Philly’s Role in the Brilliant Career of Sugar Ray Robinson

By Sembello C. Hasson on October 15, 2015
Philly’s Role in the Brilliant Career of Sugar Ray Robinson
Robinson always returned to Philadelphia to battle anyone brave enough to take him on.

Herman Taylor knew right away that Robinson was a great fighter and gave him co-billing with Gus Dorazio in only Ray’s fifth pro start…

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 that 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 Bob Montgomery to a draw. Robinson flattened Quarles in thrilling fashion in four 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 pinpoint 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 number one contender, claimed he would prove he was “the Real Sugar.” In front of 11,747 Convention Hall clients, Sugar Ray Robinson crushed Costner at 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 regain 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 Herman Taylor promoting the bout as he had 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 McCullough), a winning effort that pushed Ray’s Philly won-lost log to 18-1-1, with 11 KOs.

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

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

'Sugar Ray Robinson - The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion' (Documentary)

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. ch 03:25pm, 10/16/2015

    Lindy L : Thanks for the nice words. I guess we could do little histories like this on Ray for Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Boston (as well as New York) all cities where he was a popular attraction and had a close relationship with during his brilliant career….c.h…..
    Mike Silver : thanks my friend…c.h…

  2. Lindy Lindell 10:33am, 10/16/2015

    This is an absolutely terrific piece, Chuck.  You have written about that which isn’t in the biographies of Sugar.  Cyberspace is unlimited, but too many fools out there are content to fill that space with rehashings that embrace no new perspectives.  So much for democracy of writing.  But I did not come to bury Caesar;  rather, I’m here to praise Chuck.  Like those who read this piece, I was treated to a perspective that would have been unrealized were it not for you.

  3. Your Name 10:30am, 10/15/2015

    Jim Crue, thank you. I too am an admirer of Bobo, who was an “infighting machine.” A slick and slippery inside buzzsaw who took on anybody….
    Thanks KB, I started watching boxing loyally as an 8 year old in 1955 so I missed Robbie’s early Philly fights but I did get to see him fight Giardello in ‘63, FOR FREE, at Convention Hall. Word came down to the lobby that the $3.dollar seats were gone so all of us “low income” fight fans just stormed the doors and the frightened doormen soon retreated their posts. Ironically a year and a half later the exact same scenario unfolded and me and hundreds of others got to see the Giardello-Rubin Carter FOR FREE. Some good times and great memories for me and my buddies.

  4. Mike Silver 06:58am, 10/15/2015

    Kudos to Chuck for bringing attention to another interesting aspect of Robby’s brilliant career. Note to Jim Crue: That is definitely NOT a film of Harry Greb vs. Allentown Joe Gans. I’ve seen it and the fighters are wearing 1950s era boxing shoes and trunks. And the crowd is not dressed in 1920s type clothing. We have yet to discover a Harry Greb fight film, although we know at least five (and probably more) were filmed.

  5. KB 05:42am, 10/15/2015

    Excellent piece of modern history Chuck. This is the kind of thing I remember as a young spectator. Gene Burton could bring it.

  6. Clarence George 05:05am, 10/15/2015

    Thanks, Chuck.  A bit embarrassing, as I wrote on Villemain about a year ago.  Didn’t recognize him at all and was in fact leaning toward Hans Stretz.  Costner, like Servo, is pretty much forgotten today.  Shouldn’t be, but that don’t enter into it.

  7. Jim Crue 04:40am, 10/15/2015

    thanks for this well done piece about the best fighter in the modern era.
    It’s a shame we have few films of Robinson at his best. In my opinion not being able to see Robinson at his best is as sad as, except for one film with his fighting Allentown Joe Gans, not being able to see Harry Greb.
    I was a youngster in 1954 when Robinson out of retirement fought Bobo Olson. Our little apartment in Chicago was packed with neighbors to watch the fight. I think we were the only ones in the building with a TV. Everyone was disappointed that Robinson ended it so quickly. Bobo Olson is also forgotten. He insisted upon fighting the best unlike todays so called “TBE”‘s.
    My great uncle who was not a man to give compliments and was actually not a very nice man said Robinson was the best fighter he ever saw bar none. This was a man who went back to the Jack Johnson era and who saw Tunney beat Dempsey, Graziano TKO Zale, Dempsey knock out Firpo and many many more.

  8. ch 04:14am, 10/15/2015

    Thanks Clarence. That is tough frenchman, Robert Villemain, being dropped for a short count at Municipal Stadium. I agree about Servo. He gave Ray two very competitive battles the second at the Garden, which brought a law suit against Mike Jacobs by Herman Taylor, who had a return bout clause in the contract of their 1st fight (they ruled that Taylor be cut in on the promotional profits). George “Sugar” Costner beat the likes of Gavilan, Gene Burton, Ike Williams etc. but was easy meat for Ray, who apparently took the ownership of the name “Sugar” quite seriously…c.h.

  9. Clarence George 03:40am, 10/15/2015

    Well done, Chuck, per uje.  As with Galento, it never really occurred to me how closely tied Sugar Ray was with Philly.  And love the names mentioned.  Charley Goldman-trained Marty Servo, for instance, a wonderful welter who fought out of NYC (though born in Schenectady).  His name deserves far more than the blank stare it usually elicits.  That’s not him in the photo, is it?  I absolutely can’t make out who that is.

Leave a comment