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Christmas Day in Germany with Sugar Ray Robinson

Arne K. Lang

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Sugar Ray Robinson

It was snowing when Sugar Ray Robinson and his entourage left their hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, for the short walk to the sterile brick building where Robinson would display his wares. This wasn’t the soft snow that flutters from the sky to delight young children on Christmas morning; this was a driving snow, the kind that stings when it hits you in the face. No man should be out in this weather on Christmas but here was Sugar Ray Robinson on Christmas Day, 1950, going to work in a land far from home.

Robinson’s work was giving and receiving punches inside a small roped enclosure. He was a lot better at the former than the latter, capable of firing off a fusillade of punches before his opponent, if still standing, could answer with a punch of his own. But this was still a hard way to earn a living.

Robinson’s trip to Frankfurt was the final leg of a whirlwind European tour, five fights in 29 days beginning with an engagement in Paris on Nov. 27. In design, the tour replicated many of the tours arranged for America’s great black jazz musicians who found a more appreciative audience in Europe than in their home country. From Paris, Sugar Ray went to Brussels and Geneva and then returned to Paris for a match with Robert Villemain.

Robinson’s welterweight title wasn’t at risk in any of these five fights. He had given notice that he planned to vacate it. But these were not exhibitions. To the contrary, Robinson was matched against some of the top fighters in Europe. Villemain, a rugged fighter built along the lines of Marcel Cerdan, which is to say stocky, was Exhibit A.

They had met earlier that year in Philadelphia. The fight went 15 rounds with Robinson coming out on top. Prior to his first encounter with Robinson, Villemain had split two bouts with Jake LaMotta, avenging an awful decision from their first meeting, and scored a win over future Hall of Famer Kid Gavilan, the Cuban Hawk.

It has been noted that one of the hallmarks of great champions is that they invariably elevate their game in rematches. Fighting before a hostile crowd at the Palais des Sport, Robinson didn’t leave the sequel in the hands of the judges. He battered Villemain to the canvas in the ninth round and although the Frenchman beat the count, he was too badly hurt to continue in the eyes of the ref who waived the fight off.

After opposing a man of Villemain’s stature, Robinson was entitled to a nice long rest. But before news of his victory hit the next day’s papers, he and his entourage were on board a red-eye train to Frankfurt, a 12-hour trip.

Robinson was famous for his entourage. On this excursion it consisted of his manager, George Gainford, his wife, his chief second, his barber, his golf pro, two secretaries and a late addition, a dwarf he picked up in Paris who was useful to him as a translator. When the crew was together as a unit they all wore matching purple jackets, Robinson’s favorite color. In Europe, they could not have been more conspicuous if they were aliens from outer space.

It didn’t take long for sportswriters to anoint Sugar Ray Robinson the best boxer, pound-for-pound, in the modern (i.e. Queensberry) era of prizefighting. As an amateur he was 89-0. His pro record entering his second bout with Villemain was 119-1-2. The lone defeat had come in his second meeting with Jake LaMotta, a bout in which he was outweighed by 16 pounds, and he had avenged that loss thrice in what would ultimately be a six-fight series.

But forget the numbers. A fighter’s won-loss record is pretty much a useless statistic, albeit that was far less true in Robinson’s day. What was remarkable is that the most lavish bouquets lavished on him came from the senior members of the sportswriting fraternity.

Old-time fight fans are notorious for thinking that old-time fighters were superior to their modern counterparts and old sportswriters aren’t immune. Some wizened scribe was bound to have offered up this opinion: “Okay, I’ll grant you, this kid Robinson is pretty good, but if he had met Mickey Walker in Walker’s prime he would have been in for a rude awakening.” But no one offered up that caveat, at least no one to this reporter’s knowledge, and this reporter has spent countless hours rummaging through old newspapers. The lionization of Sugar Ray Robinson was unanimous.

In Frankfurt, Robinson was matched against Hans Stretz whose record was said to be 33-3. Seven years younger than Robinson at age 22, Stretz was a former and future German middleweight champion.

Stretz was refreshingly realistic when assessing his chances. “Anything can happen in boxing,” he said. “The worst sometimes beat the best and I’m not the worst.” But Stretz knew something that Robinson didn’t. He knew that the building that would house their fight, the Haus de Technik, a building built for industrial trade shows, was unheated and in hopes of getting an edge he prepared for Robinson in an unheated gym.

The patrons, reportedly 7,000, arrived wearing heavy jackets. Between rounds they stood and stamped their feet in unison on the concrete floor as a means of abating the chill.

Robinson knocked Stretz to the mat within the first 30 seconds of the fight. The German dusted himself off and had some good moments in rounds two and three, but that merely prolonged the inevitable. He would be knocked down eight times in all before the match was halted in the fifth round. The final punch was a straight left. Stretz wasn’t concussed but he was exhausted and made no attempt to rise as the referee tolled the “10” count.

Again there was no rest for the weary. Two days later, on Dec. 27, the ocean liner SS Liberte left Paris for New York. Robinson and his entourage, minus the dwarf, were on it.

It was important for Robinson to get home in a hurry. He would have only six weeks to get ready for his next fight and this was a biggie, a match with Jake LaMotta, the man who had given him his toughest fights. At stake would be LaMotta’s middleweight title, affording Sugar Ray an opportunity to win a world title in a second weight class. Before that, on Jan. 9, 1951, there was the annual dinner of the Boxing Writers Association of America where Robinson was set to receive the Edward J. Neill Memorial Award forged to honor “the person who has done the most for boxing during the preceding year.” (Neill was an Associated Press war correspondent who died from a shrapnel wound while embedded with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.)

Sugar Ray was a worthy honoree. In Europe, by virtue of his fistic brilliance, he brightened the day of many people still suffering from the ravages of World War II. And how odd that his trip to Europe would include a stop-over in Germany, America’s arch-enemy just a few years earlier.

German fight fans aren’t as animated as fight fans in other countries, but I have no doubt that most of them watching the Robinson-Stretz fight with no apparent emotional allegiance were sorely disappointed that Hans Stretz didn’t make a better showing. Boxing, more than any other sport, feeds on tribal loyalties. But they left knowing that they had seen a master craftsman at work. “(Sugar Ray Robinson) is perhaps the closest thing to a perfect fighting machine the human race will ever produce,” wrote Bill Zalenski, the ringside correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

—-

I don’t want to get maudlin here. Robinson’s excursion to Europe was all about making money to maintain his ostentatious lifestyle. But I have thought about the Robinson-Stretz fight a lot and there’s a part of me that wants to think that he was drawn to Frankfurt by a force more powerful than a felt need for pecuniary enrichment.

The crowd included a smattering of American GIs. A few years earlier, they would have been in Germany on a killing mission. A little over five years had elapsed since the war in Europe had officially ended with the signing of the Armistice. Measured by the sands of time, that was yesterday. And yet here in an unheated building in wintry Frankfurt, with wounds still fresh from the deadliest conflict in human history, Americans and Germans had come in peace to watch a recital by the most skilled practitioner of the so-called manly art.

How appropriate that this scene played out on Christmas.

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The Gypsy King: Enjoy Him While You Can

Ted Sares

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Tyson Fury —The Gypsy King– possesses a sharp Irish wit. True, he’s putting everybody on half the time, but that’s what blarney is all about. He’s a born showman and is rarely at a loss for words or afraid to throw stuff out there. Heavyweight boxing hasn’t had this type in a long time—maybe not since Ali.

Curiously, the forgoing was written before he went into the deep depths of hell brought about by depression and substance abuse. He was pretty much written off as a one-off phenom. In fact, things got so bad that David Haye once said, in response to Fury’s homophobic tweets,: “It seems @Tyson_Fury needs to ease up on his ‘Medication’ or seek an Exorcist, or he’ll get sectioned at this rate #StraightJacketRequired”

Fast Forward

But lo and behold, that was then and this is now and he has made one of the greatest comebacks in sports history (with a nod to George Foreman and Tiger Woods) showing a will and determination rarely seen anywhere. This should not be downplayed. When combined with his ability to get up from Deontay Wilder’s best shot in the final round of their fight, that determination—that will, borders on the surreal.

And he is an entirely different person. This is not the same person who told reporters they can s**k his balls. No, this Fury donated his entire purse from the Wilder fight to several UK charities that specialize in providing housing for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Said Fury, “I did give away my last purse, but I don’t do charity work for a pat on the back…I do it to help people, but I do not want praise for it, I don’t want to be called a do-gooder.”

This is not a Nikolai Valuev or a Primo Canera. The new Fury is fast, fights backwards, forwards, orthodox, southpaw, and has great upper body movement. He fights in a relaxed and fluid manner, but is a ruthless closer. This Fury enjoys what he does unlike fellow-Brit Anthony Joshua who seemed visibly uncomfortable in New York City recently. Heck, Fury is made for The Big Apple.

Anyone who is 6’9” and can switch stances and slip seven punches in a row much like Pernell Whitaker was able to do and then immediately come back with a deadly volley to initiate the beginning of a ruthless end (with Schwarz bloodied and under brutal attack, the bout was waved off), warrants the attention of every serious boxing fan.

After referee Kenny Bayless finished his count, Fury came across the ring after the poor German like something out of a horror movie as he closed the show. It bears a second and third look.

“I got a big man out of there by switching it up. He caught me with a couple but you can’t go swimming and not get wet.” said Fury (now 28-0-1). As an aside, the Gypsy King went to Schwarz’s locker room to console him after the fight.

“He needed to make a statement tonight. When he walks to that ring, he becomes someone else. All that he has in the back of his head, is Deontay Wilder. He wants that revenge. He showed strength, power, determination and that killer instinct.” — Tyson’s father John Fury.

He made that statement.

The Future

Now attention turns to his next fight with Kubrat Pulev, his IBF mandatory, his most like likely opponent. (Of course, Pulev must refrain from kissing his female interviewers.) Such a matchup would be more competitive and even risky. As Caryn Tate of Boxing.com says, “The sooner Fury and the rest of the heavyweights at the top of the division fight each other, the better. The plethora of tune-ups in this sport have got to stop.”

In a sport/business that overwhelms us with nonstop legal bickering and suspected/real use of PEDs, this affable and candid giant is a breath of badly needed fresh air.

“I was in the car on the way with my wife and I said ‘I think we’ve made it Paris’. She said why and I said ‘We’re headlining in Vegas! This is it!’” — Tyson Fury

Later, he said, I came here to have fun and enjoy myself. I don’t take it too seriously. I thought I put on a good show and the fans got what they paid for.”

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Grand Master class.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Three Punch Combo: Looking Ahead to the 2020 IBHOF Class and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Last weekend, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, held its annual induction ceremony. Julian Jackson, Donald Curry and James “Buddy” McGirt were enshrined in the modern category. With the 2019 induction weekend now complete, it is now time to look forward to the 2020 class in the modern category.

For those not familiar with the process, each year three boxers are elected in the modern category. No more and no less. The modern category is comprised of fighters who had their last bout no earlier than 1989 and have been retired from the sport for five years. So to be considered for the 2020 ballot, the boxer’s last fight would need to be no later than 2014.

Last year’s class was dominated by holdovers who weren’t elected to the IBHOF the first time they were eligible and appeared on the ballot multiple times before finally getting inducted. We also saw something similar in 2016. But for the class of 2020, we have a strong list of first time eligible candidates and given the current voting criteria it is probable that the class of 2020 will be comprised of fighters from this list.

The five notable first time eligible candidates are Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1, 40 KO’s), Sergio Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KO’s), Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KO’s), Jorge Arce (64-8-2, 49 KO’s) and Marcos Maidana (35-5, 31 KO’s).

Of the five, I think Arce and Maidana can safely be eliminated from serious consideration for the class of 2020. They don’t have near the resumes of the other three.

Juan Manuel Marquez (pictured) would seem to be a lock. He is a former multi-division champion who fought in some of the most prominent fights of his era and holds wins against some of the best fighters of his generation. This includes wins over Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.

Sergio Martinez is also a lock. The Argentine may have been a late bloomer but he had a dominant four-year middleweight title reign after defeating Kelly Pavlik in 2010 for the title. During this reign he scored an emphatic second round knockout of Paul Williams which avenged a previous loss and won a decisive 12-round decision over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

I sense there will be some debate regarding Froch but I think he will get the nod his first time around. He is a former 168-pound champion and has an incredibly deep resume that includes wins against many of the best in the division of his era. Of his two losses, one was avenged to Mikkel Kessler and the other was to future first ballot Hall of Famer Andre Ward. The resume just speaks for itself and should be more than enough to earn Froch enshrinement on his first go-around.

Of the holdovers, the two most likely to push Froch for the third and final spot are Rafael Marquez (41-9, 37 KO’s) and Vinny Paz (50-10, 30 KO’s). Marquez garnered a lot of support in his first year of eligibility last year and a lot were surprised when he did not make the final cut. With his brother likely getting inducted this coming year, there could be a push to put the brothers in together. As for Paz, he also picked up some steam last year and seemed to sway more voters to his side.

The Case For Yaqui Lopez

Every year I like to touch upon some fighters who I feel have gone overlooked by IBHOF voters. In past years for example, I have made cases for both Kevin Kelley and Junior Jones. This year, I wanted to go back a little further to a different era and point out a fighter who I think deserves serious consideration in Yaqui Lopez (61-15, 39 KO’s).

Lopez never won a world title and I am quickly reminded of that whenever I bring up his candidacy. He fought in an era that not only did not have an abundance of title belts but also featured some of the all-time greats of the light heavyweight division. Lopez lost two close decisions in world title bids to Hall of Famer Victor Galindez. Lopez also was competitive on two occasions in challenging Matthew Saad Muhammad for his light heavyweight title. Their second fight in 1980 was the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. And Lopez also gave future Hall of Famer Michael Spinks a test before being stopped in the seventh round.

The losses were competitive to these all-time greats. In any other era Lopez would have been a world champion. But there are yet many good wins on his resume, most notably a sixth round stoppage of Mike Rossman in March of 1978. Six months later, Rossman would knock out the aforementioned Galindez to become the light heavyweight champion.

There is another side to the argument for Lopez. Some people hate when I mention this but entertainment matters when considering candidates qualifications. The floodgates were opened by voters in this regard with the elections of Arturo Gatti and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and there is no going back. Lopez was not only a very accomplished fighter but one of the most exciting fighters of his era, he was involved in many memorable wars. Add this fact to his resume and Lopez more than meets all the criteria to be inducted into the IBHOF.

Under The Radar Fight

 ShoBox returns on Friday from the WinnaVegas Casino & Resort in Sloan, Iowa with a tripleheader featuring six fighters with a combined record of 91-1. Though I am very interested in all the fights, I am especially interested in the main event, a 154-pound contest between fast rising prospect Sebastian Fundora (12-0, 8 KO’s) and Hector Manuel Zepeda (17-0, 4 KO’s).

Fundora stands 6’7” tall and is appropriately nicknamed “The Towering Inferno.” For a man who stands that tall, he is incredibly athletic and fluid inside the ring. Working from a southpaw stance, Fundora likes to use his height to pepper his opponents from the outside with a sharp right jab. He will work very fluid, heavy handed combinations behind that jab and makes his opposition pay a heavy toll when they attempt to close the distance. And if opponents do manage to get inside, Fundora has shown himself to be a very accomplished fighter at close range.

Defensively, Fundora has some things to clean up. He tends to get involved in exchanges and when he does so will stand straight up with his chin exposed. He’s been clipped clean on a few occasions and that will need to be corrected as he moves up in caliber of competition.

There is not a lot of video available on Zepeda but from what I have seen he is a technically astute fighter. He is a boxer puncher by trade who will use frequent lateral movement working behind the left jab from the orthodox stance. Zepeda likes to be first instead of looking for counters and from the fights I have seen has shown to be a volume puncher. As the record indicates, however, he is not a big puncher.

If Zepeda fights the way that I have seen on video, I think we are going to get a fast paced, good action fight. Fundora is clearly the “A” side here and is supposed to win. But make no mistake, Zepeda can fight and this is a step up in class for Fundora.

This is a classic ShoBox fight in which the “A” side could get pushed and I am very interested to see this one on Friday.

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Will a Canelo Alvarez Trilogy Turn ‘Triple G’ into a Mexican Style Piñata?

Jeffrey Freeman

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We’ve all seen the birthday video of some poor kid swingin’ for a strung-up stuffed toy but getting back in the face something other than the expected bounty of candies and treats. Dizzy from being spun around in circles and blindfolded against a moving target, a child is beaten by paper mache. Score one for the much-abused piñata. It can only take so much punishment.

Before it opens up—explodes!

Perhaps that’s 37-year-old Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin now in his single-minded desire to fight world middleweight champion Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, 28, for a third time following a successful comeback KO of Steve Rolls at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Maybe he’ll bust Canelo’s belly open. Or maybe this time he’ll get busted up? Three strikes in this game; sorry Buster.

“I’m ready. Bring on Canelo,” Golovkin told DAZN’s Chris Mannix after improving to 39-1-1 with 35 big knockouts. “A third fight is more interesting because we both have experience against each other. I come to open up, he comes to open up…the next fight will be amazing for us.”

Their first two title bouts were amazing for fans but they lacked a sense of finality. Neither boxer was ever visibly hurt and there were no knockdowns registered. In two fights, only six points divided the combatants and that includes the despicable 118-110 score from Adalaide Byrd in favor of Canelo in the first meeting. In the rematch, Alvarez was superior—but not by much.

The piñata is still in play.

In his many swings in two HBO-PPV tries against Alvarez, Golovkin came up short of bursting the economic bubble that surrounds Canelo and appears to protect him at all times. Their 2017 contest was ruled a split draw and their 2018 rematch was won by Canelo via majority decision. If Golovkin was cloaked in an aura of invincibility, it was Alvarez who stripped him naked but helped fund a brand-new wardrobe by providing Golovkin with his two biggest paydays by far.

Golovkin’s ability to knock out ordinary fighters and second-tier contenders like Vanes Martirosyan remains intact. The offense looks good. Punches still fly like hatchets. However, GGG’s defense looked third-rate against Rolls and he’s back to taking punches in the face in order to connect with harder punches of his own to end matters early as a “gift” for fans.

New trainer Johnathon Banks wasn’t impressed.

As a student of the late trainer Emanuel Steward and caretaker of his KRONK legacy, ‘Mister Banks’ is a fine human being and an honest man in an industry full of lies told to sell fights.

“It was very uncomfortable for me,” said Banks at the post-fight press conference of having to watch Golovkin, now without Abel Sanchez, take shots he shouldn’t be taking. On the other hand, Canelo’s Golden Boy Promotions promoter Oscar De La Hoya had to like what he saw.

The TSS Truth: The Golovkin who beat Rolls didn’t look ready at all for the Canelo who beat Jacobs. And if you listened carefully to the post-fight breakdown by Banks, the trainer knows it’s true. What’s also true is that as Canelo approaches his peak, Golovkin is approaching age 40.

Can Banks teach Golovkin to correct his mistakes and be better than Alvarez in September—in three months? “If we can grow day to day as trainer and fighter, that can change the outcome.”

I’m not so sure.

THE BANK STATEMENT

After getting his head bobbled around by Rolls before dropping the boom in the fourth, GGG didn’t sound too interested in a New York rematch with Danny Jacobs or a shot at Providence, Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade for Boo-Boo’s new WBO trinket—and who can blame him at this point? The only big money fight out there for GGG is still against Canelo Alvarez.

It’s all about his legacy now. Uno mas en Las Vegas. Third times a charm?

As Golovkin gets another year older, his red-headed target grows another year wiser. Canelo’s 24 rounds of experience in the ring with GGG have taught him how to do what nobody else before him could do which was beat Golovkin back and take his unified middleweight titles.

Ask Canelo, as DAZN’s Mannix did, and he’ll say a third fight with Golovkin is unnecessary. “For me, we are done, but if the people want to see it, we can do it again. And I’ll beat him again.”

But can Alvarez finish the job and be the first to finish off Golovkin inside the distance? If he wants to get the critics off his back who insist he received two gifts against Golovkin, he’ll want to. It worked for Andre Ward against Sergey Kovalev but even then fans cried foul over the TKO.

Can Alvarez make GGG quit?

The way Golovkin got hit by Steve Rolls has me wondering if the counterpunching Canelo has been setting him up all along for a trilogy winning knockout of some sort. Is the rock-solid chin of Golovkin finally ready to burst after years of getting whacked at by eager-fisted title challengers?

Canelo is by no means a knockout puncher against fully fleshed out middleweights but he has grown into the 160-pound division very well over time. His recent unanimous decision victory over Danny Jacobs didn’t feature any knockdowns but his win over the ‘Miracle Man’ was more conclusive than was Golovkin’s in 2017. Nobody was claiming afterwards that Jacobs deserved the decision while some still insist that Danny actually beat GGG. If Golovkin is right and both of them open up more in a third fight, Canelo-Golovkin III could exceed expectations.

We’ve all heard the saying: Be careful what you wish for. Because you just might get it!

There wouldn’t be a bigger Big Drama Show in all of boxing than to see the once seemingly invincible Gennady Golovkin dropped and/or stopped by the Mexican Style of Canelo Alvarez.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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