AFTER knocking out Rocky Graziano in three rounds at the Chicago Stadium before a crowd of 22,264 on April 16, 1952, world’s middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson announced that he would put his title at stake again next month against Paddy Young at Madison Square Garden.
He then plans a visit to Israel for a charity bout at Tel-Aviv on June 21, then on to France for a bout with the winner of the Laurent Dauthuille-Charles Humez contest.
It was the end of the road for former champion Graziano, who, since losing his title to Tony Zale in 1948, had run up a string of 21 bouts without defeat, including 18 inside the distance.
True, his opponents were mainly unranked boxers, and the question on everyone’s lips was “Does The Rock still hit as hard as ever, or has some of the power gone out of his famed right hand wallop?”
“Man, I don’t aim to find out,” had commented champion Robinson.
“I’m going to try and get the first punch in.”
His manager George Gainford had this to say before the fight, “If Ray looks as bad against Graziano as he did against Olson, I’m going to make him quit.”
Trouble started for Graziano at the weigh-in, when he was forced to go on the scales naked in order to get inside the middleweight limit. This he managed to do with just a quarter of a pound to spare. Robinson weighed 11st 3 1/2lbs.
A 3-1 underdog in the betting, Graziano was the first to attack. He scored with a left hook, then an uppercut, and this stung Robinson into the attack. With both hands moving fast, a flurry of blows sent the challenger back on the retreat.
Further burst of action by the champion had Graziano on the ropes, and Robinson avoided an overarm right, countering with stiff left hooks to the body. But after a hectic exchange it was the champion who backed away.
Graziano’s plan in carrying the fight to his opponent was suiting Robinson admirably, and the champion left-jabbed to the face, left-hooked to the head and body, all the time using his clever ringcraft to evade the wild two-handed swings of his opponent.
Although out-generalled, the challenger never stopped trying, and early in the third snapped Robinson’s head back with a heavy left hook. Again this was the champion’s cue to come back with a two-fisted attack, and a left to the chin almost had Graziano down.
Eager for the kill, in came Robinson again, but appeared to slip to his knee as Graziano flailed away. Afterwards the champion confirmed that he had been knocked down with a punch on the back of the head, although the referee ruled it was not a knockdown.
Then, after 1-53 of that third round, a lightning blow caught Graziano flush on the chin.
It was perfectly timed, travelling right into the small space between the challenger’s defending gloves. This sent him back against the ropes, where he groped vainly for a hold before slipping to the canvas to be counted out.
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“I lost to a great fighter,” said ‘The Rock’ ruefully. “He is a credit to his race. This guy is a right guy.”
Millions of TV viewers and radio listeners heard Robinson say that Graziano had hurt him only once early in the third. The champion, who had fought with the same tigerish ferocity as in his last contest with Randolph Turpin, was breathing easily in spite of his eight minutes of solid action.
Gainford again spoke of going after Joey Maxim’s light-heavyweight title, but Ray quickly intervened. “That’s George’s fight,” he said. “He’s always trying to get me killed. Let him fight Maxim.”
Any plans for another fight with Randolph Turpin? “He’s a light-heavyweight now,” said Ray with a smile.
“And I’m sure happy. Of course, if he came up to me in the street and hit me in the mouth, I’d have to defend myself. But I don’t want those kind of fights any more.”