1. AS he was growing up, Sugar Ray Robinson, or Walker Smith Jnr as he was then, idolised the swarming savagery of Henry Armstrong. “Homicide Hank” simultaneously held world titles in three weight classes – featherweight, lightweight, welterweight – at a time when there were only eight to aim at. In 1938, Armstrong was second only to heavyweight leader Joe Louis as the biggest star in boxing.
2. BY August 27 1943, Armstrong’s peak had long gone. His claustrophobic, high-tempo style could not go on forever, and when he stepped in the ring with rising star Ray Robinson, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he was fighting on memory.
3. THOSE memories had accounted for the majority of his comeback opponents since losing a pair of world welterweight title fights to Fritzie Zivic in 1940-41 but his decline was clear. Even so, he was confident he had the beating of the young and slick Ray Robinson, who came into the contest with a 44-1 record.
4. THE battle attracted a crowd of 15,371 and a live gate of $60,789.
5. ARMSTRONG’S eyes, so often bloodied and swollen during the closing stages of his championship years, had held up during his comeback. But against Robinson, it was clear he was in for trouble. From the opening bell, the young man accurately peppered his idol. But out of respect, Ray refused to fully open up, conscious not to hurt or embarrass his opponent.
6. ROBINSON, who towered over Armstrong, punched hard and often enough to win each of the 10 rounds. The New York crowd, usually so vociferous if action was lacking, accepted the sympathetic nature of the combat they were watching and refused to boo. At the close of the bout, Ray was declared the unanimous winner.
7. THE Associated Press scored all 10 rounds for Robinson.
8. AFTER the contest Armstrong, aware his weapons were beyond repair, announced his retirement from the ring. But like so many he returned, and fought until 1945, when a loss to the average Chester Slider convinced him his time was up.
9. ROBINSON went on to become the fighter many call the greatest of all-time. He won the welterweight title before claiming the middleweight championship five times. And then, just like Armstrong, when it was time to stop, he couldn’t. His last bout came in 1965, 20 long years after his hero’s final hurrah.
10. THEIR deaths were six months apart. In retirement Armstrong battled alcoholism before finding religion and becoming a baptist minister. He died in at 78 years old in October 1988, six months before Robinson – most of his riches gone and suffering from Alzheimer’s – passed away at the age of 68.