Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Ray and Joey Maxim - In the Heat of the Night

The weather affects many areas of human endeavour in a whole variety of ways but one of the strangest and most famous of these concerned a world title boxing bout that took place in New York back in 1952.

The summer of that year proved to be one of the hottest ever across many parts of the United States, affecting most areas from the Continental Divide to the Atlantic coast. During June of 1952 monthly temperatures were an astonishing 10F above normal in Kansas City, and Nashville’s maximum temperatures for the month beat the previous record by 3F.

From the 24th to the end of the month, temperatures climbed above 100F as far north as Boston and Detroit, and many all time temperature records were broken as the searing heatwave marched across America.

During this furnace-like week, most offices and factories throughout New York and Detroit that weren’t air conditioned sent their employees home early and thousands flocked to the beach around Coney Island and Rockaway where they stayed overnight to try and escape the oppressive heat of the inner city.

In the middle of this heatwave a world championship boxing bout had been scheduled at Yankee Stadium, and a most unusual one at that.

Yankee Stadium in the late 1920's
(Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

The world middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson had challenged the world light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim for his crown. Robinson had already won two other world titles at lesser weights, and this would have given him world titles in three different weight divisions – an almost unprecedented achievement.

The World Middleweight Champion in 1952 - Sugar Ray Robinson. (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

Normally a middleweight would have little chance against a light heavyweight, but Sugar Ray Robinson was no ordinary fighter, even by world championship standards. Equipped with silky speed and a killer punch in either hand, he was rated by many as the best ever boxer, pound for pound, in the history of the ring.

Joey Maxim - the World Light Heavyweight Champion in 1952 (Image from Wikipedia Commons - click to enlarge)

Maxim was big and strong and the fact that he was world light heavyweight champion meant he was a very tough hombre. The fight promised to be a fascinating one.

It was organised for 10 pm on the night of June 25 1952, outdoors at Yankee Stadium, and, as it turned out, in the middle of the New York heatwave. Robinson weighed in at 160 pounds and Maxim 175 – a big advantage. As the two fighters climbed in to the ring the temperature was measured on the ring apron as 104F, with high humidity conditions adding to the acute discomfort.

The fight commenced and then proceeded pretty much as the experts had predicted with the much faster Robinson scoring punches at will and piling up a big points lead over the first nine rounds. He even managed to stagger Maxim with a big right hand in the seventh.

Then things began to go awry for Robinson. His fast style was generating great heat from his muscles – heat that couldn’t be dissipated in the ultra hot and humid conditions. The core heat of his body began to rise and he started to show signs of imbalance, disorientation and exhaustion – all classic symptoms of hyperthermia or heat exhaustion.

In the meantime, people in the audience had been collapsing with the heat, and the sweat soaked referee Goldstein signalled that he could not go on after round ten. He was replaced by the reserve referee, Ray Miller.

In the thirteenth round Robinson threw a huge right hand, missed, and then fell flat on his face. He was a man noted for his superb balance in the ring so this rang alarm bells all through the crowd.

This moment was captured in the photograph here:


He was just able to last to the end of the round.

But he was unable to answer the bell for the start of the fourteenth round and Maxim was declared the winner by way of knockout. It was the first time that Sugar Ray had ever been stopped inside the distance.

It took a totally spent Ray Robinson some 6 weeks to recover from the fight and he always claimed it was the heat, rather than Maxim that had beaten him.

However Maxim himself denied that heat was the main factor. He later said "Did I have air conditioning in my corner? I pushed him all night. He knocked himself out".

Sugar Ray, after a brief retirement from the ring, came back and regained his world middleweight crown and went on fighting until 1965 when he was 43 years of age. He was named the greatest fighter of the 20th Century by the Associated Press, and the greatest boxer ever by ESPN.com in 2007. Perhaps of even more significance, Ring Magazine voted him the best pound for pound fighter of all time. He died in 1989 aged 68.

Joey Maxim lost his world title soon after the Robinson fight and eventually retired from the ring in 1959. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994, and died in 2001, aged 79.

Vision of this famous fight can be seen here:


For information about one of Australia's best ever fighters go to


Reference: Sugar Ray, Putnam and Company, London, 1969

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