Jab Hook’s Boxing in Art #3: “Sugar Ray” and the “Fabulous Four” by Simon Gehrke



Jab Hook’s Boxing in Art #3: “Sugar Ray” and the “Fabulous Four” by Simon Gehrke

This art is close to Jab's heart as it depicts five of his all time favorite boxers, and also because it was created by a member of Munich's Boxwerk Gym community in collaboration with the founder, Nick Trachte.

The Artist:

Simon Gehrke (Munich, March 24, 1979) is a professional artist who earns his living in graphic design, illustration and photography. For over a decade his team has developed and shaped visual concepts for industry, media, cultural and social organizations, as well as the culinary world.

Imagine having enough creative substance to conceive all day in the office, but still have the juice left for your private pursuits. Simon's affinity for “The Sweet Science” and close ties to the Boxwerk have fostered a series of varied pieces inspired by boxing, including “Sugar Ray” and the “Fabulous Four”.

Nick Trachte and Simon Gehrke

The Paintings:

“Sugar Ray” 2018

“Fabulous Four” 2018 (Collage of “Thomas ‘Hitman' Hearns”, ‘Sugar' Ray Leonard”, “'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler”, “Roberto ‘Manos de Piedra' Duran”)

Simon Gehrke (1979) five portraits and collage, 30cm x 20cm, watercolor on paper

Boxwerk – The Art of Boxing collection, Munich

This boxer portrait series started with Gehrke's inspiration to use the simple means of black watercolor on white paper (pun intended) to characterize the original “Sugar Ray”. These artistic people are never satisfied, so Simon then had to sketch “Thomas ‘Hitman' Hearns”, too. Nick Trachte saw these new representations and suggested that the “Fab 4” must be reunited in Gehrke's work. Hence the lovely “'Sugar' Ray Leonard”, “'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler”, “Roberto ‘Manos de Piedra' Duran”, and “Fab 4” collage.

Jab Hook has spent some time considering these five portraits. Enjoying them immediately, he must admit that these images have also grown on him. There is an emotional bias on many levels, and it has much to do with how these men have inspired so many aficionados and fans alike. Simon Gehrke's five portraits capture the vibe of these champions, and the paintings add meaning to Jab's connection to these great boxers. The historical aspects and the shared generation with the “Fab 4” verge on the nostalgic, but remain seated in the “Old School” tradition of the Boxwerk, where “Sugar Ray” and the “Fabulous Four” were created by Simon Gehrke.

The Boxers:

“Sugar Ray Robinson”, born Walker Smith Jr., 1921-1989, Vidalia, Georgia, 174 (109)-19(1)-6

The original “Sugar Ray” is among the greatest boxers of all time. He fought professionally for 25 years averaging 8 bouts per year. “Sugar Ray” was a boxer-puncher and a true champion. He could adapt to any opponent‘s style and even mix-up his tactics from round to round as he pleased. His fast hands, punching accuracy, and the creativity of his combinations made it very hard for his opponents to cope. Only the toughest and most skilled boxers had a chance against Ray Robinson, whose reflexes and footwork were fluid and instinctive. Sugar was so good, that even when he moved up from welterweight to middleweight, he kept his power and speed. This prompted boxing reporters to start using the expression “pound-for-pound” in discussions of boxing greatness across weight divisions.

Ray won his first 40 bouts until he lost a unanimous decision to the great Jake LaMotta in 1943.

Robinson beat La Motta in a rematch only 3 weeks later, and defeated him a total of 5 times over their careers. For more than 4 years “Sugar Ray Robinson” went without another loss in his next 91 bouts. Robinson fought many of the best including these Hall of Famers: Henry Armstrong, Kid Gavilan, Randy Turpin , Rocky Graziano, Joey Maxim, Carl Olson, Gene Fulmer, Carmen Basillio, Joey Giardello. Sugar Ray Robinson held the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951. By 1958 he had become the first boxer ever to win a divisional world championship five times.

Walker Smith Jr moved to New York City with his mom as a teenager and came of age in Harlem.

At 15 he was too young to box in the AAU, so he borrowed a friend‘s birth certificate to apply for a tournament. Registering as Ray Robinson, he just kept the name and added “Sugar” based on a compliment he had received from a lady.

Outside the ring in the 1940‘s and 50‘s he was a star of the social scene in Harlem. He owned a restaurant frequented by the big stars of the day: Joe Louis, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Lena Horne. He was a professional dancer and singer, also did some acting. When he went on tour to fight in Europe he took his pink Cadillac and more than a dozen people with him to Paris. Ray‘s “entourage” was a part of his legend. In contrast, his later years were marked by poverty and poor health.

“The Fabulous Four”

In the 1970‘s and 1980‘s, “The Fabulous Four” were boxing legends in their own time. That generation of skilled, dangerous, and courageous pugilists was a new golden age of boxing that has not been seen since. Who were these contemporary prizefighters that the “Old School” can never forget?

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler: 1954, New Jersey, 63(52)-3-2

The most feared of “The Fab Four”, Hagler‘s aggressive style and punching power intimidated opponents as he walked through their punches. His chin is legendary. A southpaw with an incredible 191cm reach, “Marvelous” Marvin was the most avoided boxer of his generation.

“Sugar” Ray Leonard: 1956 North Carolina, 36(25)-3(1)-1

The most popular of “The Fab Four”, “Sugar” Ray was like a mini-Ali in his slick boxing style, but this southern gentleman‘s humility was more acceptable to the masses. 1976 Olympic Gold medalist, Ray was a gifted athlete with amazing hand speed and boxing skills. Leonard won world titles across five weight divisions.

Thomas ”Hit Man“ Hearns: 1958, Memphis, 61(48)-5(4)-1

Tommy Hearns was the most accomplished of “The Fab Four”. He began his career with 17 KOs in a row! Within three years he had won his 1st world championship title and went on to win six world titles in five weight classes from welterweight to cruiserweight. At 185cm tall with a 191cm reach, ”Hit Man“ Hearns‘ size was a nightmare for all his opponents.

Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Durán: 1951, El Chorrillo, Panama, 103(70)-16(4)

“Hands of Stone” Durán was the craziest and most colorful of “The Fab Four”. He started prizefighting at the tender age of 16 and was 31-0 with 90% KOs by the time he was 20. A brawler, pressure fighter, Durán rose from poverty to win titles in four weight classes becoming a famous boxer and Latin American hero.

Boxing in Art is an ongoing series by “Jab Hook”, aka “Brooklyn” Joe Healy a boxing expert commentator for, a professional cutman from the BOXWERK gym, and a licensed referee/judge in amateur boxing. A lifelong aficionado born in Brooklyn and living in Munich, “The Sweet Science” is his passion. Please feel free to contact him as Jab Hook on FaceBook, at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoxAficionado.