THESE days it would have been huge news had a boxer died at the hands of the world welterweight champion and best fighter in the sport.
But in 1947 such matters were dealt with differently – no mention on the front cover, where the editor usually posted his editorial. Instead the coverage was confined to page 10, where the headline said, rather matter of factly, ‘Welterweight title fight ends in tragedy’.
Sugar Ray Robinson was making his first defence, on this day (June 24) in 1947, and was too good for Jimmy Doyle, knocking him out in the eighth in Cleveland.
The 22-year-old Doyle was rushed to hospital and an operation performed. But Doyle, while still in a coma, died 17 hours later.
Doyle had won five fights in succession to earn his shot at Robinson, but the report said there was a flaw in the rules that demanded Robinson defend every six months.
It was the first world title contest to end in a fatality since English bantamweight Walter Croot succumbed after being knocked out by Jimmy Barry in December 1897.
Here is the original report – word-for-word – as it appeared in Boxing News July 9, 1947.
WELTERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT ENDS IN TRADEGY
CLEVELAND, Ohio – June 24, 1947
THEY will have to take the “Sugar” out of Ray Robinson’s name, because Fate has dealt him a severe blow.
Defending his welterweight title for the first time since he won it from Tommy Bell last December, Robinson was all too good for his challenger, Jimmy Doyle, who was knocked out in the eighth round and never regained consciousness.
They rushed the 22-year-old to the nearest Cleveland hospital, an operation was performed, but Doyle died while still in a coma, 17 hours later.
No blame whatever can be attached to the coloured welter king. Doyle was approved by Cleveland Commission as a fit and worthy contender, irrespective of the fact that 15 months earlier he had been knocked out in the self-same ring by Artie Levine, of Brooklyn, and taken to hospital with brain concussion through striking his head against a ring post while falling.
The accident kept Jimmy out of the game for nine months, but he made a comeback last December and won five bouts in succession to justify his selection as Robinson’s opponent in a title fight.
Here you get a flaw in the rule that forces a champion to defend his title every six months. Apart from Bell, there is hardly a man capable of giving Ray a real fight, so they had to promote as challenger a man who looked the best of the bunch.
The fact that the doctor passed Doyle as fit to box clearly exonerates Robinson, but the incident is bound to give him a mental upset.
Ray waited for years to get his crack at the title, and now calamity has overtaken him. To the relatives of Doyle goes the heartfelt sympathy of the boxing world; he fought magnificently up to the final and fatal blow. This is the first time in boxing history that a fatality has occurred in a world’s title contest since the English bantamweight, Walter Croot, succumbed after being knocked out by Jimmy Barry, of America, on December 6, 1897.
Jarred by a stiff left hook in the opening round, Doyle had the worst of matters for two further sessions, in which he was freely punished about the body and head. He started forcing the action in the fourth, only to be met by some heavy counter-punching from the champion. Jimmy was twice staggered in the fifth, but was strong and full of fight. He came back fiercely in the next, opening a nasty cut over Robinson’s right eye, and for the first time he appeared to have a chance.
Jimmy, an apt pupil of Jack Johnson and other old-timers, in picking off punches and elbow-blocking, seemed to have destroyed some of Ray’s timing and sapped his strength. The champion was very lethargic in the seventh, and Doyle took the round.
Then late in the eighth Robinson produced new vigour. Two quick rights to the body made Doyle quake, and Ray pressed his advantage as the Los Angeles boy attempted to fight back.
They were in mid-ring when Jimmy launched a right. It brought him close in, and Ray promptly countered with a left hook to the chin, short and shocking.
Doyle toppled backwards, and went down heavily, his head striking the floor with a thud. He lay unmoved while the count proceeded, but at “nine” the bell clanged to end the round, and he was removed to his corner.
Every effort was made to bring him round, but he was still unconscious when the gong sounded to start the ninth. It was then apparent that his condition was serious, and he was immediately removed to the dressing-room on a stretcher and afterwards taken to hospital.
The official verdict is knockout in the eighth round. Doyle, whose real name is Delaney, weighed 10st 7lbs, a pound heavier than Robinson.
*Robinson was back in the ring two months later – to score a first round knockout – and fought a further five times that year after the Doyle tragedy. Robinson’s amazing career continued until 1965, during which time he won the world middleweight title five times.