Sugar Ray Robinson

When asked to name the greatest boxer in history, there is one answer that true boxing aficionados will give — Sugar Ray Robinson. With a career that spanned nearly thirty years, Robinson’s influence on African-American history, boxing, and the entire sports industry is still felt to this day.

Were we to do a background check on Mister Robinson, we would find out that he received the nickname “Sugar” Ray when a reporter said that he was “sweet as sugar.” Born May 3, 1921 as Walker Smith, Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, Robinson moved to New York City, with his mother and siblings in 1932. He worked odd jobs to help support the needs of his family. When he was fifteen he began boxing, and he was soon entering amateur tournaments under the name Ray Robinson, which came from a union card his trainer gave to him. From 1936 to 1940, Robinson was very successful, winning Golden Glove championships in 1939 and 1940. October 4, 1940 marked the day that he began boxing professionally in the lightweight division.

As in his amateur days, Robinson was very successful as a pro athlete and lost only a handful of fights throughout the 1940s. He also served in the U.S. army at this time in a boxing troop alongside Joe Louis, and he outright refused to perform for audiences that did not allow black troops to participate. Receiving an honorable discharge in 1944, Sugar Ray could go back to boxing full-time on the professional circuit. In the next several years he won the welterweight title and defended it five times.

Robinson served as his own manager throughout most of his career and was very savvy regarding the rules and laws of the boxing sport. In 1951, Robinson defeated Jake LaMotta after a long, hard fight to become the middleweight champion, and he began to travel with an entourage of ten, which included his wife Edna. He was one of the first athletes to achieve such celebrity status, and on the road Robinson often would often live in luxury, freely spending his earnings. Yet despite his penchant for the high life, Robinson was also a devoted churchgoer and gave away a lot of his money to various charities. He also invested his money in Harlem, New York, as a way to help the businesses and revitalize the community. Robinson retired from boxing in 1952 after losing a round due to heat exhaustion.

Sugar Ray returned to boxing in 1955 after several unsuccessful years as a dancer, but he could not attain the same heights in boxing as before his “retirement.” He won and lost the middleweight title several times, losing it for good in 1961. He would continue to box until 1965 when he was defeated in an embarrassing fight with Joey Archer. Although his career had ended, he had a record that few could match, being unbeaten in 91 consecutive fights at the height of his career.

Robinson divorced Edna in 1960 and married Millie Wiggins Bruce in 1965. Because his extravagant living had eaten up most of his boxing fortune, Sugar Ray moved to Los Angeles, California, where he spent many of his remaining years as an actor, and where he also founded the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation. He died on April 12, 1989.

A people search of figures in the sport of boxing would show that Ray’s quick moves and graceful techniques have been adopted by many boxers. Some of them, like Sugar Ray Leonard, have even adopted his nickname “Sugar Ray.” But none of them can match the influence of Sugar Ray Leonard. Even the famed boxer Muhammad Ali called Robinson his hero and idol.

Sugar Ray Robinson — Sugar Ray Robinson official website

American National Biography of the Day — short bio of Sugar Ray Robinson

House Resolution 177 — 2005 resolution recognizing the importance and impact of Sugar Ray Robinson from the U.S House of Representatives

International Boxing Hall of Fame — Sugar Ray Robinson’s bio from the International Boxing Hall of Fame

Legacy of Sugar Ray Robinson — interview with an authority on the life and influence of Sugar Ray Robinson

Obituary Today — Sugar Ray Robinson Obituary

The Sugar in the Sweet Science — ESPN page on Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson on Britannica's Guide to Black History — information on Sugar Ray Robinson from Encyclop æ dia Britannica’s Guide to Black History

Sugar Ray Robinson Postage Stamp — U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation — Los Angeles foundation established by Robinson to combat juvenile delinquency