By Chuck Hasson
In the long and storied career of Sugar Ray Robinson there is rarely
any mention made about the significant contribution the city of
Philadelphia made in the molding of this great legend.
When Robinson turned pro in 1940 after a spectacular amateur career,
he was obviously highly sought after by the boxing "fraternity."
Mike Jacobs, the most powerful man in the sport at the time, wanted
Ray to sign an exclusive promotional contract with his New
York-based Twentieth Century Sporting Club. But Robinson, wanting to
maintain his independence in negotiating with the highest bidder,
shocked Jacobs by signing an "exclusive contract" with Philadelphia
promoter Herman Taylor to promote matches for him in the Quaker
City. This gave Robinson a trump card in all future dealings with
Jacobs for lucrative matches.
Taylor knew right away Robinson was a great fighter and gave him
co-billing with Gus Dorazio in only Ray's fifth pro start
against 150 bout veteran Norment Quarles, who had met 10 world
champions and only a month previously had held our own Bob
Montgomery to a draw. Robinson flattened Quarles in thrilling
fashion in 4 rounds.
In 1941 Taylor put Robinson in his first main-events at the Arena
against contenders Jimmy Tygh, Nick Castiglione and Mike Evans, all
of whom he flattened in short order.
That summer Taylor gave Ray his first "world class" attention when
he matched him with lightweight champion Sammy Angott in a non-title
(overweight) affair at Shibe Park before 15,000 fight fans. Robinson
electrified the crowd by dropping the rugged champ on his face in
round two and winning a convincing decision after 10 hard fought
rounds. Now thanks to Herman Taylor and Philadelphia, Sugar Ray was
already being tabbed by many as the best fighter in the world.
Robinson returned to Philadelphia Convention Hall in September for a
highly anticipated battle of undefeated contenders against the
future welterweight champ Marty Servo with 11,000 on hand. Ray won a
tough but convincing nod over his aggressive rival with pin point
By now Sugar Ray's services were in demand throughout the country
but he always returned to Philly to battle for Taylor against anyone
brave enough to take him on. In '42 he beat Izzy Jannazzo at the
Arena (9,917 paid) and KO'd Al Nettlow at Convention Hall (7,868
During the war, Robinson served a stint in the Army, but he was
acclaimed as the "uncrowned" welterweight champion, and his next
Philadelphia appearance was momentous. In May 1945, top rated
middleweight Jose Basora held Ray to a draw before 14,653 fans
squeezed into Convention Hall. Only a last round rally by the Sugar
Man salvaged the "tie" in the eyes of the officials and some of the
By 1948 Robinson had become welterweight champ and returned here for
a 10 round tune-up win over Bobby Lee at the Arena, and in '49
against the sensational Cuban Kid Gavilan at Municipal Stadium with
27,805 watching him retain his crown in a breathtaking victory and
earning the largest purse of his career (up to that time).
In 1950, Camden based George "Sugar Costner, rated the no. 1
contender, claimed he would prove he was "the Real Sugar". In front
of 11,747 Convention Hall clients, Sugar Ray Robinson crushed
Costner in 2:49 of the first round. Some old-time Philly fistic
followers insisted this was Ray's greatest fight.
By June, 1950, State Athletic Commissioner "Ox" DeGrosa vacated Jake
LaMotta's middleweight title for various reasons and matched
Robinson against tough French challenger Robert Villemain for the
Pennsylvania version of the "world middleweight championship" at
Municipal Stadium. He won easily before 22,004 witnesses. Returning
to Convention Hall in October he defended his state "world title"
against a then little known Hawaiian, Bobo Olson, finishing him in
the 12th round.
Sugar Ray won the undisputed world middleweight title in '51,
retired in '52, came back in 1955 to re-gain the crown and didn't
box again in Philadelphia (except for one exhibition) until as
former champ, he met Joey Giardello at Convention Hall in June 1963.
It was like old times with Her-man Taylor promoting the bout as he
Robinson vs. Nettlow
Robinson vs. Angott
Robinson & Gavilan
Robinson vs. Gavilan
Robinson vs. Costner
Robinson vs. Villemain
Robinson vs. Giardello