Hailed by critics as a long overdue portrait of Sugar Ray Robinson, a man who was as elusive out of the ring as he was magisterial in it, Pound for Pound is a lively and nuanced profile of an athlete who is arguably the best boxer the sport has ever known. So great were Robinson's skills, he was eulogized by Woody Allen, compared to Joe Louis, and praised by Muhammad Ali, who called him "the king, the master, my idol." But the same discipline that Robinson brought to the sport eluded him at home, leading him to emotionally and physically abuse his family -- particularly his wife, the gorgeous dancer Edna Mae, whose entrepreneurial skills helped Robinson build an empire to which Harlemites were inexorably drawn. Exposing Robinson's flaws as well as putting his career in the context of his life and times, renowned journalist and bestselling author Herb Boyd, with Ray Robinson II, tells for the first time the full story of a complex man and sport-altering athlete.
In hands as skilled at the keyboard as Sugar Ray Robinson's were in the ring, this athlete would've been a great biography subject. His charisma and winning technique made him the prince of Harlem in the WWII era (though he's primarily known to modern audiences as Jake LaMotta's opponent in Raging Bull). His friendship with Joe Louis helped eradicate color barriers. His fighting skills may have been equaled since then, but they've never been surpassed--he was so powerful he killed a man in the ring. And his excesses of libido, temper, spousal abuse and bling-bling were, Boyd points out, tragic precursors of the behavior of many modern black athletes. Regrettably, the book is minimally competent and, at worst, painful. The journalist rarely devotes more than a few sentences to any of Robinson's matches, some of which, like the LaMotta battles, are the most talked about in boxing history. Instead, readers get puns ("The nation may have been experiencing a rationing of sugar, but the other Sugar was on a rampage") and ostentatious metaphors ("There were many fights when Sugar was a virtuoso pianist with gloves on, a soloist in a pugilist recital, delivering a rapid arpeggio of stiff left jabs"). Robinson is a worthy subject awaiting a more worthy treatment. Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 03, 2006
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Excerpt from Pound for Pound by Herb Boyd
From Red Clay to Black Bottom
Sugar Ray Robinson on the page is almost as elusive as he was in the ring. In the opening chapters of the autobiography that he completed with the assistance of New York Times sportswriter Dave Anderson, Sugar states that he was born May 3, 1921, in Detroit's Black Bottom. While the date of his birth is accurate (though it is listed as 1920 in Ring magazine, boxing's bible), the location he gives is contradicted by a birth certificate that cites Ailey, Georgia, as his place of birth. Whoever filled out the certificate -- and it could have been Sugar's father, Walker Smith, Sr. -- was only barely literate, since colored was misspelled "colerd." He was named Walker Smith. His mother's name appears to be Lelar, though in his book Sugar refers to her as Leila; her maiden name was Hurst. According to the certificate, Walker, Sr., is twenty-eight and a farmer and Lelar is twenty-three and a domestic. Gene Schoor, who wrote a biography of Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951, notes that Mrs. Smith was born August 25, 1900, which would have made her twenty-one at the time of Sugar's birth, and was one of sixteen children.Walker, Jr.,was the couple's third child. And "Junior" would be the name Sugar would answer to as a boy.
In his autobiography, Sugar writes that his parents were from Dublin, Georgia, which is about 130 miles northwest of Savannah. Both of his older sisters, Marie and Evelyn, were born on a farm not too far from Dublin. In 1980, Walker Smith's funeral announcement states that he arrived in Detroit in 1916; Schoor reported 1917. If either is true, then he must have gone back and forth for the children to be born in the South, or he came alone and his wife came later. This region of Georgia at that time, mainly within Montgomery County, was well-known for three things: cotton, the Ku Klux Klan, and lynching. During the post-World War I years, particularly 1919, the year Evelyn was born, at least ten black soldiers were lynched, half of them in Georgia. According to author Donald L. Grant, "Many of the demobilized black veterans continued to wear their uniforms, sometimes because they had no other clothes and sometimes because they were proud of their service. Many whites reacted savagely to this practice." Countless numbers of black soldiers who had gone abroad to make the world "safe for democracy" returned home with a newfound spirit of freedom, only to be brutally reminded by the Klan and other white residents that nothing had changed. And to drive this point home, the Klan torched several black churches and lodges, burning them to the ground.
With the cotton infested with boll weevils and the membership of the Klan increasing with each lynching, black farmers had few alternatives but to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Sugar's aunt and her husband were among the migrants who moved north to Detroit looking for a better life. They found a place to live and settled in an area known as Black Bottom. This sector on the city's east side was an outgrowth of the restrictive covenant that confined the movement of African Americans. It contained the most dilapidated houses and received the least services. Even so, it was an improvement over where its residents had lived before. Sugar's aunt and uncle notified Walker, who followed them, gaining employment almost immediately as a ditch digger. "Pop was a wiry little guy," Sugar recalled in his autobiography, "five foot seven and a hundred and fifty pounds, with a dazzling smile that lit up his dark brown face.And he was strong."Much of Walker's strength -- and certainly his fatigue --