Boxing is filled with legendary fighters who dominated a certain division in their respective eras, from Benny Leonard standing tall among the lightweights in the 1920s, to Rocky Marciano dominating the heavyweight division in the 1950s, and even Willie Pep being the sport’s top featherweight for almost three decades. But only one boxer changed the dynamic of combat sports, essentially making the term “pound-for-pound.” That man is one Walker Smith Jr., better known as Sugar Ray Robinson.
Back in the early 20th century, not many people had really looked at boxing’s champions across it's various weight classes and thought about who is the best fighter overall. Robinson’s dominance of the welterweight and middleweight divisions throughout his storied career had sportswriters begin to use the term “pound-for-pound.”
While fans were enamored with the larger than life heavyweight champions, the smaller guys of the sport brought the dimension of speed and agility to the sport, something the heavyweight boxers, for the most part, lacked. In the January 1990 issue of The Ring magazine, the publication created it's ranking of the best fighters in the world "pound-for-pound" and it introduced to fight aficionados a whole new realm in which to debate fighters' merits.
Robinson gave boxing fans in Germany a treat on Christmas Day in 1950 by fighting one of the country’s top boxers, later abandoning his career at welterweight that day and starting the transition at middleweight. Robinson had already boxed at middleweight earlier in that year, winning the Pennsylvania middleweight title, but it wasn’t until Christmas that day in which Robinson made that transition permanent.
The date of December 25 may seem like an insignificant mark on Robinson’s career, but that date holds more significance than many would even notice. December 25, 1950 would wound up being the final day Robinson would fight as a welterweight, making his transition to middleweight a permanent one and paved the way to the creation of the “pound-for-pound” moniker.
On that day, inside the Haus der Technik (roughly translated to House of Technology) in Frankfurt, Germany, Robinson fought Hans Stretz, a boxer known across Europe for being great, but one step below Europe’s elites. The fight wasn’t a technical masterpiece, nor was it that competitive to begin with. Robinson won via TKO in the fifth round of a 10-round exhibition fight. It was the fifth fight in the span of less than a month, a move that would be considered madness by today’s standards, but commonplace in the early and mid-20th century.
The fight against Stretz was the final one Robinson had at welterweight and less than two months later, he was beating Jake LaMotta, a boxing legend in his own right, for the fifth time in their great rivalry at Chicago Stadium in Chicago to win the world middleweight title. That fight ended being called "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" for the way Robinson unleashed an unforgiving amount of devastating punches to LaMotta in the latter stages of the fight before Robinson won in the 13th round.
Christmas Day isn’t exactly the biggest day in the boxing calendar, but it was on that day that Robinson left his life as a welterweight boxer and took that extra step that so few boxers had successfully made prior. Robinson had said it was tough at that stage of his career to comfortably make weight for the welterweight division and so it was the logical decision to move up to middleweight.
Robinson wasn’t the first man to win world titles in multiple weight classes. In fact, there are four boxers who won titles in three different weight classes before Robinson even made his professional debut. But it is impossible to not acknowledge the impact that Robinson had on the sport by giving up his status as the world’s best welterweight at the time and become the first (unofficial) ever “pound-for-pound” boxer.
Nowadays, boxing promoters would throw “pound-for-pound” as a means to hype up a fight between two world-class boxers. Most recently we saw that in the buildup to the Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward fight for the unified light heavyweight championship on November 19, 2016.
It all started on a Christmas day in 1950 when Robinson, called by many as the greatest boxer of all time, died a welterweight and rose to absolute greatness.