April 12th Marks the Death of Two Boxers Who Were Giants among Giants

Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson are two of the three most significant fighters to ever grace the sport of boxing. The other, of course, is Muhammad Ali. It’s also no coincidence that Louis is the fighter Ali is most measured against and Robinson is the fighter Ali most emulated.

April 12th 1981 and April 12th 1989

Louis and Robinson were both born in the month of May and share the same Zodiac sign. More ironically, they both passed away on the same day. Joe Louis died on April 12th 1981 at age 66 and Sugar Ray Robinson died on April 12th 1989 at age 67. Joe Louis is the standard by which all heavyweight greats are measured, and Sugar Ray Robinson is the standard by which all non-heavyweight greats are measured. You cannot consider yourself any type of legitimate boxing fan/historian if you don’t know their story…….Joseph Louis Barrow, born 5/13/14, and Walker Smith Jr., better known as “Sugar” Ray Robinson, born 5/3/21.

A Quick Capsule Why Louis and Robinson are two of boxing’s Most Legendary Fighters:

Joe Louis won the heavyweight title on June 22nd 1937 with an 8th round knockout of defending champion James Braddock. He held the title for nearly 12 years and made 25 consecutive successful defenses, a record that still stands to this day regardless of weight class. Louis made his last defense of the title versus Jersey Joe Walcott on June 25th 1948, scoring an 11th round knockout. Shortly after defeating Walcott, Louis retired, but he came back in 1950 and lost a decision to heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, failing to regain what seemed to belong to him forever.

Joe Louis, in my opinion, was the best offensive fighting machine and greatest boxer-puncher in heavyweight history. He had a dynamite left jab, a devastating short crisp left-hook which he delivered to the head and body with almost laser type precision and accuracy. His right hand had one punch knockout power and was delivered with the speed and accuracy of a striking cobra. That awesome speed and power was packaged by the best pair of combination punching hands the heavyweight division has ever witnessed before or since. On top of that, he was a great finisher who applied subtle and steady pressure and nobody ever survived once Louis had them hurt. Louis, who carried his hands high, also had a tight defense. He was great at cutting off the ring and no fighter who ever got a second look at him made it to the final bell.

Joe Louis is the first fighter you’d instruct a new pupil to watch and take notes. He made no fundamental mistakes, didn’t waste punches, never changed his style for any opponent and was deceivingly great both offensively and defensively. Louis was too sophisticated and too good for the bigger and stronger opponents he fought, and applied too much pressure and finishing power for the smaller and quicker opponents who tried to out-box him and beat him with speed and movement.

Sugar Ray Robinson, who turned pro in October of 1940, won the welterweight title on December 20th 1946 with a 15-round decision over Tommy Bell. Robinson suffered only one defeat on his way to capturing the welterweight title. That was a decision loss to top middleweight contender Jake LaMotta who couldn’t get fights against the other top middleweights. LaMotta was a big middleweight who rarely came in at the 160 pound limit. Robinson wasn’t even a full-fledged welterweight in his earliest meetings with LaMotta. In their first five fights, Sugar Ray spotted him an average of nearly 13 pounds.

Robinson made five successful defenses of the welterweight title. He was the reigning welterweight champ when he challenged for the middleweight title. His opponent was his old nemesis, Jake LaMotta. This would be their sixth and final meeting. Robinson held a 4-1 edge in the rivalry heading into their middleweight title bout.

On February 14th 1951 Robinson stopped LaMotta in the 13th round and captured the middleweight championship of the world. Shortly after winning LaMotta’s title, Robinson vacated his welterweight title with a perfect record of never being defeated by a welterweight. Robinson would lose the middleweight title to Randy Turpin and then win it back in a rematch, also in 1951.

On June 25th 1952 Robinson challenged light heavyweight champ Joey Maxim who outweighed him by 16 pounds. Robinson failed in his bid to win Maxim’s title when he collapsed from heat exhaustion and couldn’t come out for the 14th round. It was so hot in New York that summer night that the referee also collapsed from the heat after the 10th round and had to be replaced. After failing to win Maxim’s title, Robinson retired.

Two and half years later Robinson came back and between 1955 and 1958 he won the middleweight championship three more times. It would have been four more times had it not been for a horrendous decision in his third fight with Gene Fullmer in December of 1960. The bout was declared a draw, a decision that was an outright robbery. At that time, Ray rubbed some of boxing’s top powers the wrong way and was not going to get the benefit in any close call. Robinson had one more title fight with Fullmer, in 1961, and then fought on for almost five full years without challenging for the title again. On December 10th 1965, he retired for good.

During his prime, Robinson had no equal. He had no weakness and could do it all. He was a great boxer with blinding speed and a terrific two-handed puncher. Sugar Ray could adapt to any style, fighting effectively whether moving away from his opponent or moving toward his opponent applying pressure. Robinson knocked fighters out with a jab, he knocked them out moving backwards, and he killed them with hooks, right hands, and uppercuts. And to go along with all that weaponry, he had great foot speed and movement along with a killer instinct complemented by a concrete chin. Robinson was never stopped in 201 fights other than collapsing against Maxim in the scorching heat.

If Sugar Ray Robinson isn’t the greatest pound for pound boxer ever – then that fighter has yet to be born. If boxing had a Mount Rushmore, his face and the face of Joe Louis would be two of the granite sculptures!

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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