Sugar Ray Robinson’s Xmas Trip

These times, there is treasured tiny boxing that requires place about the vacations, help you save for the customary late-12 months shows in Russia and Japan. For promoters, it’s a monetarily perilous decision to phase a show at this time of yr, with opportunity ticket customers and broadcast viewers’ time and cash already allocated in many locations. For fighters, currently laborers in a activity that necessitates a diploma of separation from beloved ones, having to do so around the holiday seasons is anything they’d prefer to stay clear of. Not to point out, holiday getaway indulgence and building fat don’t exactly go alongside one another like mashed potatoes and gravy. 

But 71 a long time in the past, the world’s best fighter at the time, and the just one who would go on to be accepted as the best to at any time live, was in motion on Xmas Day. On December 25, 1950, Sugar Ray Robinson took on Hans Stretz in Frankfurt, Germany. 

Without the need of any context Robinson’s fifth round knockout acquire in excess of Stretz reads like a nondescript remain active outing on BoxRec. Nevertheless, the tale of how Robinson acquired there, what took place when he was there and what subsequently happened in the wake of it would make his gain about Stretz and the preceding European tour a interesting very little slice of boxing record. 

In November of 1950, Robinson agreed to choose section in a collection of bouts throughout Europe for promoter Charlie Michaelis. Robinson was a notoriously fierce negotiator and distrustful of promoters, significantly as his star commenced to brighten, but he reliable Michaelis, and even fought a single of the bouts on the journey without a formal agreement, discovering it unneeded for the reason that he realized Michaelis would be straight with him. Michaelis initially ordered four spherical excursion tickets for Robinson, but he determined that wouldn’t be adequate. Robinson required to travel with the exact same crew he would for a battle in the United States, together with his wife Edna Mae, his barber and valet, his religious advisor, and much more. With each other they had 53 parts of luggage, all discovered as theirs with crimson strings tied to the handles. 

Robinson et al travelled on the SS Liberté, a repurposed German ship remodeled into a lavish cruise ship with opulent French service. Robinson would afterwards remark in his autobiography how abnormal it was for nine Black Us residents to be on a cruise ship of this mother nature, but the Liberté and the Parisians’ comparatively extra progressive sights about race would come to be a selling function for a lot of outstanding Black celebs of the time. Notables this sort of as Sarah Vaughan, W.E.B. Du Bois and Beauford Delaney all sailed to Paris on the Liberté in the 1950s.

Robinson is deemed by quite a few to be the 1 who popularized the celebrity entourage. The origins of that time period, for Robinson at least, are rooted in this voyage. It is on this ship that Robinson listened to a crew member refer to “Robinson and his entourage.” Robinson preferred the audio of the expression, its mouth come to feel as it rolled off his tongue, and uncovered it to be a more respectful descriptor than “associates.” The title would adhere. 

In Paris, Robinson identified a stage of reverence and movie star he hadn’t but experienced in The united states. Admirers dealt with him as “un artiste,” and the city’s appreciations for the arts and vogue had been alluring to Robinson. As he did seemingly regardless of where by he was, Robinson discovered his way to where by women were, and in a nude dancing club, Robinson fulfilled the male who would turn into the tenth member of his freshly anointed entourage, the 4-foot-4 Jimmy Kapoura. Kapoura, who spoke a number of languages, together with French fluently, presented to turn out to be Robinson’s translator on the location. No even further negotiation was needed. By the upcoming time Robinson experienced a European tour the subsequent 12 months, he’d included a 13th member, a next person of limited stature, Arabian Knight, to be his “mascot” and buzz guy. 

Sugar Ray’s European loop consisted of 5 fights in 29 times, an unfathomable pacing of fights in the contemporary landscape, even for prospective clients wiping out opponents in 4 rounders, permit by itself the sport’s elite. All of the fights have been contested at middleweight, as Robinson well prepared for his significant leap up in excess weight to experience Jake LaMotta for the 160-pound title. Robinson had manufactured his last protection of the welterweight crown in opposition to Charley Fusari in August and experienced rather quietly decided to go away the division that fall, though The RING nevertheless regarded him its 147-pound winner. 

His opposition compared to Sugar Ray Robinson was definitely lackluster, but in the grand scheme of points, his opponents were being all reliable fighters, some of the best Europe had to offer in the middleweight division at the time. He knocked out Jean Stock in France, stopped Luc Van Dam in Belgium, decisioned Jean Walczak in Switzerland, and flattened Robert Villemain back in France all over again. Some of the bouts had been arranged on the fly even though Robinson was by now in Europe, such as the Villemain bout. After Robinson’s get over Stock, Villemain was in attendance and joked to reporters that Sugar Ray was his upcoming significant opponent. Robinson assumed he was serious, and inside 5 minutes experienced agreed to deal with him in late December. This was how totally unconcerned Robinson was with the likelihood of anyone beating him whilst in the midst of a 91-battle winning streak. 

“It’s tricky to envision any other winner performing what did when he agreed to fight an unidentified fighter in a bizarre town two times right after a challenging battle with Villemain,” reported James McGovern in a letter from Frankfurt which was printed in Red Smith’s syndicated column on January 11, 1951. “The Germans adore a display of energy, and Sugar Ray gave them that in spades.”

Stretz might not have been as unconcerned as Robinson, but he was somewhere between naïve and ignorant to what was to occur. He experienced in an unheated air force foundation, most likely to get ready himself for the problems in the Haus der Technik, the venue the bout would be staged in, which was also without heating. As studious as he may well have been in readying for the climate even so, he wasn’t as diligent or nervous about what the best fighter who at any time lived had in retail store for him. Stretz admitted to McGovern that he’d under no circumstances viewed Robinson combat before. Reportedly when hugging himself to stay warm, he available a typical pre-fight soundbite. 

“Anything can come about in boxing. The worst in some cases defeat the best, and I’m not the worst,” he said. 

The evening in advance of the Stretz bout, German children braved the snowstorm to sing Christmas carols exterior of Robinson’s resort window as he gazed out longingly, now eventually lacking the comforts of home in New York Metropolis. As his supervisor George Gainford usually instructed him to do, Robinson preferred to complete the battle as promptly as probable and get back on the Liberté back again house two times later. 

Decked out in matching purple jackets with “Sugar Ray” sewn on to the again, Robinson strolled to the ring with his entourage inside the frigid location. Somewhere amongst 7000 and 10,000 folks attended the struggle, but not even raucous shouting and bodily heat could heat the venue up much, especially for the shirtless fighters. Ringside studies recommended that Robinson didn’t experienced a bead of sweat on him—which probable experienced as much to do with the temperature as the simplicity of his assignment. 

Robinson floored Stretz in the opening 30 seconds of the bout, and an added seven occasions, right before Stretz ultimately remained on the canvas in the ninth round. Reporters marveled at Stretz’s skill to seemingly be revived by the seem of “nine,” a la Tyson Fury against Deontay Wilder, but there would be no heroic ending for Stretz.

There was considerably of a hero’s celebration for Robinson nonetheless, not just from the adoring German public, but from the numerous American GIs who had been in attendance. Troopers tried using to rush the ring to have Robinson again to his locker area, but were stopped by area police. 

In all, Robinson designed roughly $50,000 for his European tour, but admitted that he invested virtually all of it by the time he arrived back in the United States. 

While Robinson was packing his 53 luggage to head again residence, RING editor Nat Fleischer introduced the publication’s yearly awards. At this position in time, the term “pound-for-pound” experienced been utilised in relation to Bob Fitzsimmons, Henry Armstrong and some others, but there was no “formal” (this kind of that it can be) designation or rating by the publication as of yet. The day he defeated Stretz, Robinson obtained the honor of “best all-all around fighter” from Fleischer. Ezzard Charles was presented Fighter of the Calendar year, but Fleischer wished some thing to honor the fighter who may well not have had the most effective year general in 1950, but was clearly the sport’s ideal fighter even so. It is most likely the precursor to the pound-for-pound title, a thing that has develop into inextricably linked to Robinson. Two months afterwards, the Boxing Writers Affiliation of American honored Robinson for “doing the most for the activity in a provided year,” a gesture to accept Robinson’s donation of all by $1 of his purse against Fusari (approximately $50,000) to the Damon Runyon Most cancers Investigate Foundation. 

As he was ready to obtain his award at the supper gala, the MC started to go through telegrams from those people unable to go to the celebration. The most noteworthy was just one from Jake LaMotta, which read: “See you in Chicago on February 14. Make positive you’re there. -Jake”

Robinson would of study course go on to defeat LaMotta in what was subbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, one particular of the most unforgettable bouts of all-time, to get the world middleweight crown. The month-long tour of Europe that preceded was a critical bridge interval, a single that marked the conclusion of Robinson at welterweight—perhaps the ideal model of any fighter ever—and a new commencing at middleweight. It formalized the name of Robinson’s crew, potentially started the observe of referring to him as the pound-for-pound finest, and gave him a worldly experience that coloured his technique to his lifestyle from then on. The mythology of Sugar Ray Robinson was forged, in component, on this voyage. 

As they stepped off the Liberté, Robinson’s valet June Clark, whom he’d utilized and taken care of right after a bout with tuberculosis, confident Sugar Ray that they would be back again in Europe before long.

“I’m keeping the pink strings on all the baggage,” he said. 

Corey Erdman is a boxing author and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Abide by him on Twitter @corey_erdman

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