It’s the greatest boxer of the 20th century vs the greatest boxer of the 21st century, the greatest offensive fighter of all time against the greatest defensive fighter of all time, the best ever at welterweight in yesterday’s generation against the best ever welterweight in today’s generation – Sugar Ray Robinson vs Floyd Mayweather Jr, who wins?
Now this is something I have been coming across a lot in recent times whilst browsing through my Instagram account(@fayz_boxing) and I have been reading some mixed comments on this, I am going to have a guess that those who haven’t seen Robinson fight or those who only started following boxing recently will have commented on how Floyd wins easy and those who have been watching boxing for many years will be picking Robinson. Both Sugar Ray Robinson and Floyd Mayweather Jr are two of my favourite boxers, Robinson was just an absolute punching machine and watching Floyd was like looking at an encyclopedia of boxing so in this article I am going to attempt to break down this matchup and give my opinion of who I believed would have won. For arguments sake the fight would take place at welterweight because Robinson dominated the division as did Mayweather, both fought at various other weights but the bulk of Sugar Rays career was at welterweight and its also a division Floyd competed in for 10yrs so we can’t really pit them against each other at a weight one of them did not fight much at, although back in Robinsons time the weight brackets were considerably different so there were no junior weight classes, Robinson in todays time would have competed as a light welterweight and I may be mistaken but I believe he debuted at lightweight, by the end of his career it’s possible Robinson may have been weighing in the 160’s. This means it sets us up perfectly for the first point to consider when we debate Sugar Ray Robinson vs Floyd Mayweather Jr…
Robinson was naturally the much bigger man as compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr. I just mentioned he fought in the 160’s, Robinson fought for the light heavyweight title but came in under the 175lb weight against Joey Maxim, from what I have read he actually came in to that fight as a middleweight weighing 157lbs but later in his career as he aged he was fighting as a middleweight at 160lbs – by the end of the career it wouldn’t surprise me if he tipped over into the low 160’s. Floyd never competed at a such a weight although he did fight as a light middleweight so we can see Robinson is the much bigger man, Robinson also had a considerable height advantage, 5’11 or 6ft as opposed to Mayweather who stands at 5’8. What is interesting though is that Floyd wasn’t far behind when it came to reach, Robinsons reach was 72.5in and Floyd’s was 72in, that’s pretty much negligible. Where natural size difference does come into play however is in the exchanges and the clinches. With Robinsons bigger frame and heavier punches and putting that weight to good use on the inside fighting and leaning on Mayweather(Robinson often leaned on his opponents) it would gradually sap Mayweather’s strength especially down the stretch, there are weight classes for a reason and Robinsons extra size and strength automatically gives him the advantage here.
Advantage – Robinson
Mayweather in the lighter weights was a threat with his power and he could knock you out but as a welterweight he was not a puncher and relied on his extreme Ring IQ and defensive prowess to outpoint you, excluding Conor McGregor, Mayweather had just two knockouts as a welterweight. Robinson though was one of the greatest punchers in history. Sugar Ray could knock you out with either hand not just at welterweight but middleweight too and has over 100 knockouts on his record. The famous boxing historian Bert Sugar once said Robinson could knock you out going backwards and from watching him fight his explosiveness is clearly on show and that power has to be respected, Robinson could knock you out with one punch and it could come in an instant, he wins the power stakes.
Advantage – Robinson
This is a tough one, Mayweather’s speed is underrated, probably because his ring craft and defence was so good that sometimes his speed was overlooked – also because in his later career Mayweather became more of a pot shotter so his speed wasn’t always clearly on display as he was not putting his combinations together but when he wanted to be, even at welterweight, Mayweather could surprise you with his speed whether that was through his jab, a sneaky right hand or a one punch counter in the middle of his opponents combination. Robinson was fast and he could string together lightning quick combinations and also possessed a very quick jab, it is tough to differentiate the two when it comes to speed, they were both very quick with their hands but in different ways, Mayweather’s was a sneaky speed you didn’t see coming, Robinson’s was in a fast flurry of punches he could put together at will.
Advantage – Tie
Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest offensive fighter of all time. When you see the combinations he could put together there isn’t anyone close to him. Robinson was extremely versatile in his attack and could string together combinations one after another, he could whip out combos starting with the hook or the uppercut and he was mesmerising as a puncher when you see some of the combos he is capable of. Much of his footage is at middleweight but of the little we have on Robinson at welterweight you can see an explosive puncher who was ripping out multi punch combinations from all angles. Mayweather was great offensively in the lighter weights but as a welterweight he would refrain from letting his hands go too much, perhaps that was due to not wanting to leave himself open and risk getting caught by the naturally bigger welterweights maybe it was because of hand issues, either way Mayweather may have been excellent offensively but when it comes to attacking an opponent, Robinson is in a league all by himself.
Advantage – Robinson
No one cracked the Mayweather defence – Floyd’s defence was so good it spawned a host of copycats across the boxing world and in every boxing gym, there is now someone using the shoulder roll or the philly shell. The shoulder roll is an old school boxing technique and Floyd popularised it because he mastered it, Sugar Ray Robinson also used the shoulder roll but his defence was not in the same class as Mayweather’s. Floyd was extremely difficult to land clean on and his Michigan style defence was a huge reason why. Across every division he competed in, whether you were fast or whether you hit hard, Floyd’s defence stood the test and found a way to nullify your attack. Robinson was good defensively, he was a master of slipping and catching the jab but at times Robinson could be ‘easy’ to hit and Robinson could overcome that by pretty much drowning you with his attack so in essence, Robinson’s attack was also his defence.
Advantage – Mayweather
Mayweather started his career as a super featherweight and fought at light middleweight and no one knocked him out, he was never even dropped once(the knockdown against Judah wasn’t ruled a knockdown) so his chin stood the test of time and it held up against bigger opponents. Robinson was never knocked out in 200 fights, the lone stoppage loss Robinson had was at light heavyweight when he was outweighed by 16lbs and didn’t come out for the 14th round due to heat exhaustion – and he was well ahead on the scorecards too but he wasn’t knocked out by his opponent. However Robinson did suffer knockdowns during his career and got up every single time. This is a tough one to call because both obviously have granite chins that stood the test of moving up in weights, whilst Mayweather was never knocked down and Robinson was, you’ve got to counter in that Robinson had 200 fights which is four times as many as Mayweather and he was fighting multiple times per month so this reason I am calling this one a draw.
Advantage – Tie
Mayweather’s ring IQ is legendary, he didn’t even need to see you box in order to prepare for you, he could turn up on fight night and give you 2-3 rounds just to see how you are fighting and then he would have cracked the code, figured you out and got to work on breaking you down. If you tagged him with a punch he would very quickly take that punch away from you, Mayweather had an answer to every question a fighter posed to him, if you gave him hell in a fight ie Castillo and Maidana, Mayweather would shut you down in the rematch. It is possible there has never been a fighter who was as sharp mentally and as quick with his mind as Mayweather was. Robinson though was no slouch either and possessed one of the sharpest minds in boxing history. I mentioned above his fight at light heavyweight with the champion Joey Maxim and being outweighed by 16lbs. Robinson out boxed Maxim the duration of the bout, even leading 10-3 on one of the scorecards so he was clearly using his ring craft to beat the bigger man. When watching Robinson fight he displays a high level of ring IQ in how he set up his victories over such fighters as Gene Fullmer and Rocky Graziano and it was also reported that it was Robinson who gave Muhammad Ali(then Cassius Clay) the blueprint on how to defeat Sonny Liston at a time Liston was seen as invincible and few gave Ali a chance.
Advantage – Mayweather
So what’s the final conclusion and how do I believe the fight would have played out? First off, Robinsons size automatically gives him the edge when the fight begins. I could well imagine Robinson pressing forward the whole fight, holding him, clinching him, leaning on him and slipping in those rear uppercuts whenever the action got to close and this would begin to wear on Floyd. Also, because Robinson is bigger he could afford to press forward, Robinson was a huge puncher, Mayweather was not. Robinson would press forward knowing Mayweather would not be able to hurt him, sure he may stun him but Robinson could take punches from a 175lber so a fighter of Mayweather’s power would not deter him in the least. Now of course because Robinson was a combination puncher and he would often throw his hooks from wide out, it would leave him open to Mayweather’s counters and I could well see him getting countered from time to time, but Robinsons punch versatility would be something Mayweather would never have seen and his bigger size meant he would continuously keep the pressure on and when you have knockout power in either hand and are not faced with a power punching opponent, would Mayweather be able to keep Robinson off him? Sure he would miss with a lot of punches but as we have seen when Mayweather fought Castillo, Maidana and De La Hoya, pressure tactics can get to Floyd and no one is a better combination puncher or front foot fighter than Robinson.
Despite the argument of the wide hooks, Robinson was a master of disguising his hooks with feints or doubling them up, the shell can be suspect to the overhand right and Robinson would open up the right by using the right hook which you can see here in this video. I am not going to say Robinson would knock Mayweather out because no one did that but Robinsons size and punching ability would have Mayweather fighting on the back foot the whole night and his pot shots would not be enough to stop Robinsons forward charge, a man himself who was never knocked out. You also have to remember Robinson was built to fight 15 rounds, even though Floyd was as fit as they came Robinson would have the advantage in todays 12 round fights – he might even up the pace more in a shorter fight making him even more of a nightmare.
My verdict for Sugar Ray Robinson vs Floyd Mayweather Jr is that Robinson wins a wide points decision, I could even see Robinson stopping Mayweather on his feet late in the fight. Robinsons size, power and combination punching would be too much for a defensive minded fighter who lacked power and combinations as a welterweight and it could catch up to him later on in the fight, it’s just a bad matchup of styles in my opinion, Floyd just wouldn’t be active enough in the ring against such an offensive fighter to take this fight. Floyd was 50-0 but Robinson during his prime years lost just once in 130 fights, that too against a man who outweighed him by 14-16lbs and he came back and beat the same opponent weeks later and the next five times they fought!(Jake La Motta who just happened to also be one of the greats)
WINNER – SUGAR RAY ROBINSON
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