At the bell Walcott seemed confused. Before he could get himself untracked Sugar Ray had hammered several quick lefts on his nose. Robinson rocked Walcott with a right uppercut and a moment later nailed him with a straight right that had Young Joe retreating. Robinson returned to his corner untouched by human hands.
In the second and third rounds Robinson jabbed and followed through, just as his mother had told him to do. The crowd applauded Robinson's showmanship, and it was easy to feel you were watching the Sugar Ray of old.
Round four brought Walcott a painful lesson in the art of infighting. Sugar's hands worked at his opponent's torso and under the chin. At ringside, in a white sequined dress, Millie Bruce came out of her chair, yelling: "Come on, baby. Come on, love." When Robinson paused to pull up his trunks Young Joe thought he saw his chance. He tried a long, looping right and immediately got tangled in his own shoelaces. Exposed, vulnerable, he struggled frantically for balance. Sugar Ray feinted a punch that could have sent everybody home to early supper, but he did not throw it. He dropped his arms, laughed aloud and tugged again at his shorts.
It was more of the same in the fifth. Robinson boxed Walcott off-balance three times and reprieved him three times. Once, when Walcott moved forward, Robinson chortled aloud, embraced him in the middle of the ring, then wheeled and mashed poor Walcott's sore nose with a stinging left.
But maybe Sugar hadn't been all that sweet. The exertion was taking something out of him. Suddenly, between the fifth and sixth rounds, he looked old.
At first the crowd thought he was resting for the final big push. There were cries of "O.K., Ray, now's the time," "Put 'im away, Sugar Boy." But the old combination one-two-three now misfired. So did some long right hands. Punches that earlier rocked against Young Joe's chin now slipped harmlessly over his shoulders. Fanning herself with a copy of the official program, Millie Bruce grimaced.
It was hot under the ring lights. Sugar Ray grasped through the seventh, sweating buckets. Walcott hit him in the face a number of times, his first meaningful blows of the fight. In the eighth he did it again, and now Young Joe was looking tough. Robinson wasn't grinning anymore. There were scattered boos at the bell.
In the ninth Walcott pounded Robinson in the body, and though Sugar had chopped home a few blows of his own they lacked power. When the two pawed and clutched a moment later in the center of the ring a voice from the $2 seats yelled, "Waltz me around again, Sugar," and too many people laughed.
Many in the crowd were already heading for the exits before the end of the 10th, in which nothing happened except that Young Joe sent in a few more futile body blows. At the finish there was a roll of boos. In Robinson's corner, awaiting the decision, Gainford reproachfully eyed the crowd. Sugar Ray, tarnished but the obvious winner, accepted the victory calmly. All three judges favored him heavily. But the cheers were mostly for Walcott as he swaggered from the ring, proud, apparently, that he had not been knocked out.
Sucking a soft-drink bottle in his dressing room, Robinson thanked the writers who came by to see him. The old conceit, the old lip, the old arrogance were there, if his reflexes and the punch were not. No, he hadn't been hurt—but that boy was tough, no doubt about it. No, the heat hadn't bothered him too much. No, he hadn't really been looking for a knockout. He would be sharper for Giardello if he went the distance a few more times. Nobody was counting, but Robinson had gone the distance three of his last four times out.