Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli vs. Walker Smith Jr.

By Norman Marcus on May 2, 2013
Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli vs. Walker Smith Jr.
Robinson didn't fight smart that night in Yankee Stadium. He failed to adjust to the heat.

Joey Maxim wound up driving a cab and working the Vegas hotel lobbies as a paid greeter. Sugar Ray’s end was less glamorous.…

World Light Heavyweight Championship
July 15, 1952, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

You don’t recognize the names of these fighters? Strange, for these men were both world champions. Perhaps the date and the venue will give you a clue. It was an extremely hot week in New York that summer. The temperature hovered around one hundred degrees, even after dark. The fight had been postponed for two days because of torrential rains due to the high humidity. The rain had flooded out Yankee Stadium’s infield where the high priced seats were set up. Finally everything seemed dry enough to get on with this fight.

These two fighter’s ring names were Joey Maxim and Sugar Ray Robinson. They were both getting their hands wrapped while the sweat-soaked fans filed into Yankee Stadium for a fight that was expected to be a classic.

The light heavyweight champion had adopted the last name Maxim, after the British made Maxim gun, a self-loading machine gun whose rapid, staccato fire reminded his manager of Joey’s quick left jabs. Besides, they couldn’t fit his real name on the back of his robe or on the sports page!

Joey Maxim was a good light heavyweight with a strong jaw. (He would only be knocked out once in his entire career.) He could mix it up with most heavyweights too. He had a hard left jab but didn’t have a knockout punch for the top tier contenders like Jersey Joe Walcott or Ezzard Charles. In fact Charles, aka the Cincinnati Cobra, later beat him three times on points. Maxim only had a twenty-five percent knockout rate over his entire career.

Early on, Joey’s contract was sold to legendary manager Jack “Doc” Kearns for $5,000. Doc Kearns had managed other champions such as Jack Dempsey, Mickey Walker and Benny Leonard. Doc was said to be a bit shady but he had the contacts to get his fighters the title shots and big money. First they went after the vacant NBA American light heavyweight title on May 23, 1949 at the Cincinnati Gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio. Maxim beat Gus Lesnevich that by a unanimous decision over 15 rounds. Kearns then got Joey a world title shot in London at the Earl’s Court Empress Hall on January 24, 1950, against the champion Freddie Mills. Maxim got lucky and knocked him out in the 10th round. He also knocked out several of Freddie’s teeth, which were later found imbedded in Joey’s left glove. Mills never fought again. Doc Kearns once said wistfully about Maxim, “This kid’s better than Dempsey. He don’t hit quite as hard as Dempsey but otherwise he’s better.” (I think Doc yearned for the Roaring ‘20s, for the million dollar gates, for Dempsey in his prime.)

Joey was now the light heavyweight champion of the world. He would win his next seven fights before losing a bid for the heavyweight belt held by Ezzard Charles on May 30, 1951 at Chicago Stadium. Joey dropped back down to the light heavyweight division for his next big payday. He was defending his light heavyweight belt against a two-division world champion.

Sugar Ray Robinson was underage when he first turned pro. To enter the ring he had to use the license of an eighteen-year-old boxer named Ray Robinson. It sounded, as things would have it, way better than Walker Smith Jr. The new Ray Robinson went on to win the vacant NYSAC and NBA welterweight titles from Tommy Bell at Madison Square Garden on December 20, 1946 over 15 rounds. Ray later moved up in weight to stop Jake LaMotta on February 14, 1951 at Chicago Stadium for the middleweight title. Robinson also met and defeated Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson and Rocky Graziano on the way to his fight with Joey Maxim. 

Sugar Ray was now fighting for his third division championship!

Robinson had a quick jab and knockout power with both hands. Bert Sugar once said “Robinson could deliver a knockout blow going backward.” In a Time magazine article dated June 25, 1957, Ray’s style was analyzed: “Robinson’s repertoire, thrown with equal speed and power by either hand, includes every standard punch from bolo to a hook – and a few he makes up on the spur of the moment.”

Ray knew how to fight but he also knew how to live life to the fullest. He was the first boxer to travel with his own entourage. He never went anywhere without his barber, a masseur, a golf pro (to help him work on his game), and a fellow to whistle his favorite melodies as he worked out each day in the gym. Of course his wife, manager, trainer and cutman were there too. An extended trip also required shipping his pink Cadillac convertible along for the champ’s use. The only thing missing was the Secret Service, but Robinson made do with his own security men from the old neighborhood. Everybody was on the payroll, so Ray had to keep fighting.

Maxim and Robinson faced each other under the scorching floodlights of the square ring, which brought the temperature up to 105 degrees. The referee that night was Ruby Goldstein. Ray was the smaller man and started to slip and slide to avoid Joey’s hard left jab. Robinson would dance in and out, landing some quick combinations to Maxim’s body. Joey was the bigger man and slower, but he was ring smart. He constantly tried to move in on Robinson but Ray would dance out of his range. This all worked well for Robinson in the early rounds. But no one could keep up that pace in the heat and humidity of Yankee Stadium.

During the middle rounds both fighters began to slow down. Dehydration and mental confusion were beginning to set in. Even the third man in the ring seemed to be in some distress from the heat. By the end of the round 10, Goldstein was incoherent. He had to be helped out of the ring and replaced with another referee, Ray Miller. It was so hot that even people sitting in the audience were passing out and had to be carried to an aid station.

While both fighters fought under the same conditions, Robinson had set the faster pace. As he slowed down and began to fight flatfooted, Joey was finally able to catch up with him. Maxim was now landing body shots but they lacked force and did not land square. Robinson responded with flurries of shots to the body and double or triple left hooks to the head.

By the 13th round Ray was suffering from hyperthermia and his skin was blistered from the heat of the floodlights above him. In desperation, Robinson threw a wild overhand right at Maxim. It missed by a mile but the momentum of the swing caused him to slip to the canvas. He quickly got up but by the end of the round Robinson had to hold onto the ropes as he tottered to his corner. Ray was ahead on all the scorecards but could not answer the bell for the 14th round. All Ray Robinson had to do was stay away from Joey Maxim for six minutes. He just couldn’t do it. Ray lost the fight by a TKO14. (This was the only time he was ever stopped in his entire career.)

Ray didn’t fight smart that night. He failed to adjust to the heat. He once said, “You don’t think, it’s all instinct. If you stop to think you’re gone.” Joey fought more slowly than Ray and at the end had more left in the tank. Maxim told the press, “Heck, I was fighting in the heat too, but I used my head, I took my time.” Asked by the press if he regretted not pacing himself better Ray replied, “I lasted longer than Goldstein, and no one was hitting him!”

Later that year Maxim lost the title to the Old Mongoose Archie Moore. He fought on for another six years, only winning four out of fifteen bouts. Joey retired in 1958. His final record was 82-29-4 with 21 KOs.

Robinson took time off after the ordeal of the Maxim fight. Three years later returned to the ring. He regained the middleweight title by stopping Bobo Olson in two rounds in Chicago on December 9, 1955. He continued as a top middleweight for many years, winning back the title several times from the likes of Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio. In 1965, Robinson retired for good. His record was 173-19-6 with 108 KOs.

After their careers in the ring were over, both men hit hard times. Joey wound up driving a cab and working the Vegas hotel lobbies as a paid greeter. He also had a few bit parts in some “B” movies. Ray’s end was less glamorous. A string of bad business investments in Harlem and a separation from his wife landed him in abject poverty. The final blow was the onset of CTE (brain damage). The greatest fighter pound-for-pound in the history of the ring was, for all intents and purposes, gone. He couldn’t even remember that he was once Sugar Ray Robinson.

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  1. Tex Hassler 08:48pm, 05/03/2013

    The heat was just as much on Maxim as it was on Robinson. I agree with Ted, Maxim’s level of oposition was staggering to say the very least. Both these men fought levels of opposition that simply do not exist today.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:23am, 05/03/2013

    Four absolutely great (among many) Italo-American fighters….Marciano, Maxim, Pep and…..wait for it…..Giardello!

  3. Michael Hegan 05:17pm, 05/02/2013

    The condition of Ray Robinson was kept quiet….His health and his finances were not a proud moment of Boxing…..Joe Louis revisited

  4. nicolas 12:31pm, 05/02/2013

    Just read that as an amateur he did lose to Billy Graham, but wiped the mat of Willie Pep. Pep though was a flyweight, and Robinson probably at the time a featherweight.

  5. nicolas 11:51am, 05/02/2013

    From the book I read about Sugar Ray Robinson by him, I think that he is mistaken about his turning pro at a time when he was underage. I believe that was as an amateur fighter that he had to do this. He was unbeaten as an amateur, with an astounding 75 percent of knockouts. I have however heard stories that he fought both in unrecorded fights Willie Pep and Billy Graham, fights that he may have lost. As far as the abject poverty. I don’t think it could be compared to some others in those shoes. He was certainly not forgotten during these times, being once I remember in the early 70’s on the Bob Hope Show. It was not what of course it should have been.

  6. nicolas 11:39am, 05/02/2013

    Interesting point you guys make about Maxim. When they interviewed Eddie Futch in which he said the best fighter he ever saw was Charley Burley, Futch also stated that Maxim was the best white fighter he ever saw.

  7. Ted 09:42am, 05/02/2013

    And Joey’s level of opposition was staggering—simply astounding.

  8. Mike Casey 06:36am, 05/02/2013

    Glad you made that point, Ted. I love Robbie, but for most writers this fight has always been about Ray and the heat. It is so often forgotten that Maxim was a master boxer. But he was a light puncher, not at all flashy and often underrated for those reasons. The quality of his fight record is exemplary.

  9. Ted 05:09am, 05/02/2013

    Joey had a chin of granite and was a very underrated fighter.

  10. Ted 04:48am, 05/02/2013

    Excellent stuff.

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