George Gainford started in the amateurs with Ray Robinson back when hamburgers cost a nickel and only Wall Street lawyers had heard of Wendell Willkie. He was in his corner 25 years ago when Robinson launched his pro career by knocking out Joe Echeverria. This night he sat in his shirtsleeves in his small room at the Mayflower Hotel, mopping his brow and complaining about Washington's awful heat. He said, "I can't tell you one thing about that boy we fight tomorrow. I don't know his record, his manager—I don't even know how many arms he's got."
Can Sugar Ray Robinson win the title a sixth time?
"Feeling he can win is 50% of it for a fighter, you know? And Ray's convinced the champ can't beat him."
Maybe so. But the record book says Joey Giardello has beaten him.
Gainford nodded. "Sure," he said, "Ray lost to Giardello. But for the first time in his life Ray went in the ring thinking he'd lose. And maybe that was my fault. I told him not to take the match. But after it was over Ray said, 'Hey, that guy can't beat me! I go six rounds waiting for him to drop something on me. Time I woke up I could take him outa there, it was too late.' "
If and when the bell tolls again for Sugar Ray, how does he take the champion outa there?
"By wanting to. By thinking he can. By keeping mentally ready and in good physical shape. These fights I'm getting Ray—they help keep him ready."
Of late, it was pointed out, they also help keep him in the losers' column.
George Gainford waved a huge paw, as if to slap down an irritating gnat. "Aw, Ray dropped a couple. That Harrington in Honolulu bangs Ray's head with his head in the sixth. Ray's no bleeder, but an artery breaks. Only way I can stop it is by using a solution that—well, one drop in the man's eyes and he's blind. Hell, we don't need to win bad enough to go blind. Last four rounds my man sees so much blood he thinks the Red Cross is pumping it. But he goes into the 10th ahead—then the blood got him."
The way Gainford tells it, blood got in the way down in Mexico, too—Mexican blood in the veins of jingoist judges. "Ray beats this Memo Ayon person down in Tijuana like the United States whipped ol' Hitler. Even the Mexican newspapers say we win eight rounds." (The less generous judges said Robinson won only four.) Gainford is trying hard. Uncomfortably, one realizes this is the first time he has heard a person dredge up alibis for Robinson.