FOUR times Sugar Ray Robinson has entered the ring as challenger for the world’s middleweight title, and four times he has emerged victorious.
He completed his quartet of wins, which incidentally is an all-time record, by knocking out the holder Gene Fullmer in one minute 27 seconds of the fifth round at Chicago Stadium on May 1, 1957.
And two days later Ray was celebrating his 37th birthday.
This was the greatest victory of his career, for he was a 3-1 underdog in the betting, probably because Fullmer had beaten him so convincingly last time.
But one terrific left hook to the chin did the trick in dramatic fashion.
Honours were even up to that stage. The referee and the two judges all showed Fullmer in front on points 19-18. And there are many who thought Robinson was tiring slightly in that action-packed fifth round.
But Sugar Ray looked anything but weary when he pumped home two rights to the body and a following left hook to the jaw that sent Fullmer sideways to the canvas.
He landed on his knees and then pitched forward on to his stomach.
Gene had not lost possession of his senses, but his body was paralysed from these crushing blows. He writhed desperately in an attempt to get up, pushed himself partially off the canvas at “eight”, then slumped forward again as referee Frank Sikora completed the fatal “10”.
Then the 14,753 crowd really rose to Robinson as he was declared the new champion. Fullmer was helped to his feet and was still dazed and bewildered back in his dressing room.
That was the first time he has been stopped, and only the fourth time he had been on the canvas in 45 bouts. “What happened?” he asked. “I wasn’t over-confident – just careless.”
Robinson’s first remark was “I don’t know how far that left hook went – but I certainly got the message through.”
Briefly the details of the early rounds. Wild right-handers from Fullmer in the opening minute, with Robinson fighting back and drawing cheers for a solid right uppercut, then a left hook as Gene came charging in.
Fullmer still came forward in the second, resting his head under Ray’s chin. The latter kept punching but the champ was contemptuous, and ignored these efforts. Same tactics in the third, with anything the challenger could dish out.
The first sign of things to come took place in the fourth. Robinson caught his man with hurtful combination punches. Fullmer would have been wise to back out of distance, but instead chose to retaliate, and was out-manoeuvred.
So to the fifth – and last. Fullmer attacked, but was out of distance. Robinson quickly moved in, threw two rights, down came Gene’s guard, and in went Ray’s left. The coup de grace.
An unwelcome surprise was the appearance of three Internal Revenue men in the new champ’s dressing room after the fight. Earlier they had tied up his purse for £8,000 in back income tax. But they didn’t speak to Ray or serve him with any papers, and refused to say why they were there.
When the tumult and congratulations had died down Robinson sat quietly and discussed his plans for the future, and explained how he has managed to again win back the crown.
“I owe so much to millions of people who had faith in me and prayed for me,” he said. “And I owe so much to Joe Louis, who has been with me all the time to give moral help and his knowledge of boxing.
“And I owe so much to Father Lang (Rev. Jovian Lang of the St., Joseph Seminary in Westmont, Illinois) for his spiritual help.
“And I owe much to my wife Edna Mae, who suffered untold miseries as I prepared for this fight.”
Someone remarked that only tax collectors standing in the corner knew how much Ray owed the United States Government.
Jim Norris, IBC president, stated that he was now trying to clinch a title match between Robinson and welterweight champion Carmen Basilio at the Yankee Stadium, New York in July.
But Joe Glaser, one of Robinson’s advisers, said that Ray was badly in need of a rest, and would probably not defend his crown until September. “He has been in training for 90 days and deserves to be able to take things easy for a spell,” Joe said.