Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr. in May of 1921 in Vidalia, Georgia. He got his boxing name when he used the AAU card of an ex-boxer named Ray Robinson. Eventually he moved to Harlem, in NY.
Robinson got his nickname “Sugar” from sportswriter Jack Case, after seeing one of his amateur fights, saying “he sure was a sweet fighter.” His amateur record was 85-2 with 69 knockouts of which 40 were in the first round. His two losses were under his Walker Smith, Jr. name.
Robinson won his first 41 professional fights before losing to Jake LaMotta, in February of 1943. Robinson overall won five of their six meetings. LaMotta said “I fought Sugar Ray so often, I almost got diabetes.” Two weeks later Robinson defeated California Jackie Wilson, 47-4-2, and in another week defeated LaMotta in a rematch just 3 weeks after losing to him. He was inducted into the US Army the next day on February 27, 1943. He toured Army camps with heavyweight champion Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, fighting exhibitions for soldiers.
In March of 1944 while at Ft. Hamilton, in New York, Robinson was scheduled to go to Europe but was found out cold on a street by a stranger on April 1st, and taken to a hospital. He claimed to have fallen down steps in his barracks but couldn’t remember anything else from the time of the fall until he was taken to the hospital. He received an honorable discharge from the Army as a Sergeant on June 3, 1944.
In August of 1943, Robinson defeated one of the best of all times in former world champion “Homicide Hank” Henry Armstrong, 135-18-7, over 10 rounds at Madison Square Garden, in New York.
Robinson wouldn’t fight again until October of 1944 stopping Izzy Jannazzo, 58-13-5, in two rounds. In January of 1945 he defeated Tommy Bell. A month later he knocked out George “Sugar” Costner, 36-6-3, in the first round. The attendance was over 20,000, in Chicago.
Just nine days later Robinson would defeat LaMotta, 45-8-2, over 10 rounds at MSG. In May he drew with Puerto Rico’s Jose Basora, 54-9-4, out of New York, over 10 rounds at the Convention Center in Philadelphia. In September he defeated LaMotta, 52-9-2, by split decision in Chicago.
In November of 1946 Robinson knocked out Artie Levine, 46-9-5, in Cleveland, OH. In the fourth round a combination knocked him down and almost out. He gave up 9 ¼ pounds to Levine and was losing the fight going into the tenth round. With almost two minutes gone he paralyzed Levine with a right to the solar plexus following with a flurry of punches until Levine hit the canvas at 2:41 of the tenth.
The win over Levine got Robinson a vacant NBA world welterweight title fight in December defeating Tommy Bell, 39-10-3, over 15 rounds at MSG. He won a split decision over Georgie Abrams, 48-6-3, in May of 1947. The crowd seemed not pleased with the decision.
The June Robinson defended his title stopping Jimmy Doyle, 42-6-3, in the eighth round in Cleveland, OH. He defended and defeated Chuck Taylor, 23-8-2, stopping him in six rounds in Detroit in December.
Three fights later Robinson defended his title easily defeating Bernard “Big Duke” Docusen, 49-2-4, over 15 rounds in Chicago. In his next fight he defeated future world champion “Kid” Gavilan, 46-5-2, over 10 rounds in a non-title fight. In February of 1949 he knocked out “Young” Gene Buffalo, 113-32-11, in the first round in a non-title fight. Just five days later he fought to a split decision draw with Henry Brimm, 23-9-2, in Buffalo, whom he had beat in March of 1948.
In July of 1949 Robinson gave Gavilan a rematch in a title fight. In the fourth round he suffered a cut over his right eye. He went onto win a decision over 15 rounds at the Municipal Stadium, in Philadelphia before over 27,000 in attendance. Robinson said later the two fights with Gavilan were two of his toughest along with the one with Levine.
The following month Robinson was in a middleweight title eliminator stopping Steve Belloise, 90-10-3, who couldn’t come out for the eighth round. It would not get him a middleweight title fight and it would be a year before he defended his welterweight title. He defeated Italy’s Charley Fusari, 63-7-1, in New York, over 15 rounds. Before the month was out he knocked out Basora, 77-14-6, in a PA State Middleweight title fight having him down four times in the first and final round of a scheduled fifteen in Scranton, PA. This was a rematch with their first ending in a draw.
It would be a year and a half before Robinson finally got his title fight with champion Jake LaMotta, 78-14-3, stopping him in the thirteenth round to win the title. In July in his first title defense in the UK Robinson lost for the second time in his career. It was to Randy Turpin, 40-2-1, by decision. It was his first loss in ninety-one fights. There was an immediate rematch in September in New York where Robinson would win back his title stopping Turpin in the tenth round.
In 1952 Robinson defended his title in March defeating Bobo Olson, 48-5, over 15 rounds in San Francisco. n Chicago he defended and beat former champion Rocky Graziano, 67-8-6, knocking him out in five rounds.
Robinson decided to challenge for the light heavyweight title that was held by Joey Maxim, 78-18-4, in June, outdoors at Yankee Stadium, in NY. The temperature was so bad at 104 degrees that referee Rudy Goldstein had to be replaced by Ray Miller in the tenth round. The scorecards at the time of stoppage were all in Robinson’s favor at 10-3, 9-3-1 and 7-3-3. He would retire in December. In October of 1953 Olson would defeat Turpin for the vacant title.
Robinson would return to the ring in January of 1955 at age 33 knocking out Joe Rindone, 36-13-4, but two weeks later lost to Ralph “Tiger” Jones, 32-12-3, by decision. In July he won a split decision over Rocky Castellani, 64-8-6, over 10 rounds earning a rematch with then champion Olson, 71-7, in December knocking him out in two rounds. Five months later in a rematch he knocked Olson out in four rounds.
In January of 1957 Robinson defended against Gene Fullmer, 37-3, losing a fifteen round decision. In May he won the title back stopping Fullmer in five rounds. In September of 1957 he lost a split decision to Carmen Basilio, 51-12-7, over 15 rounds. In March of 1958 Robinson won the title back on a split decision. Both fights won Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year honors. At the age of 38 he would lose his title to Paul Pender, 36-5-2, by split decision in Boston.
Not able to get a rematch with Pender Robinson fought for the NBA title drawing with Gene Fullmer over 15 rounds in December. In a rematch in March of 1961 he lost to Fullmer over 15 rounds and it would be his final title fight being almost 40 years-old.
Robinson would go onto win his next four fights including defeating Denny Moyer but in the rematch in February of 1962 he lost. Five months later he lost to Moyer’s brother Phil, 27-6-1, in July the hand writing was on the wall with a record of 149-11-3. He would lose again in his next fight in the UK to Terry Downes, 29-8.
In June of 1963 Robinson returned to the US and came to Philadelphia losing to Joey Giardello, 90-23-8. In France in October he defeated Armand Vanucci, 18-4-2 and in November drew with Italian Fabio Bettini, 18-7-3. Then on the 16th in Belgium he knocked out Emiel Sarens, 22-2-3, in 8 rounds. On the 29th he defeated Andre Davier, 21-10-1, in France. On December 9th in France he defeated Vancucci, 18-5-2, a second time.
In July Robinson drew with Art Hernandez, 20-1, in Omaha, NEB. In September in the UK he lost to Mick Leahy, 45-15-7, but in Paris, France he defeated Yoland “Yves” Leveque, 21-1.
In October in London Robinson defeated Nigerian Johnny “Gabriel Dada” Angel, 12-5-2, and in France Jackie Cailleau, 13-10-1. In November on the seventh he defeated Frances Jean Baptiste Rolland, 19-4-1, and on the fourteenth defeated Frances Jean Beltritti, 6-2, both in France. In a rematch with Bettini, 20-10-5, he drew again.
In March of 1965 Robinson knocked out Jimmy Beecham, 41-30-3, in 3 rounds in Kingston, Jamaica. In April he knocked out Rocky Randall, 79-54-15, in three rounds.
In May Robinson lost to Mexico’s Memo Ayon, 15-4-1, in Tijuana, MEX. In June he lost to Stan Harrington, 55-16-1, in Hawaii. In July he lost to Ferd Hernandez, 15-4-2, by split decision in Las Vegas, NV. In August he went back to Hawaii and lost again to Harrington.
In November he defeated Romanian Peter Schmidt, 22-25-7, in Johnstown, PA, and stopped Jamaican Rudolph Bent, 44-42-4, in 3, in Steubenville, OH, which would be his last victory.
In Robinson’s final career fight on November 10, 1965, in Pittsburgh, PA, he lost to Joey Archer, 44-1, by a decision in ten rounds, before 9,234 fans. His final record was 174-19-6, with 109 knockouts. His only stoppage lost was to Maxim fighting for the light heavyweight title.
Robinson had two managers in Curt Horrmann and George Gainford. His trainers were Soldier Jones, Harry Wiley and Pee Wee Beale.
When Robinson’s boxing career was over he dabbled in acting. He appeared in such movies as “The Detective” starring Frank Sinatra, and “Candy” starring Marlon Brando. He also appeared in television shows Mission Impossible, The Mod Squad and Fantasy Island. In 1969 he founded the “Sugar” Ray Robinson Youth Foundation in L.A.
On April 12, 1989, Robinson passed away. He had been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1981 and the IBHOF, in Canastota, New York, in 1990. Like many boxers, even the great one’s he boxed too many times after his greatness started failing him.
In 2006 the US Postal Service honored Robinson with a stamp. Also, in that year Historian Bert Sugar ranked Robinson No. 1 in his book “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters.” In 2007 ESPN ranked him the greatest fighter in history!