NEW YORK, FEB. 9 -- The Garden debut of Sugar Ray Leonard was a headline story.
The first Garden appearance, as a pro, of another Sugar Ray was described in the last paragraph of a 20-paragraph New York Times story about Fritzie Zivic's victory over Henry Armstrong for the welterweight title Oct. 4, 1940.
That paragraph read:
"Ray Robinson, 134 1/2, Harlem Negro, who won the Golden Gloves lightweight crown last spring in the Garden, made his professional debut in the opening four-rounder and stopped Joe Echevarria, 132, Puerto Rico, in 51 seconds of the second round."
Robinson, whose style was later described by a sportswriter as "sweet as sugar," had 200 pro fights. He won 175, had 110 knockouts and six draws. Fifteen of his 19 losses came after he turned 35.
Robinson, who died in 1989, generally is regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter of all.
"He has my vote as the best ever," said Leonard, who was to challenge Terry Norris for the World Boxing Council super welerweight title Saturday night in the Garden.
It was the 39th pro fight for Leonard, who will turn 35 on May 17. A decision loss to Roberto Duran in 1980 was his only defeat going into the Norris bout.
"It's always an inspiration to watch clips of Robinson," Leonard said. "He had a special relationship with the fans."
Robinson fought at least 23 times in the Garden, which was then at a different site. In his busiest Garden year, he was 8-0. In four of those fights he stopped Zivic, by then an ex-champion. He also won a 10-round nontitle decision over lightweight champion Sammy Angott and scored 10-round decisions over future welterweight champion Marty Servo and future middleweight champion Jake LaMotta.
It was in the Garden that Robinson became a champion for the first time, winning the vacant welterweight title on a 15-round decision over Tommy Bell before a crowd of 15,670 on Dec. 20, 1946.
Harry Markson, former head of Garden Boxing, recalled that Robinson's purse for the Bell fight was less than $10,000.
In his only other title fight in the Garden, Robinson lost a 15-round decision to Gene Fullmer on Jan. 2, 1957. That fight was for the middleweight championship, which Robinson held five times.
On Feb. 17, 1962, Robinson lost a 10-round decision to Denny Moyer in his last Garden fight. He was 38. Ray Leonard was 5.