Sometimes, talent gets held back by basic regulations in youth sports. Regulations that protect and assist kids’ development. There’s no perfect answer for how to bend the rules because they work most of the time. NASCAR star Joey Logano, for example, advanced quickly, so his dad used a fake birth certificate to bump him up in skill levels. But Logano’s not alone. No less than Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the greatest boxers to don a pair of gloves, resorted to the same strategy.
Sugar Ray Robinson was so good, he fought older kids to stay competitive
Robinson became a preternatural talent from essentially the moment he picked up his gloves. He even took the extraordinary step of matching his rapid development by taking on kids years older than him. Robinson pulled it off by borrowing a friend’s birth certificate, as ESPN reports. The kids were older and bigger than Robinson. But he was faster and stronger, fully capable of brushing past his opponents.
Even against adults, Sugar Ray couldn’t be stopped. He won the New York Golden Gloves at just 19, a feat made doubly impressive by how competitive the NYC boxing scene was at the time. From there, he launched his professional career. It was a transition to an uninterrupted period of years of athletic greatness. But it almost didn’t happen at all.
Robinson’s youth was full of distractions, yet he persevered
Robinson spent his early childhood in Detroit, Michigan. He blossomed as a boxer after his mother moved their family to NYC. It was at an unstable moment for the city, however, and they found both employment and basic necessities hard to come by. Robinson joined a street gang to fill in the gaps in his poverty-stricken home life, the New York Times reports.
Boxing was the alternative. Local community leaders encouraged kids to get off the streets and into the ring. Robinson, who grew up near the legendary Joe Louis, took them up on the offer. It turned out to be utterly life-changing, diverting him from petty crime to life as a teen on the straight-and-narrow, according to Biography.com.
Robinson was living like an adult and developed his personal life around that newfound standard. He married while still a teenager and had one child. Robinson wouldn’t find his life’s partner until much later, in 1949, but these were all small steps on a long road from poverty to international superstar boxer.
Robinson’s career remains a model for modern boxers
As a professional, Robinson is still historically one of the best pound-for-pound boxers of all time. From 1943 through 1951, he slashed his way through the welterweight and middleweight boxing worlds without losing a single bout. He won 91 fights in a row, a record that’s only been surpassed twice.
All that success during an era rife with corruption and predatory contracts didn’t lead to much for Robinson after his body couldn’t take any more time in the ring. Mental Floss reports that Robinson had a period of near destitution after his boxing career. But the public never forgot their affection for their faded boxing king.
He recovered by honing his natural athletic talents and charisma into a minor career as a performer. He never returned to millionaire status. But when he died in 1989 he was revered as one of the best fighters and all-around-gentlemen in sports.