Flashback: Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Rocky Graziano

By Jim Galiano.

The Back Story:
The year was 1952. Ray Robinson was king of the Middleweight division. His amazing record stood at 130-2-2. He compiled his record against the very best, most of who were still at – their very best. So complete a fighter, the phrase “pound-for-pound” was coined as a means of categorizing his brilliance in the ring.  Ray Robinson was at peak of his reign.

His opponent, Rocky Graziano, was a character straight out of storybook. Rocky was the former Middleweight King who fought a thrilling trilogy of fights with the great Tony Zale. Although he only held the title for a short space of time before losing it back to Zale, Graziano’s full-throttle style of fighting made him a fan-favorite for the ages.

After his second defeat to Zale in the grand finale of their 3-fight confrontation, Graziano’s brain trust embarked on one of the most successful career-rebuilding campaigns in the history of the sport.

Graziano’s 21-fight comeback in the public eye set the stage for a final shot at the title against Robinson. The fight took place at Chicago stadium on April 16, 1952 before a sold-out crowd.

It was a given that Graziano wasn’t going to outbox the great Ray Robinson. That just wasn’t his style. The game plan was simple. Graziano would move forward as he always did – “guns blazing,” in an attempt to detonate his big right hand of the side of Robinson’s head or chin. He stood the proverbial – “puncher’s chance.”

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The Fight:
When the bell rang, a lingering question was finally answered. Would Robinson carefully box and counterpunch his way to victory? Or, would he meet Graziano head on and bring down his own “thunder?” He opted for the latter!

Graziano wasn’t difficult to find and for that matter – fighting flatfooted and trading punches, neither was Robinson. Graziano’s found Robinson with big punches throughout the first two rounds and Robinson scored with crisp, hard combinations. Then, in the 3rd, Robinson was dropped to the canvas. The crowd erupted – smelling blood in the water.  Robinson arose and when referee Tommy Gilmore waved the two fighters together, he exploded with two booming hooks and finished with a huge right hand that caught Graziano flush.

The Rock crumbled and was counted out at the 1:53 mark of round three.

Ray Robinson retained his title in a short, but thrilling fight. He would later say that no in his career had hurt him more than Rocky Graziano did.

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Afterward:
Ray Robinson step up in weight to face Light Heavyweight King Joey Maxim two months later. He would retire in his corner after the 13th round – suffering from heat prostration in a fight in which he was well ahead. He would announce his retirement in December of 1952. He would return later in 1955 to continue a second stage of what would ultimately become one of the most prolific careers in the history of the game.

Rocky Graziano would step through the ropes one final time five months later against undefeated Chuck Davey. He would lose a 10-round decision and retire afterward.

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