SI Vault
Larry L. King
September 06, 1965
The face seemed the same, except for the marks and the blood, and so did the mop of wildly jumbled hair. Even on his great nights, Sugar Ray Robinson's slick pompadour always-stood on end as soon as the fighting began. But this was years away from the great nights. It was the 10th and last round of a bout in Honolulu last month (see cover) with a 31-year-old journeyman named Stan Harrington, who had beaten Robinson once before. Now in the rematch Sugar Ray had won only a round or two. There was little sign of the vicious punching or the brilliant combinations that had made him six times a world champion. His dream of getting one last crack at the middleweight title was dead, and perhaps he knew it—and perhaps he did not. A few weeks before Honolulu, after a dingy win over a nobody, he welcomed photographers to his hotel bedroom and smiled like a reigning champion (below). Ray Robinson is a very hard man to convince.
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September 06, 1965

Sugar: Down But Not Quite Out

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"You offering him money?" Gainford asked.

Well, not exactly...

"Don't do us no favors," Gainford said, hanging up.

Another man volunteered to permit Robinson to loan him $300 to finance his son's hernia operation. Sugar Ray snored on, blissfully unaware of the twin opportunities.

At 10:40 a.m., barefoot and in a white robe, Robinson sat down to a breakfast of steak, dry toast and hot tea. Millie Bruce, who had lunched the previous day on Capitol Hill with old friend Pegga Hawkins, wife of a California Congressman, gave him a report on her sightseeing expedition. She regretted not having visited John F. Kennedy's grave on this first Washington trip. Sugar Ray listened, chewing methodically. "We'll be back, Gump," he consoled her.

Finishing breakfast, Robinson thumbed through a deck of cards while giving stock answers to reporters who had come in. How does it feel to be 45? "I hadn't thought about it until you asked me." (He had given the same answer a week earlier on TV.) Did he think he still had enough stuff to win the championship? "Yes, I truly do. If I didn't I would quit." Somebody commented on an expensively woven linen coat he had worn the previous day. It was "a little somethin' I had made up on the Riviera." Once, talking of his loss to Ayon in Mexico, he permitted himself an open grin: "In Tijuana you got to read the last rites over 'em to win." Then he went back into his shell. He appeared relieved when time came to excuse himself to dress for the weigh-in.

Shortly before noon three men got out of a taxi and scuttled under the marquee of the Washington Coliseum to avoid the rain. One of them was Young Joe Walcott, who did not carry about him the fine flush of youth. With a ducktail haircut, dark glasses, padded-shoulder sports coat and tight, black pants, Young Joe might have been an aging rock 'n' roll singer. He chewed on a toothpick, turning his lumpy face up to sneak a look at the blue-letter marquee. If he expected to see his name he was disappointed, TONIGHT, it read, giving him no hint of fame, SUGAR RAY ROBINSON. HOLLY MIMS IN COFEATURE.

Walcott's advisers, a fat man in a gold coat and a fatter one whose suit looked fresh from an ashcan, trooped into the office to inquire about the weigh-in. A myopic lady in a print dress knew nothing. At the arena's main gate a lone ticket attendant told them to go around to the stage door at the rear of the building. They walked rapidly through the rain, the man in the gold coat holding a protective newspaper over his head. Rain dripped down Young Joe's seamed face, but he did not mind. Just one more indignity to bear in a life of cheeseburgers and long bus rides. After much door-banging a crotchety old man with a red face appeared to disclaim knowledge of any fight, whereupon he slammed the door. The trio made the long trek back to the front of the arena, Young Joe volunteering his only spontaneous remark of the day: "Man, I'm gonna walk all my weight off."

This time the entourage was admitted, after more confusion, to a gloomy, battleship-gray room in the depths of the Coliseum. A young, officious man took Walcott's pulse, poked him in the ribs and asked an embarrassing question: "The papers say you have a 6-10-2 record. That right?"

The pugilist looked uncertainly at his two handlers. The gold coat shrugged in the manner of a lawyer whose client is caught with hot goods. With a laconic "uh-huh" Walcott pleaded guilty. He was guided into an adjoining room to be fingerprinted. They are not very trusting in Washington. Half a dozen prelim fighters were going through the same ritual. None of them bothered to look up at Walcott.

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