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Boxing with the original Sugar Ray

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Did you see any of the Oscar-nominated movies this year? The movie that intrigues me the most is the one about the woman who yearns to be a boxer. I wonder what it’s like, facing an opponent who might beat you to a pulp. After reading “Pound for Pound” by Herb Boyd with Ray Robinson II (c.2005, Amistad / Harper Collins), I also wonder what it would be like to fight for a living literally.Mention Sugar Ray, and most people under a “certain age” think of the guy who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics and later defeated Tommy Hearns. But there was another Sugar before that, one who wowed fans with agility and quick-as-lightning punches.Sugar Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr., in Detroit (or Georgia) in 1921 (or 1920), the son of a farmer and a domestic. After the Smiths split up, “Junior’s” mother sent him to the gymnasium to keep him out of trouble; soon, he found heroes in the boxers who trained there.In 1932, Junior’s mother packed up her children and moved to New York in search of better opportunities. There, she found a job and an apartment and she sent Junior to dance lessons, which taught him to be light on his feet. Before long, he was known around the neighborhood as a kid who was fleet of foot and fist.In his first bout with gloves, Junior won on a decision and he quickly learned that boxing paid good money. The gym became his passion, and he all but quit going to school. One night, begging for a chance to fight and needing credentials, Junior was given an AAU card that had once belonged to Ray Robinson, an ex-fighter. Later, when a female fan told a sportswriter that the still-teenage fighter was “sweet as sugar”, Sugar Ray Robinson was “born”.Boxing fans could argue that Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest boxer ever. As an amateur, he had 85 victories, no defeats. As a professional, he had 109 KOs. He took on boxers that nobody thought he could beat and he did. Those who saw him fight said that his punches came from thin air. Unfortunately, Sugar used those punches outside the ring, too. There is evidence that he physically abused both his wives.As biographies go “Pound for Pound” lacks punch. I really wanted to learn more about Sugar the man, albeit even author Boyd admits that Robinson was somewhat of an enigma. As a sports story goes, though, this book is pugilistic perfection. Boyd has a way of making even the most minor match seem exciting. I also really like the way historic events are woven in this book; you can almost picture Harlem 1948, or Paris 1950 by the way that Boyd describes them.If you’re looking for a straight biography, you might be a bit disappointed in this book. If you’re a boxing fan, however, “Pound for Pound” is a Sugar-sweet treat. VT


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