By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart
The early morning of the 6th May 1965 was memorable. For Jean Stewart, it was the moment that her third child made its arrival on Planet Earth. At Irvine Maternity Hospital in Scotland apparently, it wailed into the wind at 4am bringing both parents a new headache – another child in the swinging sixties with an 8-year gap between them and their sibling.
From that inauspicious beginning and the fact that by arriving in the wee small hours of that very special day, Jean was rewarded with another day in hospital when she wanted to get back home, the child would be constantly reminded of his inconvenient arrival; and he continues to blame his lack of timekeeping on that fact, but like his birth he seldom gets away with it.
I don’t remember the birth myself as I was too young but there again who does remember their own arrival? The 1960’s is therefore not in my memory but the decade was something that my father referred to on occasion; never in flowing or glowing terms. It was a time in which many things happened and most were disapproved of by my parents.
Disapproval in the very same year of my birth, in the boxing world came when it witnessed the closure of the career of the most remarkable boxers of that or any other era. The end of his professional ring time came on the evening of Wednesday the 10th of November.
The day before the fight Ferdinand Marcos had won an election to become President in the Philippines and Howard College in Alabama had voted to become Sanford University.
The day after the fight, the Universal Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia was proclaimed and then condemned in the United Nations on the very same day, United Airlines Flight 227 fell over 300 feet short of the runway at Salt Lake City, killing 43 passengers and the Velvet Underground played their very first gig; it was a time when there was certainly something in the air.
In between, a man we regard as the greatest fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson fought for his 198th time professionally and drew a curtain down on an incredible career which saw him 5 times a world champion – though some argue he was world champ 6 times…
His final fight was against a man 18 years his junior – but let us be honest, there were very few fighters out there who would match either his pedigree or his age! Joey Archer won on points over 10 rounds and Robinson was to announce his retirement the day after – the second time he had announced it but this time it was a permanent decision.
There were over 9,000 in the Civic arena in Pittsburgh observing the fight but the world was watching too. What they witnessed was a man who was once great now, at 45 years of age, facing Old Father Time and losing. Robinson, a proud man, fought gallantly but it was step and a bout too far as Archer simply out performed him. Robinson scrapped when his legs would not move the way they used to.
Robinson had come into the fight after thirteen fights in 1965 with eight wins, four losses and one no contest. He knew that a win against Archer would guarantee him another world title shot. In his 199th fight he could have made it to win an undisputed 6th world title. The legendary status he enjoys would have continued to be stratospheric, but the addition of a 5th middleweight title would have added little to the awe but made his records harder to achieve in the record books. You can see the attraction.
As it was, just as I was still in nappies the Pittsburgh crowd gave him ovation after ovation even as he was being outfoxed and out boxed by Archer. Robinson was knocked to the canvas during the fight even though Archer had no knockout punch up.
Archer was well ahead on the cards by the end – Archer won on all three cards to scores of 50-39, 49-40 and 48-41 – and his reward, a fight against Emile Griffith for the WBA and WBC middleweight belts proved just how far the guy had come as he was beaten not once but twice. He was also beaten in his warm up fight before retiring himself straight afterwards. The story of both his world title fights were close decisions but he was to find his dream of being a world champion unfulfilled.
It was a sad spectacle but the ending of any fighter’s career often is.
By the end of the year we were beginning to write the reflections that came with the end of his career. I was still not able to talk and the Vietnam War was escalating. I needed to learn how to talk and the world needed to learn how to live in peace. Robinson’s retirement may not have got as many headlines in sports journals afterwards but all the way up to his death in 1989 he continued to fascinate and keep us entertained; mainly due to dewy eyed memories of a true great, the like of which we may never see again. RIP Walker Smith, JR. a.k.a. the greatest boxer who ever graced a canvas.Contact the Feature Writers