Over the years, boxing as a sport has grown in popularity edging to nearly every continent except Antarctica, of course. The sport, which also proves to be a dangerous one has taken the lives of over 500 boxers since the introduction of the Queensbury rules in 1884. One of these tragic incidents is the unfortunate fight between Jimmy Doyle and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Robinson was born ‘Walker Smith Jnr’ in Ailey, Georgia. His original career prospect was to be a doctor but after dropping out of high school, he set his scope on boxing. At the age of 15, he began his amateur career after faking his age using his friend, Ray Robinson’s birth certificate to get an AAU membership card. After being told he was ‘sweet as sugar’ by a lady in the audience at a fight in Watertown, New York, he became known as Sugar Ray Robinson. He finished his amateur career with a record of 85-0 with 69 KOs. In his professional career, he had an almost impossible record of 128-1-2 whilst holding the welterweight title for 5 years.
Doyle on the other hand, was born ‘James Emerson’ in Los Angeles. He made his debut as a professional boxer in 1941 and had begun showing great promise in the sport. He had a total of 53 fights, 43 wins (including 14 KOs), 7 losses and 3 draws. In 1947, he challenged defending welterweight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson and unfortunately that was his last bout in the ring.
On June 1947, after four non-title bouts, Robinson was scheduled to defend his title for the first time in a bout against Jimmy Doyle. Robinson initially backed out of the fight because he had a dream that he was going to kill Doyle. Robinson stated “I woke up in cold sweat, yellin’ for Jimmy to get up- get up- get up. My yellin’ woke me up, I guess. And the sight of Jimmy layin’ there in the canvas in the dream seemed so real that I had jitters when I woke up. And I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just laid there, tossin’ around in bed…. And I felt lousy the next day. And in the back of my mind I felt scared every time I thought about the coming fight.” A Catholic priest was summoned and he was assured that it was only a dream. However, his dream was proven to be true.


On June 24, 1947, Robinson dominated Doyle except for the sixth round where he staggered twice. Tragedy struck in the 8th round, when Robinson delivered a powerful left hook to Doyle, knocking him out instantly. The referee, Jackie Davies then ended the bout after counting to ten. Doyle was immediately rushed to St Vincent charity hospital where he failed to regain consciousness and passed away a few hours later.


After his death, criminal charges were threatened against Robinson in Cleveland, including murder. However, none of the charges came to fruition. After learning of Doyle’s intentions of using the bout’s money to buy his mother a house, Robinson gave Doyle’s mother the money from his next four bouts so she could purchase herself a home, fulfilling her son’s intention. Further investigation showed that Doyle had probably sustained severe injuries from a previous fight which he lost in a KO against Arteine Levine who had been described by Robinson as ‘the hardest puncher’ he had ever met. So it was clear Robinson was fighting an injured man. Doyle was the first fighter to die in a world title fight.




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