The Time Tunnel: Turpin's Stunning Defeat Of Robinson Was No Fluke
22.06.05 - by MIKE DUNN: The first signs of age were becoming evident, but they were easy to ignore. Surely, Sugar Ray Robinson's stunning upset defeat at the hands of Randy Turpin on July 10, 1951 at Earls Court in London was a fluke and there was nothing more to read into it.
Article posted on 23.06.2005
Not that anyone contested the 15-round decision. The powerfully built Turpin, who came into the ring with an excellent 42-2 record and an unorthodox style that seemed perfectly suited to frustrate Robinson, won without any hint of controversy or hometown favoritism. It's just that Turpin, from England's Leamington Spa, frankly didn't seem to be in Robinson's class. For that matter, who did?
The 30-year-old Robinson, the dandy of the prize ring, had been beaten just once in 131 fights prior to Turpin. And that one loss had been to a world-class fighter, Jake LaMotta, a loss which Robinson later reversed several times over..
In February of 1951, in fact, Robinson had stopped the iron-chinned, iron-willed LaMotta in the 13th round at Chicago Stadium to lay claim to the middleweight title in an intense, action-filled battle dubbed by the press as the Valentine's Day Massacre because of the way that Robinson had finished the job, his two-fisted assault leaving LaMotta virtually helpless on the ropes when the ref intervened.
After winning the crown, Robinson and his large entourage embarked on an extended European tour, financed through a series of nontitle fights that had been arranged with run-of-the-mill opponents. Robinson kicked off the tour with a knockout on May 21 in Paris of Kid Marcel, who had a 5-17 record. That was followed four days later with a decison in Zurich, Switzerland over Jean Wanes, who owned a 5-14 mark. And so it went.
Six weeks and six easy wins later, Robinson was matched with his first "live" opponent overseas. Robinson, strapped for cash after all the weeks of high living with his large entourage, agreed to take on the rugged Turpin on Turpin's home turf. It would be Robinson's first official defense of the middleweight crown he had taken from LaMotta and it would be fought before a packed house in Earls Court. Naturally, the sentiment of the British fans was with their fighter; no one actually gave Turpin much of a chance, though.
Much to everyone's surprise, except maybe the determined Turpin, the decision went in the British fighter's favor and the hard-earned middleweight title slipped from Robinson's hands. Turpin, with sturdy legs, strong arms and a strange style that saw him throw punches from odd angles, had Robinson befuddled and frustrated and gave the champ a beating. Robinson, even though he had been active in the weeks leading up to the fight, was not in the best of condition and it showed. The thinking of many was that Robinson had been licked more by Paris than by Turpin.
There would be a quick rematch. Turpin, spurning the advice of his manager, agreed to come to New York to defend the title against Robinson just two months later. The rematch would take place at The Polo Grounds on September 12, 1951, before 61,412 witnesses.
Turpin, 23, was the champ but he was also the underdog. There was no way he could repeat his win over Sugar Ray, no way that he could do here in the U.S. what he had done in London. Or so many believed.
The rematch turned out to be almost as much of a surprise as the first encounter. Robinson trained hard and was in much better condition the second time around. Even so, he and Turpin battled each other on even terms through nine rounds before Robinson sustained a cut over the left eye and turned on the juice in the 10th to score a stunning knockout and regain the crown.
In defeat, Turpin proved that his performance in England had been no fluke. Turpin fought valiantly and hard. His style again frustrated Robinson greatly. And Robinson, maybe for the first time in his long career, began to show some wear. Age would take a long time to erode Robinson's masterful skills, strength and timing, but age was at least knocking at the door.
Against Turpin, Sugar Ray was nearing the end of his prime years. There were times when Turpin would expose Robinson as a mere mortal and there were times when Robinson would rise above as he had always done. That's the way it was in the 10th round.
The cut above Robinson's left eye was a bad one. Even if Robinson lasted the 15 rounds as challenger, there was no guarantee that he would get the decision in a close fight. In those days, close rounds were generally awarded to the champion and close decisions usually meant the champ held onto the title.
After nine rounds, Robinson had used up a lot of energy unsuccessfully trying to find the crack in Turpin's armor. Turpin was not as aggressive in New York as he had been in London. He didn't land as frequently or as solidly. He was landing enough to keep the rounds close against the active Robinson, however, and he was strong enough that Robinson was feeling it.
Soon after Robinson was cut, he unloaded his best punch of the fight. A right cross finally found the mark and Turpin, for the first time, staggered. He didn't go down, but he was definitely shaken. A short time later, another right found the mark, and this time Turpin did go down.
When Turpin got to his feet, he was still feeling the effects of the two right-hand blows. Robinson, sensing the end in sight, tore into Turpin, throwing punches like a windmill. Turpin, sitting on the middle strand of the ropes, blocked or evaded many of the blows that were relentlessly raining down on him. A left hook nailed him squarely, however, and proved to be the beginning of the end. Robinson followed up quickly with three or four more hard, accurate punches to the head before the fight was wisely stopped.
Robinson was champ again, a fate he always seemed particularly destined for. He would retire and come out of retirement throughout the 1950s. Even though his skills diminished with the years, such was his talent that he was still counted among the best fighters in the world when well past his prime.
Turpin would get one more shot at the middleweight crown, losing in an elimination final against Carl "Bob" Olson after one of Robinson's subsequent retirements.
Turpin will always be remembered more for the shocking upset of Robinson in London in July of 1951 and the brave, stubborn battle he waged against Robinson in the rematch at The Polo Grounds two months later than for anything else he did in the ring. And rightly so.
Mike Dunn is a boxing historian and writer living in Lake City, Mich.
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