It’s exactly 30 years since Sugar Ray Robinson, generally considered as the greatest pound for pound fighter in boxing history passed away but his life and moments are still etched into the minds of many.
Born Walker Smith Junior on May 3, 1921, in Detroit, Michigan, the aspiring boxer had to borrow the Amateur Athletic Union card of another boxer, whose name was Ray Robinson, to enter the ring for the first bout of his career in 1936.
The young champion subsequently held the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951, eventually becoming the first boxer to win a divisional world championship five times by 1958.
But what was his journey to fame like?
Living with his single mother and two other siblings in Harlem, Robinson helped his mother to take care of the home by getting some little bucks while dancing for strangers at Times Square.
But as they were staying among gangsters, Robinson’s mother feared that her son would take up the attitudes of those hoodlums, so she offered her son to be trained by a man named George Gainford who had just started a boxing club at the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church.
It was from this club that Robinson had the nickname “Sugar.” Gainford at the time described the young boxer as “sweet as sugar,” and the nickname soon caught up with mainstream media.
In 1939, the gifted boxer won his first Golden Gloves title (featherweight) and achieved the same feat the following year.
At age 19, he was already a professional fighter and interestingly amassed 40 straight victories before tasting a defeat from future middleweight champion, Jake LaMotta. But Sugar eventually defeated him in four of their five meetings.
Throughout his 25-year career, Robinson amassed 175 wins, 110 knockouts and just 19 losses, according to biography.com.
He inspired other boxing talents including the likes of Muhammad Ali who referred to Robinson as “The King”, “The master”, “My idol.”
Robinson would have retired from boxing much earlier but for his lavish spending. He was often seen in high-profile nightclubs in Harlem with an unnecessarily large entourage of women, trainers and other relatives.
After retirement in 1965 he began a career in show business and even appeared in televison series like Mission Impossible and Land of the Giants in late 1960s.
He was two years after his retirement inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The ‘pound for pound’ subsequently founded the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation in South Central Los Angeles, California. He had then settled with his second wife, Millie after having a child from his previous marriage.
During his final years Robinson, who was a Freemason member suffered from diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease. He died in Los Angeles on April 12, 1989, at the age of 67.
Five years before his death, The Ring magazine placed him No. 1 in its book “The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time.”