How About Sugar Ray’s Opponents?
How About Sugar Ray’s Opponents?
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Aug 20, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Sugar Ray Robinson
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing. - A couple of days ago, I was watching “The Raging Bull” on Encore Drama for the first time in about 25 years. Let it be known, 25 years ago, I wasn’t exactly that movie’s biggest fan. I appreciated the fact it had to do with boxing history, but, to me at that time; it sure wasn’t Rocky, action-wise. So, I decided to watch it again this time, now that me and some of my family have met some of the LaMotta’s (Jake and his son-in-law, Harrison Foster) and they are, quite actually, exceptional people. I wanted to watch the film again, in my boxing fan-actor’s way, to get to understand Jake LaMotta and the people around him (wife Vicky, brother and also ex boxer Joey) a bit better.

Watching the movie, something clicked in me. I mean, everybody lists LaMotta as Sugar Ray Robinson’s toughest opponent and rivalry. That may be true, but further true is that Robinson had many, many tough rivals. Muhammad Ali had great rivalries with Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Henry Cooper, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks, and, of course, Joe Frazier. Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran had a great rivalry, plus Leonard also had one with Tommy Hearns and Duran had another with Esteban De Jesus. Joe Louis had outstanding duos of fights against Max Schmeling, Billy Conn, Arturo Godoy, Buddy Baer, Bob Pastor, Jersey Joe Walcott and Cesar Brion. Then there are Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, who fought each other in a merry-go-round round-robin series of fights. Sugar Ray Robinson, however? Why, he seems to have invented the term “rivalry”! Sugar Ray had great rivalries with many all time greats and Hall of Famers, at a time when there were not 300 movie channels, so the networks had to keep matching boxers over and over to keep the public’s hunger for action neutralized. The thing is, Robinson and these fighting enemies provided excitement in the ring!

So, let’s see then, who were among Sugar Ray’s best rivals and who they were inside of the ring:

Jake LaMotta: Obviously, Robinson’s most famous rivalry was with LaMotta. LaMotta was a strong, aggressive if not really hard-hitting fighter who could, nevertheless, make you fall from his punch output, so you needed to be in extremely well condition just to have a slight chance. LaMotta’s courage inside the ring will never be in doubt. Middleweight champion of the world when he beat the incredible Marcel Cerdan, like Marvelous Marvin Hagler said about Mustapha Hamsho, LaMotta would have reigned far longer if not for Robinson. Robinson went 5-1 in six bouts with LaMotta.

Kid Gavilan: Gavilan had one of the greatest chins in boxing history; he was never dropped, never even shaken, in 143 bouts. Very few fights put together such talented fighters in boxing history. There are few chins in boxing history that can compare to Gavilan’s: George Chuvalo’s, Juan Laporte’s, Ben Tackie’s, Emile Griffith’s and Carlos Monzon’s are among the few that can. The world Welterweight champion got outpointed twice early in his career by Robinson, once for the world Welterweight title. 2-0, Robinson over the Cuban Hawk.

Fritzie Zivic: One of history’s great world champions, and according to old time historians, one of the dirtiest ones too. Hard for me to tell since I wasn’t around those times, but from what I hear, he was a take-no prisoners fighter who gained everybody’s respect; even today’s fans remember him as one of the best. Robinson went 2-0 against this world Welterweight champion who beat Henry Armstrong.

Carmen Basilio: From what I’ve seen Basilio was the Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini of his time, except better, and without Boom Boom’s power. Basilio was a fighter. He came to fight every time and one wonders how a fight between him and other exciting brawlers like Aaron Pryor, Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti would have turned. I’m sure Basilio would have beaten Ward and Gatti at least…as to how the ring would have ended after such helluva wars, that’s another matter there. Robinson split two fights with this world Welterweight and Middleweight champion.

Carl “Bobo” Olson: Why did they call Olson Bobo is a mystery to me; as much of a mystery as why some of Jim Carrey’s movies are called comedies. Olson was no bobo at all. In spite of the rumors I read recently on one of the books I have received that Olson had connections with teamsters and et al, Olson was also another one who gave it his best at all times and asked for the same. Olson was the world Middleweight champion, and like LaMotta, one feels he’d reigned very long if not for Robinson. Robinson swept Olson in four fights.

Gene Fullmer: Fullmer was another hard-headed give-it-all you got type, who fought his way also to the Hall of Fame. Again, he did not possess much power, just enough to keep one honest, but he could fight with the very best and indeed, he did. Late in his career, Robinson lost the world Middleweight title to Fullmer, who won the distinction twice. Robinson went 1-2-1 against Fullmer, his one being a knockout delivered with what is considered “the most perfect punch ever”. Arguably, through, Robinson should have gone 1-3 against Fullmer, not 1-2-1.

Sammy Angott: Angott was another great one who fought Bob Montgomery, Juan Zurita, Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong, Beau Jack, Ike Williams, Lenny Mancini, and the list gets too long from here on. He was world Lightweight and Welterweight champion, but he lost twice to a young Robinson on points. 2-zip, Sugar Ray.

Paul Pender: Perhaps the most underrated of Robinson’s rivals, because he too fought Robinson at a late stage of Sugar Ray’s career. Pender, a former Marine, was a crafty Bostonian with good boxing skills, who beat many other famous fighters such as Ralph Jones, Ernie Durando, fellow former (U.S.) Marine, British Terry Downes and yet another fellow former Marine, Basilio himself. Pender beat Robinson to win the world Middleweight title and he beat him again when Robinson tried to recover the title for what would have been a record sixth time, leaving the scoreboard between him and Sugar Ray, 2-0, Pender.

Randy Turpin: Now, Turpin on the other hand, is probably Robinson’s most overrated rival. Don’t get me wrong; Turpin was a great fighter in a family of great fighters that included brother Dick and another brother whose name escapes the mind right now. But he caught Robinson (for their first bout) during one of Robinson’s forays into Europe. Robinson liked partying, especially when abroad, and he had had another fight just a couple of weeks before facing Turpin. Turpin did win because he had applied himself better in training and in that sense, yes, he was a better boxer than Robinson at that time. When Robinson prepared better for their rematch, he gave Turpin a shellacking. Robinson and Turpin thus, still ended tied at 1 win apiece.

Denny Moyer: Moyer is a trivia answer nowadays, as he was the first ever world Junior Middleweight champion in boxing history, beating Joey Giambra in a fight which later turned controversial with Giambra’s allegations in his autobiography. Controversy or not, Moyer was a solid boxer who had Carlos Monzon in trouble in a world Middleweight title fight. He caught Robinson towards the tail’s end of the Sugar man’s career, and they split a pair of bouts, 1-1 apiece.

Marty Servo: Servo was one of those guys, like the Scott Brousius or Chris Mullin of boxing: he did so much with so little given him by nature. He had no power, a rather suspect chin, and yet he won 47 of 51 fights and became world’s Welterweight champion when Robinson left the championship vacant. 2-0, Robinson, by way of outpointing Servo twice.

Tommy Bell: A tough, tough little opponent who was arguably the second best Welterweight in the world when he and Robinson fought for the vacant world title when Robinson first became a world champion. Bell could have also been a world champion for a long time had Robinson not been around. As it was, Robinson beat Bell twice on points. 2-0, Sugar Ray.

Jose Basora: A Puerto Rican who has long been forgotten by the national press in Puerto Rico, Basora was nevertheless a nifty fighter who gave many a scare, including Robinson in their first fight, when Jose held Sugar Ray to a ten round draw. Their second fight was much more different; with the Pennsylvania state’s version of the world Middleweight title at stake, Robinson pulled what for a long time was the quickest knockout in boxing’s world title fight history, beating Basora in 55 seconds of round one. 1-0-1, Robinson.

Izzy Jannazzo: Jannazzo was one of those fighters, like Ted Lowry or Gerald Hayes in the 1980’s, who will be remembered for taking everyone and always giving it a good go. Early in his career, Robinson defeated Jannazzo thrice. 3-0, Sugar Ray.

Vic Dellicurti: This long forgotten fighter, of whom I just found out tioday while researching for this article, went 40-33, with only 5 knockouts, but he was stopped only 3 times in 73 fights himself. Robinson beat him twice, on points, early in Sugar’s career, 2-0, Robinson.

Robinson faced other great ones like Joey Maxim, Rocky Graziano and Joey Giardello, but those were single fight affairs. Today, we are only looking back at the fighters Robinson fought twice or more.

So, whenever they say “rematch” on tv, remember Sugar Ray Robinson, the undisputed king of second, third, and even sixth fights. Perhaps because of his rivalries it is that today, we remember him as one of the very top all time greatest.

Please send all Questions and comments to Antonio at

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