Boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson may soon find his incredible career and story on the big screen.
Screenwriter Danny Strong (Recount) and producer Rachael Horovitz (Grey Gardens, About Schmidt) have purchased the film rights to author Wil Haygood’s best-selling biography Sweet Thunder: The Life of Times of Sugar Ray Robinson. According to Deadline, Haygood will write the film’s screenplay. Out of the trio, Horovitz is the only one with sports movie experience via her work on the forthcoming baseball film Moneyball (Brad Pitt, Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
Robinson fought 200 fights in a 25 year career from 1940-1965. He won the welterweight title and then the middleweight title for a record fives times. 11 years into his career, Robinson had a 128-1-2 record with wins over Hall of Famers Jake LaMotta, Kid Gavilan, Fritzie Zivic, and Sammy Agnott. Later, Robinson would engage in epic battles with more Hall of Famers in Carmen Basilio, Rocky Graziano and Gene Fullmer. Because of his immense skill, the term “pound for pound” was coined to reference fighters who carried their ability through multiple weight classes. Today, Robinson is viewed by many as the greatest fighter of all time.
A fictional Robinson was featured prominently as the foil to Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Raging Bull. The movie recreates the famous sixth and final fight between Robinson and LaMotta, known today at the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” due to the brutal beating LaMotta endured in the final rounds.
Sugar Ray Robinson passed away in 1989 at age 67. The following year, he was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
A couple of years ago, HBO had a very nice documentary on Sugar Ray Robinson (The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion). It showed an out of the ring dark side that would be excellent material for this movie.
Robinson was physically abusive to his wife, and drew the ire of many of his opponents through hardline negotiations (sound familiar?). Robinson would go as far as threatening to walk out on promoters the night of the fight if his demands weren’t met. Carmen Basilio, over 50 years later, still holds a grudge against Robinson for the way he was treated during the course of their two close battles (“When he died, I said I don’t give a shit….I don’t feel sorry for the son of a bitch because he’s the most arrogant person you’ll ever run into.”). And like many boxers, Robinson hung around way too long due to money problems and delusions of continued glory.
Robinson’s rivalry with LaMotta is well documented. I haven’t read the biography the movie will be based on, but I plan on soon. Personally, I’d like to see a movie that evenly gives attention to some of his tough welterweight contests (Kid Gavilan), and later career battles at middleweight against Carmen Basilio and Gene Fullmer. Those clashes would provide an excellent backdrop to Robinson’s violent and contentious relationship with his family.
Who would play Robinson? I’ve seen some fans online calling for Terrence Howard, but I don’t see that at all. It may be better to go for an unknown.
If you missed the HBO documentary, you can check out the links below. Well worth your time.