At the moment Sugar Ray was walkin' circles in a dressing room the size of a small closet, wantin' to know when in hell the show got under way. In his good days Ray Robinson invaded Paris with special troops even Hitler hadn't thought to provide for himself: hair stylists, court jesters, manicurists, handgrips, favored cronies, golf pros and secretaries. His temperamental outbursts rivaled Maria Callas', and he was as independent as Charles de Gaulle. This was the Ray Robinson of the near-Kennedy pompadour, the long purple Cadillac and the $50 tips. He was a merry, mercurial king, who could laugh one minute and bless out the faithful Gainford the next. But when the time came and Robinson fought he was a thing of beauty, jabbing, crossing, dancing, a dangerous cobra striking, a mongoose skirting danger until time for the kill.
"He's a kind man," his Miss Bruce was saying. "In Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Stockholm—he goes to visit hospitals, shut-ins, all kinds of handicapped people. And he asks no credit for it. He does it even when he's not promoting a fight. He tells me, 'Gump, my luck's been good. I got enough to share.' "
The kind man appeared at the door. There was a stir as the invited and uninvited recognized him, the man who had chopped down Steve Belloise, Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson, Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Kid Gavilan. Robinson hit them and their eyes crossed.
Robinson drifted into the gym, wrapped in a white terry-cloth robe. He had a bemused grin on his face that said he knew the joke, and the joke was not on him. He did not, you noticed, walk on his heels. "Honey," Miss Bruce called, stretching her hand toward Robinson. But he was gone, carrying his cockeyed smile to the heavy bag a dozen paces to her left. When Robinson shucked the robe with one shrug of his shoulders he revealed a body even a young man would trade a dozen years for. On smooth, brown legs he shuffled in on the bag, his face carefully deadpan. There was a quick flash of fistic history before your eyes: left, left, left, right uppercut, left hook, jab.
"Punch it out to all cameras," Gainford called. "Right into the lens, Ray. That's it, baby. Both hands." Robinson's fleet grin beat his next tattoo of punches by a split second.
Happily, Promoter Weaver said, "Don't he boss that bag?"
"Yeah," said a newsman. "The bag can't punch back."
Gainford was saying, "Over to the light bag, Ray." Millie Bruce smiled. "I want you to see this. He can really do this." Sugar Ray really did it, all right. He made the small gym vibrate with rat-a-tats, now a blurred left, now a matching right, now a crescendo of moving fists and now a raised eyebrow at his manager, as if to inquire why all the overtime. Gainford said, "O.K. Let the crowd in. He'll skip rope. Wait a minute. Somebody cut those bandages off his hands."
Softly, Robinson said, "You cut 'em, George." Gainford produced a knife, and he cut 'em.
Pushing toward the basketball court, men with overgrown bicepses talked the fight game. One was Holly Minis, a so-so middleweight who still feels he could have been champion, if only he had gotten the breaks. He fought Robinson in 1951, thought he had won (" 'Man,' he say to me after the fight, 'where they been keepin' you?' ") and this week he was to be on the same card with Robinson, but not against him. "I could hit him with a right. I could hit him—but I couldn't put him down," Mims said. He yelled something indistinguishable to Gainford, only to be grandly ignored. The fans who had waited so long now milled in to stand on a balcony looking down on the court. They were still, serious, staring at the master.