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.
Millie Bruce perched on a high stool munching cheese crackers and sipping a soft drink, maybe ignoring and maybe savoring the smell of liniment and sweat that pervaded the undersized gym of Washington's Jewish Community Center. She said, "I die inside when he fights. It's hard to see a person you love in that ring. He's a wonderful fighter, a wonderful human being. I've never known a man like him. He's something else."
"He" is Sugar Ray Robinson—once welterweight king, five times middleweight champion. Robinson is 45 now, and there were those listening to Miss Bruce who believed that time has passed him by, along with Dick Nixon and shaving mugs. But Robinson was to fight the next night. Why? Was he broke? "Nobody," Robinson had told a reporter, "has ever been champion six times."
Nobody has ever been champion even once by losing back-to-back fights to unranked Stan Harrington and Memo Ayon—a double sin committed by Sugar Ray in the month before this fight. Yet he was preparing to meet another somebody of widespread obscurity, a chap from Bridgeton, N.J. named Young Joe Walcott (but no relation to Jersey Joe), in Washington's raunchy Coliseum. You knew that if he knocked Walcott from here to Casper, Wyo. it would not be big news anywhere except in Casper. You knew, too, that the once-fearsome Robinson had taken to beating fellows named Clarence Riley and Rocky Randell in places like Pittsfield, Mass. and Norfolk, Va., and that in Rome last year he earned no better than a draw pounding the soft underbelly of one Fabio Bettini. But, waiting for her fianc� to work out, Miss Bruce was all dimples and unshakable faith.
"Of course, Ray's in shape!" she gasped to a question, her dark eyes indignant. "He runs every morning in New York. Twice around the reservoir. I know, because I go with him. I don't run, but I go." Miss Bruce, a trim model who looks as though she could run with Sugar, was quiet for a moment, then apologized for their late arrival in Washington. "Ray's mother was operated on. He just wouldn't leave New York until he knew she was all right. She's a strong and wonderful woman. She's got needles and tubes in her neck, but this morning at the hospital she said, 'Don't forget, Mama told you how to win this fight. Jab him. Jab him, and follow through.' "
Upstairs a friendly little lady bustled about the center's main lobby in distress. Forty or 50 curious people milled about in low humor. Some had waited more than two hours for the workout promised by Promoter J. Edward Weaver, more to ballyhoo the fight with Walcott than to tone the ex-champ's muscles.
"Papers say the public invited," intoned a husky man in workman's clothes.
"We don't have any place to put you," the lady said. "Can't you see the newspapers had it all wrong?"
The lady went downstairs to tell Weaver. Weaver, in turn, edged up to George Gainford, Robinson's crusty trainer-manager, who, with proper solemnity, solved the problem: the public would be admitted to an adjacent basketball court for a few minutes of rope-skipping.
Millie Bruce said, "We didn't know this was to be a public workout. In fact, Ray hadn't planned on any workout. He ran this morning. You won't believe him! He looks—why, he's much more handsome than his pictures. He looks so young! A man said to him the other day, 'You can't be Ray Robinson!' And Ray said, 'I better be. I've thought I was for 45 years.' Forty-five and he's still walkin' and wantin'. "