THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON

by
THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON
THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON

THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON

by
THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON
THE NIGHT THE HEAT KNOCKED OUT ROBINSON

In a few more days of this month of June, exactly on Saturday 25th, it will be 72 years since one of the most dramatic and memorable fights in the old history of boxing, such as the one between the immortal Ray “Sugar” Robinson, middleweight champion, and the then world semi-complete champion Joey Maxim, who was risking the crown won against Freddie Mills in January of the previous year.

On that Wednesday night, the thermometer read 104 Fahrenheit, the hottest night in New York that summer and possibly the hottest to date in history.
 Robinson had also been a welterweight champion before the middleweight, which he won in 1946 against Tommy Bell and successfully defended only twice. 

In amateur he fought 85 times without ever losing, with 69 knockouts, 40 in the first round, and the first setback he suffered in his 41st professional fight, in a close decision against his arch-rival Jake LaMotta (they fought 6 times, with 5 wins for RR). The second loss was to England’s Randy Turpin, who took the crown on points and whom he knocked out in 10 in a rematch in July and September, respectively, the year before his bout with Maxim.

THE HELL HEAT WON

Around the ring, placed in the centre of the now demolished Yankee Stadium in the Bronx (“The house that Ruth built” as baseball fans called it, in honour of New York Yankees home run hitter George Hermann “Babe” Ruth), some 48,000 boxing fans and the occasional curious onlooker crowded into the venue, Some 48,000 boxing fans and the occasional curious onlooker, crammed into the venue, awaited expectantly and would later be eyewitnesses to what would be one of the most memorable, epic and unprecedented bouts in the history of the gloves discipline: Ray “Sugar” Robinson, Walker Smith Jr. his given name, the greatest fighter in history in the almost unanimous opinion of boxers, chroniclers, analysts, reporters and simple lovers of the ancient sport, would try to take his third crown – out of as many divisions – held by the tough and resilient Joey Maxim, king of the light heavyweight belt, 175 pounds.

Robinson, 31, had established unquestioned dominance at welterweight and middleweight in a career that began twelve years earlier, with 132 wins, just two losses and two draws, after winning all of his amateur fights, as noted above. Maxim, a year younger, with a mortifying and strong jab, although technically inferior to the challenger, did not show such a brilliant record as the former, although he accumulated a respectable 78 wins, only 22 by KO, 18 losses and 4 draws. 

From his record and build, it was thought that his natural weight could probably help him in his efforts to stop the invader. 

Such presumption began to dissipate when Robinson came in and hit, then left in lateral movements, like a sort of ghost, then left without stopping hitting a Maxim who looked bewildered, impotent, in front of an enemy who never saw in the same place and who basked in the domain with his long straight punches, jabs, uppers and who went far from the attempts of the dazed and stunned adversary.

Meanwhile, the temperature was gradually taking its toll on the three men in the ring, especially the legendary referee Ruby Goldstein, who was sweating profusely, his shirt soaking wet, as if he had been under a shower. 

So much so that as RR continued to widen his lead on the judges’ scorecards, Goldstein could take no more: he went to the canvas as if hit by a sledgehammer and had to be replaced with an emergency referee, Ray Miller, in round 10.

However, the desert-hot temperature certainly did not affect Goldstein alone: Robinson, who had not stopped moving in front of a passive and totally overwhelmed and defenceless Maxim, could not resist any longer either.Staggering, dry, melted, he heard the bell ring in round 13, stumbled to the corner and sat half-dead on the stool. He did not have the strength to respond to the ringing of the gong that summoned the contestants to the penultimate round. The judges’ scorecards gave the challenger a wide advantage. In the round-by-round scoring, as was the style at the time, they were 10-3, 9-3-1 and 7-3-3.Maxim thus retained the belt of a fight he had never won in the ring in the 39 minutes of action. Symbolically, figuratively speaking, the hand raised was that of the thermometer on that singular night that bears no resemblance to any other fight in history.

The frustration of that remote June 25, the only KO against him in his long and dazzling career, temporarily put Robinson out of boxing. He enjoyed singing and dancing with a band he formed and returned to the ring some 3 years later, for another 62 fights of which he won 44 with 13 losses and 5 draws. 

He left with a record of 175 wins, 109 by knockout, 19 losses, only 1 by KO, between his debut on 4-10-40 with a KO2 to Joe Echeverria at Madison Square Garden and his final farewell on 11-10-65, a points loss to Joey Archer, with the rest he took after the “setback” (inverted commas apply) to Maxim. 

Born in Alley, Georgia, on May 3, 1921, Robinson died at the age of 68 on March 12, 1989 in Curley City, California.

In the ring he earned more than $54 million, hundreds if not thousands these days, was honoured, we repeat, as the greatest boxer in history by the AP news agency and by ESPN and The Ring and is considered the best pound-for-pound fighter (he was the birthplace of that name) of all time.

Maxim (Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli, his real name) finished with 83 (22)-29 (1)-4 and 8 no contests. What happened in the rest of his ring career leads one to believe that he too melted down that night: in 14 more fights, he lost 10 with 4 grey decision victories. Born on 28 March 1922, he died on 2 June 21 years ago. A closing eulogy for Robinson, in the Canastota Hall of Fame in NY since 1990: Muhammad Ali said of him that “he was my idol, my master. 

He’s the king. 

The greatest of them all,” and Ray “Sugar” Leonard flatly refused to be compared to the first “Sugar”: “Robinson has been the best of us all. Robinson has been the best of us all. Nobody like him,” he replied, when they tried to equate them, with a marked emphasis of admiration.


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