PHILADELPHIA — It would have been a great story, if not a unique one. A boxing-obsessed father, maybe even a former fighter himself, names his son after a legendary champion. The kid takes up the sport his daddy was so crazy about, finds he has a natural affinity for it, and does honor to his distinguished namesake.
It happened exactly that way for Tyson Fury, whose dad, John, was a renowned bare-knuckle brawler among a clan of bare-knuckle brawlers known as the Irish Travellers, and who named his future-heavyweight-titlist son after another heavyweight titlist celebrated for his big punch and snarling, intimidating disposition.
But the familiar tale of predestined glory, as it might have applied to welterweight contender “The New” Ray Robinson, has no such basis in fact. This Ray Robinson never knew his father, who to the best of his knowledge wasn’t a fighter, and he got his name from his mom, Diane Nettles, who apparently had no inkling there had been a Hall of Fame boxer named Sugar Ray Robinson or that her pugnacious son, one of seven children, would eventually enter the profession that had made the former Walker Smith Jr. an icon of the pugilistic arts.
“I actually didn’t know my dad,” said the 31-year-old Robinson (23-2, 12 KOs), who stopped Brazilian veteran Claudinei Lacerda (18-17-1, 13 KOs) here Friday night at The Fillmore, a 1,200-seat concert venue that was making its debut as a Blue Horizon-type fight site. “My father’s last name was Robinson and my mom just liked the name Ray. It was just one of those things that I turned out to be a boxer. I tried every sport, but it was boxing that I fell in love with.
“I very easily could have been Ray Nettles. But I like being Ray Robinson. It’s got a better ring to it. I think it’s a plus. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get the attention I deserve, so if my name helps me get a little more buzz, I’ll take it. Maybe my name will help me get that big shot that I need to break through to the top level.”
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. BoxRec lists 14 non-Sugary Ray Robinsons to have fought professionally, and collectively they won 45 bouts. “The New” Ray Robinson has a smidgen more than half of those victories, which leaves him 150 wins short of the guy widely acclaimed as the best boxer ever to have laced up a pair of padded gloves.
“I would love to do half the things he did,” the lean southpaw from North Philly said of his illustrious predecessor. “My trainer (Bozy Ennis) says, `You have to stay in shape and work hard because somebody’s always going to want to beat that name.’ There’s so much pressure to live up to it. As a kid, I put so much on myself because of that. I was, like, `No one’s supposed to beat Ray Robinson.’ I probably lost some fights from trying to live up to the name. But over time I grew up enough to calm down about it. I can’t be him, I can only be myself.”
“Just being himself” has earned Robinson a No. 9 rating from the WBC at 147 pounds, within sniffing distance of the division’s elite performers (Kell Brook, Keith Thurman, Errol Spence Jr., Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter) that stand between him and the glory and major paydays he believes his talent entitles him to. Asked to cast his vote for the candidate apt to eventually emerge as the indisputably top welterweight in the world, Robinson shrugs and says, “If I ever get the chance to prove it, it’d be me. I’m tall (5-foot-10½), I’m a southpaw, I’m sitting down on my punches more now (eight of his triumphs in his current 12-bout winning streak have been inside the distance). All those other guys know I’m a threat.”
Not so very long ago, Robinson rose as high as a No. 4 rating from the WBC. But another in a string of mishaps – an auto accident in January 2016 – led to 18 months of enforced inactivity, pushing him further back in the crowded line of wannabes scrambling to enter the welterweight inner circle. Then again, Robinson has done that injury cha-cha before; a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs as a toddler put him in a body cast with two broken legs. Then, at 12, he suffered a broken neck that placed him in the sort of head-stabilizing metal halo from which Vinny Pazienza began the comeback that is the basis of a recent movie about his life and career. The car crash led to the cancellation of Robinson’s first fight on HBO, snuffing a personal dream and preventing him from the introduction to a wider audience that might have led to a more streamlined access to the keys to the kingdom.
Against the 36-year-old Lacerda, who has fought his share of high-grade opponents but has now lost eight of his last nine ring appearances, Robinson systematically broke down the Brazilian with a barrage of punches that won’t remind anyone of that other Ray Robinson’s put-away power. The steady stream of connections, however, led to the sort of accumulated damage that prompted referee Benjy Esteves to step in and wave things off 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the seventh round of the scheduled eight-rounder. Robinson had hurt Lacerda with a left uppercut in the fifth, and in the seventh the South American import was stumbling sideways, maybe as much from exhaustion as from the effect of Robinson’s small-arms target practice.
But a win is a win is a win, and Robinson now has fought twice in 2017, with another date, against the ever-popular opponent to be named, scheduled for June 30 at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. After all the time put in on the shelf, “The New” Ray Robinson is getting steady work from Hard Hitting Promotions’ Manny Rivera and Will Ruiz, a pleasant change he hopes will generate the desired results.
“Never in my career have I actually been as busy as I’d like to be,” he said. “Me staying busy now has helped. It will keep my name in people’s minds. That’s what I need. All I need is for (the elite 147-pounders) signing the paper (contract) to fight me. Just say where and when. I’d fight any of them in their grandma’s back yard.”
While Robinson is making a late push for that elusive career spotlight, a fresh face on the Philadelphia fight scene who was in the co-featured bout Friday night is 17-year-old lightweight Branden “The Gift” Pizarro (4-0, 2 KOs), whose four-rounder served as the principal lead-in to the main event. Although Pizarro had to settle for a unanimous decision, he dominated every second of every round against Matt Murphy (2-10-1, 2 KOs), from St. Louis, Mo., flooring him in the second and wobbling him in the third. Murphy might not be much – his primary distinguishing characteristic is dyed blue hair – but the kid he was in there with has some legitimate chops and will bear following.
Another Philly youngster who could replenish the local pugilistic pipeline is 20-year-old bantamweight Christian Carto (8-0, 8 KOs), who performs with less flair than Pizarro but is fundamentally solid and efficient, stopping Jamaica’s Rudolph Hedge (10-5-1, 4 KOs), who did not come out for the fifth round of a scheduled six-rounder.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.