Sugar Ray Robinson (born Walker Smith Jr. (1921 – 1989) is considered one of the greatest professional boxers of all time. By rising to the top of his profession, Robinson’s childhood dreams came true. Sadly and tragically, another of his dreams turned into reality, and it haunted Robinson for the rest of his life.
On June 26, 1947, Sugar Ray Robinson was scheduled to fight 22-year-old Jimmy Doyle. In the days leading up to the fight, his mind was continually on the upcoming event. Even as he slept, his thoughts turned toward his time in the ring with Doyle.
Robinson had a vivid dream shortly before the scheduled fight. He said, “In the dream, Jimmy Doyle was in the ring with me. I hit him a few good punches and he was on his back, his blank eyes staring up at me, and I was staring down at him, not knowing what to do, and the referee was moving in to count to 10 and Doyle still wasn’t moving a muscle and in the crowd I could hear people yelling, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead,’ and I didn’t know what to do. Then I woke up.”
The dream was so disturbing that Robinson told his promoters that he was going to cancel the fight. They, in turn, tried to talk him out of it. They arranged for a Catholic priest to reassure Robinson that the dream was merely pre-fight jitters and nothing to worry about. The efforts to change Robinson’s mind were successful, and the fight took place as scheduled.
It was a fight to remember. The two boxers gave and took with all of their strength and skill. It was during the eighth round that Robinson landed a left hook to the face of Doyle. The punch sent Doyle to the canvas. Referee Jackie Davis began the 10 count but soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. Doyle was unconscious. He lifted Robinson’s hand and declared him the winner by a knock-out.
It soon became clear that Doyle was not just knocked out. He was seriously injured. He was rushed to a hospital, but he never regained consciousness. He died the next day.
Upon being informed of Doyle’s fate, a shocked and highly-emotional Robinson told reporters about his prophetic dream. He later wrote about the experience in his autobiography:
“I had knocked out guys before, dozens of them, but in those fights, I always had a good feeling, a conquering feeling when I saw them being counted out, maybe because I could see that they weren’t really hurt. But now, with Doyle stretched out and his eyes blank, I had that empty feeling you get when something in your life is really wrong, and all I could think of was the dream. You warned me, God. You told me. Why did I let everybody talk me out of it?”
Doyle was the first boxer to die in a world title fight. Activists fiercely called upon government officials to ban the dangerous sport. Law enforcement investigated the death, weighing whether to bring homicide charges against Robinson. In the end, it was concluded that Robinson did nothing inappropriate.
Although absolved by the authorities, Robinson still carried personal responsibility in his heart. He quietly set up a trust fund to benefit Doyle’s parents. They received $50 a month (equivalent to $582.78 in 2020) over ten years. He also learned that Doyle had planned, if he won the fight, to use his winnings to buy a house for his parents. Robinson gave Doyle’s mother the money from his next four fights so she could purchase herself a home.
Robinson did not disclose whether he had any further dreams that warned him against upcoming fights. One can be certain, however, that if he did, he could not be persuaded to disregard them.