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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 punching. 

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 paid).

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 crowd.

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 had


Robinson vs. Nettlow


Robinson vs. Angott


Robinson & Gavilan


Robinson vs. Gavilan


Robinson vs. Costner


Robinson vs. Villemain


Robinson vs. Giardello


  done 23 years before when he first showcased Ray in Philly, and promising the winner a shot at the title. Unfortunately for Ray, Joey won the match and  took the title from Dick Tiger.

Sugar Ray Robinson's last fight in Philadelphia was in 1965 against Young Joe Walcott (Harvey McCulluogh),  a winning effort that pushed Ray's Philly win-lost log to 18-1-1, with 11 KO's.

As we can see, the City of Philadelphia played an important role in developing the Sugar Ray Robinson legend.




Chuck Hasson is a boxing historian.