My Old Man was certain about a great many things–that he was “second to none,” as a fan of Jackie Robinson, that the United States was the best country in the World, and that New York was the capital of the World but also that the tap water was better on the Upper West Side than it was on the Upper East Side. He was not a boxing fan but when I was a kid I remember asking him who was the greatest fighter of all-time. I figured it had to be Ali, but he didn’t pause when he told me that “Ray Robinson was, pound-for-pound, the greatest fighter that ever lived.”
The Old Man wasn’t alone in this assessment, yet it wasn’t just Robinson’s accomplishments in the ring that appealed to him: it was his style.
Robinson’s elan is mentioned in a complimentary review of a new Sugar Ray Robinson biography today in the Times:
The jazz that filled Robinson’s head, and that he loved his entire life, spills over into Mr. Haygood’s book like a buoyant soundtrack. Robinson befriended many jazz players over the years (Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie). He loved their style, and they loved his. As Mr. Haygood writes, Sugar Ray was “the first modern prizefighter to take culture — music and grace and dance — into the ring with him.”
It was something to see. Robinson really brought it all: the beautiful smile, the finely chiseled body, the thin mustache and wavy hair, the coiled ease with which he moved. Mr. Haygood captures his grace and power, at many disparate moments, as well as it’s been captured: “At times whirling around the ring — as if moving from rock to rock across a shallow lake — he seemed the epitome of lightness and balance, until he stopped to unload a series of punches that drew gasps from onlookers.”