Over the past few days there has been plenty of speculation as to how Terence Crawford would have matched up with great welterweights of the past.
Following the Nebraska native’s commanding destruction of fellow elite 147 pounder Errol Spence on Saturday, many are wondering just how high up Crawford could sit on a list of all-time great welterweights.
In keeping with this theme, I wondered how Terence would fare against the man regarded as one of the best, if not the best, boxers of all time – the great Sugar Ray Robinson.
Quick Bio Blast On Sugar Ray
Born Walker Smith Jr. in May 1921, the man who went on to be known as Ray Robinson boxed professionally from 1940-1965. His entry to pro boxing was built on a solid foundation as his amateur record stood at a reported 85-0, with an incredible 69 knockouts.
It was as a 14-year-old, the young Walker Smith Jr. was told he needed an AAU card to enter amateur tournaments and couldn’t do so until he was 16.
The youth showed some resourceful thinking by presenting the ID card of an older boy who had stopped boxing, a certain Ray Robinson.
Now able to box in amateur tournaments, “Ray Robinson’s” talent was noted. At one tournament a female spectator remarked that his skills were sweet like sugar and the name “Sugar” was attached to Ray Robinson for the rest of his life.
As a pro, according to BoxRec, Robinson compiled a record of 174-19-6 with 109KOs. Starting at lightweight, Robinson would also box at welter, middle and light heavyweight during his campaign. He was world champion at 147 and 160 pounds.
Robinson’s skills were so revered that the boxing scribes of that era invented the term pound-for-pound in order to compare Sugar Ray to fighters across the weight classes.
It is his period at welterweight that is most relevant to this hypothetical piece of writing.
From 1943 to 1951, Robinson went on an 91-fight unbeaten run. This streak included winning the welterweight title in 1946 in his 76th professional contest. Here is an old school video introduction to SRR.
Robinson was effectively frozen out of fighting for the 147 pound crown by the people who ran boxing in that era – the Mafia.
Sugar Ray refused to cooperate with them so he simply had to wait until they could no longer deny him his title shot.
Robinson defended the welterweight title five times before he moved north to middleweight in 1950. He never lost a fight in the 147 pound division.
Historian Bert Sugar rated Robinson as the greatest boxer of all time. In 2019 the International Boxing Research Organization ranked Robinson as their number one boxer of all time.
In 1999 he was named welterweight of the century and overall fighter of the century by the Associated Press.
Terence Crawford At 147
After becoming the unified light welterweight champion in 2017, Terence Crawford moved up to begin the task of conquering his second weight class.
His 147 pound debut netted him the WBO version of the title, as holder Jeff Horn was stopped after absorbing a nine round beating.
Defences followed against Jose Benavidez Jr., Amir Khan, Egidijus Kavaliauskas, Kell Brook, Shawn Porter and David Avanesyan. Crawford won all of these bouts by stoppage.
In fact the last time a Crawford opponent heard the final bell was July 2016; then undefeated Viktor Postol managed that while being handily beaten on the cards.
All of this led Terence Crawford to last Saturday in Las Vegas and his showdown with the man who held all the other welterweight belts, Errol Spence.
It has been well reported just how savage and dominating Crawford’s win over his rival was.
What just about all observers thought was a 50/50 matchup turned into a one-sided thrashing.
It was an absolute masterclass which demonstrated the tactical nous of the Nebraska switch-hitter as well as his razor sharp boxing skills and monstrous power.
Some Stats And Mental Observations On Terence Crawford And Ray Robinson
Comparing across eras is not easy, but we can rely on what we observe and more so in Robinson’s case, what we can read.
Unfortunately, many of Robinson’s fights at welterweight weren’t filmed.
Let’s start with the mental makeup of both fighters.
In waiting five years for his title shot, Robinson showed single-mindedness. He never once bowed to the pressure exerted on him by some incredibly persuasive people to be handed an easier path to a title fight.
Terence Crawford also needed to be patient in waiting for his opportunity to face Spence. Modern day promotional issues delayed the fight the world wanted to see for a while.
This suggests that remaining focused came naturally to Robinson and isn’t a problem for Crawford.
Robinson boxed out of the orthodox stance and stood 5 feet 11 inches. His reach is noted at 72.5 inches.
Terence Crawford is a switch-hitter, meaning he can box orthodox or southpaw – an interesting wrinkle to present to any opponent. He is 5’8” and has a 74 inch reach.
As he did against Spence, I suspect Crawford would box out of the southpaw stance in this hypothetical super fight against Robinson.
Both boxers also possess ridiculously high boxing IQs. That is to say they both problem solve and adapt as a fight is unfolding. Their combined ring intelligence is off the charts.
A Closer Look At Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray Robinson learned to tap-dance in his youth, perhaps that helped him develop the footwork which helped him to effortlessly transition from defense to offense in his bouts.
Robinson’s jab was fast and accurate and he mainly used it as a rangefinder.
He would mix up the rhythm of his lead hand to confuse opponents. When an opening arrived, Robinson would unleash his powerful combinations.
At welterweight, Robinson possessed fantastic reflexes which allowed him to operate as a counter puncher at times.
He was capable of using opponents’ offense against them, slipping shots before punishing them with plenty of return fire.
Robinson was a strong inside fighter who would use his strength to jam and twist his opponents on the ropes or in the corners of the ring. This tactic would leave his foes open to body punches.
With his footwork among the best ever seen, Robinson could deliver powerful punches even when on the back foot.
Constantly in motion, he was a hard target for opponents to tag with anything truly powerful. He would often pivot out of the danger zone and land a hook on attacking opponents.
To go along with his inside fighting ability, Robinson could also smother the work of opponents by using clinches.
He would often throw an uppercut almost at the same moment as releasing the clinch to gain an upper hand from a defensive position.
As well as employing his lead left hand as an effective jab, Robinson also used his left arm as a shield when under attack. This frustrated the life out of his opponents.
All in, at 147 pounds, Sugar Ray Robinson was pretty much the complete boxing machine. It’s a very difficult case to make to argue for anyone beating him at the weight.
A Closer Look At Terence Crawford
Terence Crawford is a masterful counter puncher.
A bit like Sugar Ray, he shifts seamlessly from defense to offense – again as a result of possessing solid fundamentals.
When boxing out of the southpaw stance, as a right-handed person, Crawford’s lead right hand, his jab, is delivered with the authority of power punch. This opens many avenues for the current undisputed welterweight champion.
When facing an orthodox fighter, Crawford’s defensive expertise and distance control allows him to counter any jabs with his lightning fast left hand.
This technique was on show early and often against Spence.
With his switch-hitting abilities, Terence Crawford delivers power from both his left and right hands.
While he didn’t tap-dance as a youth like Sugar Ray, Crawford has a background in wrestling.
This probably helped him develop his underrated footwork for the boxing ring.
Of course his ability to box from either stance is the best demonstration of his fleet-footedness.
Terence Crawford is always thinking and processing while in the ring. He deliberately starts fights slowly in order to do this, but once he understands exactly what he needs to do, his opponent is in trouble.
With patience and precision, Crawford doesn’t go hunting for knockouts. He engineers them by coming on stronger and stronger as the rounds advance.
One of Crawford’s best known qualities is his finishing ability. A hurt opponent may as well have his corner throw the towel in.
Like everything he does, Terence is calculated when it comes to putting the finishing touches to his work. He coldly closes the show in a manner that looks effortless to those of us spectating.
Offense Triumphs Over Defense, But Only Just
With both men matching up so well in almost every category, picking a winner is nigh on impossible.
With the footwork being evenly matched and, for me, Robinson holding a slight defensive advantage, while Terence Crawford holds a marginal offensive one, the outcome of this would be razor thin.
Perhaps recency bias is playing a part, but I think that Terence Crawford has the capabilities to defeat the great Sugar Ray Robinson at welterweight.
There wouldn’t be much in it, but Bud’s vaunted finishing ability would be the difference in this bout in my opinion.
In a battle of the highest combined ring IQ of all time, Terence Crawford would create the opportunity of a late stoppage. He would not squander it.
Of course, you are more than welcome to disagree.