By: Ken Hissner
Three boxers are usually always on everyone’s pound for pound best fighter of all-time. This writer’s choice is “Sugar” Ray Robinson. He once defeated Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong when the latter was well past his fighting days. Armstrong is another considered to be an all time great as is Willie “Will o’ the Wisp” Pep.
It should be noted that none of these three fought with their names at birth. Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr., Armstrong was Henry Jackson and Pep was Gugliermo Papaleo.
Robinson had a record of 174-19-6 with 109 stoppages. He held the World Welterweight Title from December 1946 to February 1951 before winning the middleweight title for the first time from February 1951 to July 1951. He would regain it a second time in September 1951 to December 1952. He then won it for a third time holding it from December 1955 to January 1957. Finally for a fourth time from March 1956 to January 1960.
He won his first 40 fights. Robinson lost for the first time to Jake LaMotta but won the next five times they fought. LaMotta commented on fighting Robinson those six times with “I fought Sugar Ray so often, I almost got diabetes.” After reversing a loss to Gene Fullmer he knocked out Fullmer. When Fullmer got off his stool he asked “why is Robinson jumping around?” He was told “because he just knocked you out!”
Robinson challenged for the Light Heavyweight Title that Joey Maxim held and was well ahead after thirteen rounds but couldn’t come out for the fourteenth due to heat exhaustion. The temperature at ringside was 103 degrees. It was the only time in his career he was stopped. He was 132-3-2 and retired for the first time. He came back after thirty months and his record from there on was 42-16-4. Like too many boxer’s he stayed around too long. He defeated fifteen former, reigning, or future world champions.
When Robinson left boxing he dabbled in acting. He was also known for the best rope jumper and a great dancer. In 1069 he founded the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation in Los Angeles.
Armstrong was 152-21-9 with 101 stoppages. He first won the World Featherweight Title holding it from October 1937 to September 1938. He jumped over the World Lightweight Title and won the World Welterweight title holding it from May of 1938 to October of 1940. During this period he won the World Lightweight Title holding it from August of 1938 to August of 1939. He attempted to win the Middleweight Title from Ceferino Garcia who was recognized in California and New York but the decision ended in a draw.
This is when there was one organization and 10 contenders. Much different than today with 4 or 5 organizations with at least 60 or more contenders. All three were inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.
After retiring Armstrong became an ordained Minister and devoted himself to underprivileged children.
One of Pep’s comments toward Middleweight Champion Rocky Graziano was “you couldn’t hit me with a fist full of stones!” Then pertaining to being married six times he said “All my wives were great housekeepers, after every divorce they kept the house!” Pep won his first 62 fights.
Pep had a record of 229-11-1 with 65 stoppages. Pep held the World Featherweight Title from November 1942 to October 1948. Then, from February 1949 to September 1950. He was 134-1-1 when he lost his title to Sandy Saddler in October of 1948.
Pep came back in March of 1965 after a four year and two month retirement. In his second fight back this writer was at ringside when he defeated Philly’s Jackie Lennon in April of 1965 over six rounds at the Philadelphia Arena. At age 42 he still looked good to me. In his comeback he won 9 straight before losing his final fight in March of 1966.
After retirement Pep became a prominent referee and a Connecticut Boxing Commissioner.
Bert Sugar’s 100 greatest fighters list was No. 1 Robinson, No. 2 Armstrong and No. 3 Pep. I find it hard to argue with that. How about you?