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'Pound for Pound': Sugar Ray Robinson's Legacy

This Saturday night in Los Vegas, Felix "Tito" Trinidad will square off against Ronald "Winky" Wright in the most anticipated boxing match of the year. Each fighter considers himself, pound for pound, the best in the sport.

That phrase "pound for pound" -- used to describe a boxer whose skill in the ring puts him head and shoulders above every other fighter in the world, in any weight division -- was first coined for the one fighter most boxing aficionados agree was the best fighter in history: Sugar Ray Robinson.

Sugar Ray Robinson's boxing career is unparallelled. He fought professionally for a generation, from 1940 to 1965. In his first 128 bouts he lost only once, and amassed an astounding 84 knockouts.

At a time in his career when most fighters would be considered over the hill, Robinson fought and won epic battles against some of the most ferocious champions of the 20th century -- furious competitors like Gene Fullmer, Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta and Carmen Basilio.

"He was flawless, he was seamless," says boxing journalist Burt Sugar. "He was the sweetest practitioner of the sweet science... I once saw him knock a man out going backwards, which is like Nolan Ryan throwing a pitch falling away to second base."

Born in Detroit, Robinson moved to Harlem on Manhattan Island when he was 11. As a teen, he decided to making a career out of boxing, and he quickly became a sensation.

By the mid-1940s, Robinson was the king of Harlem, and eventually owned a whole city block of buildings that were at the heart of his entrepreneurial empire. He married a beautiful young dancer and seemed to be on top of the world. He bowed out of the ring, more or less gracefully, in the mid-60s.

Herb Boyd, who has written a new biography of Robinson called Pound for Pound, says Robinson's life parallels the heyday and decline of Harlem itself.

Robinson fought well into his 40s. Taxes and unscrupulous business partners would devour his enterprises, and at the end of his career Robinson found himself fighting not for the glory, but for the payday. He died in 1989, poor and largely forgotten.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.