watching dvds and youtube you can certainly appreciate his sublime talent but it is only through looking at his record and analyzing his achievements that you really get a sense of how much he accomplished. And he did it all in the "Golden Age" of boxing. This book helped me realise this all the more.

In my opinion, nothing today can really compare.


Book Rating - 9/10......Highly recommended


Originally printed in 1970 but re-released in 1992 and is still available at, etc.






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