Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
For the rest of his life, Sugar Ray Robinson was haunted by that eighth round in Cleveland. Haunted by the hard left to the jaw of Jimmy Doyle, who until the moment his head hit the canvas with a sickening thud was riding a string of victories to a chance at the title of welterweight champion.
Doyle, born Jimmy Delaney, was a classy fighter who made his professional debut June 6, 1941, at the Olympic. “Jimmy first attracted our attention by his old-fashioned standup stance,” Times sports columnist Al Wolf wrote. “He looked like a throwback to the days of John L. and Gentleman Jim as he stood there stiff-backed and stiff-necked, feet firmly planted, left arm extended in an upward arc. It could have been a picture from the Police Gazette of yesteryear.”
“We liked him from the start—a willing mixer who could take it and dish it out, a graceful fellow, an action fighter. But we soon grew to wince as whistling gloves constantly clipped his young face, gradually giving it that fighter’s look. For Jimmy didn’t seem to have the knack of rolling with those punches or riding the steam out of them. He took them squarely and unflinchingly, his head often whirling from the impact until you feared it’d twist off his neck. But the body remained firm or kept going forward.
“We got to the point where we wished he’d go down or at least stagger backward, to give a little and blunt the force of those thrusts. We wondered how he could soak up such punishment, why his brains didn’t addle. But it didn’t seem to bother Jimmy, so we decided we were getting soft.”
Then an ex-Marine from Brooklyn named Artie Levine landed a hard right in the ninth round, March 11, 1946, in Cleveland. Jimmy went to the canvas while the referee counted eight. Jimmy got up and took another blow that dumped him for a nine-count. At 57 seconds, the referee stopped the fight. Levine earned a TKO and Jimmy got a ride in an ambulance with a concussion and a brain hemorrhage. He was unconscious for 15 minutes and spent three days in the hospital.
By December 1946, he was back in the ring, with a March 1947 win over Danny Kapilow clearing the way for title fight with Robinson. Jimmy wanted to get a bout at the Olympic, but matchmaker Babe McCoy turned him down as being too risky and told him to give up boxing.
Robinson got into the ring with Jimmy on June 24, 1947, in Cleveland, the 3-1 favorite, 146 pounds, 27 years old, with a guarantee of $25,000 ($236,604.65 USD 2005) and 40% of the gate. But what was haunting him was the terrible dream he had the night before.
“I had just gone to sleep and woke up in a cold sweat,” he said. “In my dreams I knocked out Doyle and I saw him dying. I was terrified. The next morning I told everyone I had a premonition something terrible was going to happen. I told the press, the public and the boxing officials. It’s a matter of record.
“And it happened just like that.”
Jimmy died the next day despite the brain surgeons’ attempts to save his life. The coroner absolved Robinson of any guilt in Jimmy’s death, which was ruled accidental. His remains were brought back to Los Angeles and a Requiem was said at Presentation Church, 6406 Parmalee Ave. He was buried at Calvary Cemetery.
Robinson staged several bouts to raise money for Jimmy’s family—his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Delaney, brothers Edward, Francisco and Paul; and sister Dolores—and set up a trust fund so Jimmy’s mother would get $50 a month for 10 years.
In 1962, writing about yet another death in the ring—this time Benny “Kid” Paret,” The Times Jim Murray wrote:
“You bear in your mind Sugar Ray Robinson on the day that Jimmy Doyle, a lyrical boxer whose body was a frail vessel for these cruel seas, was on his way back to California in a casket, put there by Ray’s fists. To the coroner’s insistent question, “Didn’t you see he was hurt?” Ray sullenly answered, “Mister, it’s my business to hurt people.”
Robinson, whom many consider the best prizefighter who ever lived, died in 1989 in Culver City of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.