RANDOLPH TURPIN, despite a long and colourful career, is best remembered today for his two encounters with Sugar Ray Robinson, both of which took place in 1951. His victory over the outstanding American was an epic achievement. More recently there have been other similar performances involving a British fighter against a genuine world-class opponent, John H Stracey’s victory over Jose Napoles in Mexico City for the world welterweight title in 1975, Lloyd Honeyghan crushing Don Curry in Atlantic City in 1986, Joe Calzaghe’s masterclass against Jeff Lacy in Manchester in 2006 and, nine years later, Tyson Fury’s win over Wladimir Klitschko. Turpin’s achievement, perhaps, is the best of them all.
It is easy to forget that at the time of this upset, Randolph Turpin was the number one challenger for Robinson’s title, and he had earned his position the hard way. Randy won the senior ABA title in June 1945 as a 17-year-old, having won the ABA Youth title only three months beforehand. As a pro he had won the British and European middleweight titles, and the two losses on his record were perfect learning fights. He went on to beat both men in rematches, Albert Finch for the British title, and Jean Stock for the European. That’s how you avenge a loss.
The editor of the Ring, Nat Fleischer, was scathing in his assessment of Turpin. In response to some British scribes who were upbeat about his chances, he stated that, “Turpin has never met a Robinson. The brilliant Ray who stopped Kid Marcel in the fifth, is the Robinson who in my opinion will face the British champion and stop him. Ray can do everything that Turpin can, but a little better. I’ve seen Turpin three times and he has yet to impress me as the great fighter the British think they have in him.”
Sugar Ray was also unimpressed by the Britisher. It has long been claimed that he did not properly train for the contest, and that he took his man lightly. The first contest took place that Earls Court on 10 July 1951 and during the six weeks immediately prior to the bout Ray had fought six times. All these contests were 10-round non-title affairs, and they all took place in Europe. The most recent of them occurred only nine days before his title defence against Turpin. One cannot imagine such a thing happening today. Robinson clearly did not train specifically to beat Turpin, he did not go into camp to properly prepare as fighters do today, instead he relied on his match fitness and his overall ability to do the trick.
He arrived in London with his wife on July 4, only six days before the fight, and he did so in a blaze of publicity. Arriving at Victoria Station after travelling from Paris by the boat train, he was immediately whisked off to Stoke Poges golf club for some publicity shots, and doesn’t he look the part? He was always an elegant man, and an exceptional dancer. Meanwhile, Turpin was down at his training quarters at Gwrych Castle, Abergele, on the North-West coast of Wales, and he was working extremely hard, preparing for his big chance.
On the night 18,000 people saw Turpin waltz to victory. At the end of 15 rounds there could only be one winner and when referee Eugene Henderson, the sole scorer of the contest, raised Turpin’s hand the place went mad. BN wrote that “Turpin had seen to it that he was superbly fit, he had well planned his campaign. It did not take him long to realise that Robinson could be hit and hurt, that he could take the champion’s best punches unflinchingly, that he could out-guess and outbox him.”
In the return, at New York three months later, a fully prepared Robinson stopped Turpin to regain his title, but who can begrudge Randolph his wonderful win in their first encounter, against the best pound-for-pound fighter that ever lived.