Idolised by Muhammad Ali and heralded as the greatest fighter to ever lace a pair of gloves, Sugar Ray Robinson, avenged his middleweight world title defeat to Englishman Randolph Turpin, at the Polo Grounds, New York City on September 12, 1951. Turpin shocked the world by roughhousing Robinson over 15 rounds to claim the middleweight strap, during the American’s turbulent whistle-stop tour of Europe, just two months earlier.
As flamboyant outside the ring as he was efficiently brutal in it, Sugar Ray embarked on a journey across the continent in an opened-topped, pink Cadillac. Long before it became custom for boxing’s elite to surround themselves with large support networks, the Harlem man was pioneering the term ‘entourage’, travelling Europe with his barber, masseuse and a number of other assistants in tow.
“Sugar’s” European opponents waited for their opportunity to trade with the champion in Paris, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. The tour would culminate with the defence of Robinson’s newly acquired middleweight crown against heavy underdog, Randolph Turpin, in England.
The American duly knocked out Kid Marcel in his first bout in France, and then laboured past Jean Wanes of Switzerland in a contest which went the distance. His next destination was Belgium, beating two natives, Jan De Bruin and Jean Walzack, but not without controversy.
The middleweight, Jan De Bruin from Rotterdam, accused Robinson of not contesting the bout to his full ability. The American had the Dutchman backed up in the 8th, and seemingly seconds away from a decisive assault, Ray Robinson appeared to recoil, presenting his opponent with the opportunity to recover. The proud Dutchman abandoned the fight and exited the ring. The bout was scored a technical knock out.
Much to the disappointment of the German spectators, Robinson’s next bout with Gerhard Hecht ended within two rounds, following a punch to the kidney, illegally executed by Robinson. His penultimate fight ended in similar haste, with the Italian, Cyrille Delannoit, retiring on his stool after three rounds.
Sugar Ray’s last call was future Hall of Famer, Randolph Turpin, at Earls Court, London. With the world middleweight title on the line, the Warwickshire man arrived to the bout in ambivalent form, having been knocked out on more than one occasion leading up to the fight.
From the outset, the Englishman paid little respect to the all time great with a sustained, aggressive style, which Robinson complained about after the fight. Robinson at times showcased his killer speed, but his performance, overall, was flat. A late rally from the Harlem man was not enough to force a decision. The resolute Englishman narrowly got the nod over the champion and claimed the middleweight crown.
Robinson was quick to invoke the rematch clause in their pre-fight contract and brought Turpin over to New York City, two month later. In an entertaining encounter, Turpin picked up where he left off, marauding Sugar Ray and inflicting a cut above his eye. However, biting down on his gum shield, the middleweight king responded with a timely left hook in the 10th, dropping the Englishman. Turpin scrambled to his feet, but the Americans predatory instinct, which has deserted in him London, kicked in. He unloaded his arsenal on the wounded champion, triggering the referee to intervene and end the bout.
Turpin protested the stoppage claiming only seconds remained in the round and that he was fit to continue. Robinson spoke about the cut he sustained after the fight, “My eye got cut, it was do or die. I didn’t want to take any chances with the referee stopping the fight.”