Sport: Businessman Boxer

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For the professional boxer, fight day is a solemn day, and World Middleweight Champion Sugar Ray Robinson takes it as solemnly as lesser men. There are no high jinks, none of the footloose fun of other days. It is a time for early morning prayer, which Sugar Ray makes in any handy church, denomination immaterial. It is a day for not shaving (to keep the skin tough), a day for a tea & toast breakfast—nothing more. It is a day of long minutes in a narrow, chilly dressing room, while a manager and trainer swap yarns to break the tension.

Last week, fight day for Sugar Ray came in Antwerp, where he was to meet The Netherlands' top middleweight, Jan de Bruin. As always, there was time to kill. Sugar Ray was up at 7, went to Mass in a nearby church at 8, had finished breakfast by 10:30. At 11:30 he shuffled across the Avenue de Keyser from the Century Hotel for the formality of weighing in. After that came a long nap back in the hotel. Not until 3:30 did the real business of the day begin.

In the dressing room of Antwerp's Sportpalais, Trainer Harry ("Papa") Wiley had unpacked the bag, spread a clean linen sheet over the rubbing table, laid out the clean woolen socks, the purple trunks, the boxing shoes with new laces. Robinson gave one dour look at the preparations and grumbled: "It's cold here."

But as fight time approached, the champ began to loosen up. Pacing up & down the room, throwing in a quick skip-step before each turn, he began kidding with Papa and Manager George Gainford, was soon talking baseball and skipping an imaginary rope. By the time he walked down the aisle to the ring, jogging rhythmically to some inner melody, the atmosphere of tension and strained horseplay was gone. From the instant the bell sounded, Sugar Ray Robinson was the master craftsman who knew just what he was doing—the best fighter, pound for pound, in the world.

Bang-Bang-Bang. Relaxed and loose, he cautiously circled the Dutchman, spotted a sudden opening. He threw a left jab to the belly and De Bruin, gaping in surprise, dropped to the canvas. De Bruin picked himself up at the count of one, sparred warily for a moment, then rocked Robinson with a hard right. At round's end Robinson confided to Gainford and Trainer Peewee Beale: "Man, that cat can smoke" (that fighter can hit).

"Bang-bang-bang him in the belly," said Gainford. "Slow him up." Robinson went to work, snakewhipped De Bruin with sharp lefts. Right hooks, crosses, uppercuts and underswung bolos* crashed through De Bruin's blockade of glove and muscle. Robinson was on target, bombarding his opponent with boxing's most effective and versatile arsenal. By the middle of Round Eight, De Bruin had had enough. Pummeled and pounded by a copper-colored whirlwind that seemed to buffet him from all sides, he wearily threw up a hand in a gesture of defeat and ambled out of the ring. It was Sugar Ray Robinson's 125th victory in a string that has stretched for eleven years with only two draws and one defeat.

Relaxing in the locker room afterwards, Robinson shook off the fight-day mood with the air of any conscientious businessman dismissing his office cares. "Thank God that's over," said Sugar. "That boy could punch."

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