Book Review - Being Sugar Ray
“Boxing is the sport to which other sports aspire.”
- George Foreman
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how this amazing book starts. At the end of the book, I would’ve added something like: “Sugar Ray Robinson is the man that all fighters—actually all men— aspire to be.”
Like most books about what life is like being a famous person, Being Sugar Ray: Sugar Ray Robinson, America's Greatest Boxer and First Celebrity Athlete by Kenneth Shropshire gets me motivated. I would do anything be a prime Sugar Ray for just a day.
We all know Sugar Ray Robinson was the best fighter who ever lived. In fact, it’s probably the only point that boxing historians and aficionados don’t argue about. Ask the experts who the all-time best pound for pound fighter ever was, and they’ll all tell you Ray Robinson is number one. After that, there’s no consensus. Everything is debatable except who was the best ever.
Readers of this blog know that I basically have a “man crush” on the current era’s rising boxing star, Saul Alvarez. But if I were ever to be actually in love with a dude, it would be this man... Sugar Ray Robinson. Perfect athlete. Easy smile. Loved by men and ladies of all types. Always impeccably dressed. Constantly having a good time. The best fighter… EVER. Ray had 108 KO victories! 108! That’s double or even triple some the number of fights that some modern day pound-for-pound ranked fighters have as their total bouts. And of course he had 173 victories balanced against 19 losses. Those figures are even more impressive when you remember that 15 of his losses came in the last 50 fights of his career when it was clear that Ray was but a shadow of the former perfect fighting machine that he once was. It was not until his 132nd fight that he lost his second bout (the first loss being to Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta, who Robinson would beat 5 times).
Shropshire credits Robinson with the creation of the sporting entourage. Yes, exactly like HBO’s popular Entourage series. Except that Robinson’s was about 1000 times better. More money. More power. More respect. And many more women. Shropshire says, “The cast generally consisted of fourteen people: Robinson’s manager, his trainer, a masseuse, a barber, a golf instructor, various gofers and other anticipated boxing staff.” 1 This crew would travel through Europe for months at a time. Every week or so, Ray would whip some poor European boy’s behind, and then everyone would go party until the next fight. Shower and repeat. What a lifestyle.
Shropshire also depicts Robinson’s little empire in Harlem: “Next door to Sugar Ray’s [a hip bar/night spot] at 2076 7th Avenue was Ray Robinson Enterprises, headquarters of the entire Robinson empire. His businesses on the block included George Gainford’s Golden Gloves Barber Shop, Edna Mae’s Lingerie Shop, and Sugar Ray’s Quality Cleaners.” 1 Basically, Robinson was the man. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading about a guy who basically ruled his own little world. I admit I got so entranced by certain sections of the book that I felt that I was living vicariously through Robinson.
I’ve read several accounts of Robinson’s life previously including Pound for Pound: A Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson by Herb Boyd and Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood. Both take more of a cultural and historical perspective on Sugar Ray. (Note: I will write separate reviews for these books at some point as well.) But the Shropshire book focuses on what it means to be a celebrity athlete and explores why people have a natural inclination to want to follow the actions and lifestyles of famous people. Like everything concerning Sugar Ray Robinson, this book is a winner.
1. Shropshire, Kenneth. Being Sugar Ray: Sugar Ray Robinson, America's Greatest Boxer and First Celebrity Athlete. New York: BasicCivitas, 2007.