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What Would Sugar Ray Do?
By Martin Wade (June 14, 2004) 
Sugar Ray Robinson
He is etched across the landscape of modern boxing; his fingerprints are often recognizable in the likes of Leonard and De La Hoya, and at times subtle as in the 'bequest' of spirit man Bundini Brown to young Cassius Clay. Sugar Ray Robinson’s influence on the overall texture of boxing is Ruthian; he is that rare animal in which all historians entrust the most faith. That faith is grounded in the belief that we will never see the likes of him again. The record of the man is 175-19 with 6 draws, championship reigns at welterweight and middleweight (five times) is a monument to his supremacy and durability. To try to fathom a modern day fighters achievements in comparison is not only an impossibility, but a testament to just how much the 'game' of boxing is foreign to the one once ruled by Walker Smith. Many love to focus on the timeless aspect of the sweet science; the mastery witnessed in person and on film will always lend credence to the legend of Ray Robinson.

It would be redundant to make a case for Robinson’s in the ring prowess; to argue that he would easily beat Ray Leonard can get a little old. In ring mythical matchups, though fun and fertile with passionate debate, are usually wrought with the underlining chasms between those who consider themselves 'historians' and those who attach themselves to what they’ve actually seen. For this venture I dare to abandon old formula and explore, in the spirit of fun, how Ray Robinson the man would have operated in today’s boxing climate. So without further delay, I attempt to answer an assortment of questions that all begin with “What would Sugar Ray do”?

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The economic reality of boxing: As we all know, and to the shame of many, there are only a handful of boxers who are compensated greatly each time they enter into battle. If Ray Robinson were fighting today, based on what we know of the Sugar Man, he would be one of those fortunate few. Many have condemned Roy Jones Jr. for his choice in opponents and his sweetheart of a deal with HBO. Some also believe that his out of the ring 'matchmaking' rendered him unable to deal with two sterns in the ring challenges from Antonio Tarver.

I believe that Ray Robinson would fight the best if he were here today, but not for the reasons we tend to want to glamorize in our hearts and minds. No, Ray would have fought the best because he knows the best will generate the best payday. Ray would constantly push for more income, even up until the week of the fight. Robinson’s life was a clear indicator of his quest for the finer and more exquisite things in life; we’re talking 25 suits folks! Multiply that by modern standards. Robinson was notorious for attacking every source of income derived from his bouts; imagine Don King trying to demand replay rights from Robinson. Ray would use his willingness to fight and beat the best as his leverage, making it impossible to control him or short him on his money. Try to short him and he’ll go elsewhere and not just out of spite (are you listening Bernard?). There would always be an equally attractive bout in the eyes of fans and media in discussion to make sure Sugar Ray received what he felt was his due. Robinson used to say, “If there was a dollar with my name on it, I wanted it.” That kind of mentality would be well served in today’s marketplace. The risk/reward ratio used by modern fighters would be replaced by the '3 probable risk = a blank check' ratio of Robinson. The funny thing is unlike a lot of fighters he would be worth every penny.

His image: You think Oscar De La Hoya is popular? If Ray were here Oscar would be suffering from little brother syndrome. This is the forefather of celebrities in the pugilistic arena, the man who imported the word 'entourage' from France. Ray Robinson in his prime was a beacon of class, no posse or 'crew' would be required to project an already larger than life aura. Although Ray loved people around him, they better have a purpose for being there. Ray would be the only man who could wear a suit and still engender more 'street cred' than Zab and Floyd combined. Ray wouldn’t have to make rap records (because he’d be mentioned in most of them) and the only 'ice' would be in his cufflinks. The closest thing to a rapper in his company would be his good golf buddy Def Jam impresario Russell Simmons. Not that he would scoff at the culture; he would just choose to levitate comfortably above it.

Ray’s choice of product endorsements would definitely focus on men’s fashion and he would be the boxer most featured on the cover of GQ. I don’t see Ray dabbling in promotions like his namesake Leonard and the Golden Boy. Sugar Ray’s café would be converted to a trendy nightspot in Miami simply known as 'Suga', complete with pyrotechnics and exotic drinks. Ray would also feast on the endless exposure opportunities offered in today’s content hungry world of TV. He wouldn’t make appearances in the hyperkinectic rate of Antonio Tarver; Ray places too much value on leisure. No, he would occasionally drop by the Tonight Show and Oprah’s (he’d always reduce her to a giggly schoolgirl) to chat when in Chicago.

Who would promote him? Are you kidding? Anyone who had the money for the bout would get Sugar Ray. Robinson would never sign with a network or promoter and lose the flexibility to make the best deal possible. This is a man who took on the IBC of Jim Norris and never shook hands with 'Mr. Gray', HBO? Not a match. Contradictory to what many believed was his difficult business stance, Robinson would enjoy great rapport with Don King and Bob Arum. Sugar Ray would make their job easy, and simple, the terms and conditions would be standard with out a hint of neither favoritism nor exclusivity to either man. King, a former street hustler would be a favorite of Robinson with his infamous briefcase and ability to get things done by any means necessary. The true spirit of competition would flourish in every boardroom throughout the sport, whenever the great one decides to fight. Hell, Ray would even be willing to license a fight to AOL for internet broadcast if the price was right.

Historians cringe: I love watching the old fights; the black and white footage gives you a nostalgic yearning of wishing you were much older. Back then; the fighters in the 50’s had black and white trunks to choose from due to the broadcast being in black and white. But imagine the charismatic clotheshorse who once painted a Cadillac flamingo pink in 2004! Yes, you guessed it; the Sugar Man would take full advantage of the 'high definition' era with Flamingo Pink trunks. When Floyd Mayweather Jr. premiered the chinchilla trunks in his bout against Phillip N’Dou, I could easily see Ray up there in heaven nodding approvingly. If he were here today he’d say, “hey, nice trunks young fella”.

What belt would he wear? Ring Magazine of course, it’s the most rational and the easiest on the wallet. Robinson would only fight 50 times, titling at 135, 140, 147, 154, 160 and 168 never weighing more than 155 pounds! He would bring back the open training camp, the association between fighters and writers, hell, he may even bring boxing back to network television. Maybe WWSRD? should be adopted by the current generation of great fighters. When faced with challenges, questions of image and the chance to make the fight we all we want - and need - to see, they should ask themselves “What would Sugar Ray Do?”
The Boxing Junkie.

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The Boxing Junkie
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