A Boxing Memory: Randy Turpin
For 64 days in 1951, Randolph Turpin was on top of the world. Turpin had done the unthinkable, a boxing miracle when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson to become the middleweight champion of the world.
But it didn’t last, in boxing it rarely does.
Robinson was living out of a suitcase, 53 of them if you care for the detail. It was the last stop on Robinson’s 41-day European tour of excess. Turpin travelled to London to face Robinson by train on the day of the fight, Robinson and his loyal to the dollar entourage arrived in limousines. Robinson came for the show, Turpin came to fight, and he came to win.
The script said Turpin was there to lose, nobody thought the ‘Leamington Licker’ had a hope in hell of the seismic upset victory. The challenger was only 23, but it didn’t look like a case of too much too soon, it just looked too much.
Robinson was the attraction, the star of the show at Earls Court. A true superstar of his time, he was mobbed everywhere he went, the glamour, the glitz with an entourage to match his status. But the champion came to London complacent, the pre-fight odds told him he had every reason to be. Robinson had only suffered one previous defeat in 132 fights, those odds looked right.
The American looked invincible, but Turpin believed. After 15 rounds, the invincible one was now the defeated one. It wasn’t even close. The win and the performance get forgotten, it’s still perhaps the finest ever performance by a British fighter, even considering all the distractions surrounding Robinson. Turpin, who was never comfortable with fame, modestly said: “It was just another fight, another job to do.”
“I have no alibis. I was beaten by a better man.” Robinson knew. We all knew..
But Robinson had a 90-day immediate rematch clause, 64 days after his famous win Turpin was in New York hoping to replicate what he had achieved in London.
Sadly for Turpin history wouldn’t repeat itself. Robinson had enjoyed himself a little too much on his European publicity tour. In London, we had seen a lesser version of the fighter many claim to be the greatest fighter that ever lived.
For the rematch, Robinson got serious. The former champion had excuses for his defeat to Turpin, although he never used any of them, the seriousness of his preparation for the rematch probably saved him.
Despite the difference in ‘Sugar Ray’s training and mindset the return was no formality, Robinson was sharper and was ahead in the early stages. But when he started to fade in the middle rounds the tide was starting to turn. The British champion was coming on strong as the fight entered the closing stages. A cut over Robinson’s left eye, a lingering reminder from the first fight, left the challenger feeling he was about to be stopped on cuts.
The former champion came out for the 10th with purpose, desperation even. A big right hand dropped Turpin heavily, it looked over. But Turpin somehow got back to his feet, but Robinson unleashed a deadly salvo of punches that forced the referee to end the reign of the British champion.
The stoppage was protested, but it was the correct call. There were only seconds left to go in the round, Turpin needed to take a count, robbed of his fighting senses he stayed propped up against the ropes, too many punches absorbed, the protests were in vain and unjustified.
Life after Robinson was hard for Turpin. There would be no more world titles, he won more fights than he lost, but the record and the wins hide plenty. Fights he would have won not so long ago were lost as the decline set in.
The money was dwindling away, bad investments, too generous with the friends that would disappear as he slid down the boxing ladder. It was a familiar story, the same old narrative that gets played out time and time again. The retirement finally came in 1958. As usual, it wasn’t pretty.
Turpin was suffering from within. A long career had taken its toll, Turpin just another statistic.
There was no escape from the wrong kind of headlines, accusations of domestic abuse and worse, wouldn’t go away.
As his career and ultimately his life faded away, and when he said, “I had nothing to do. Nowhere to go,” no more words were needed. Turpin was only 30 when he uttered those words.
There were money worries, he worked in a scrap yard and turned to wrestling and the land of make-believe. £100 a night ended up being a paltry £10 as the interest and the novelty faded. Turpin returned to the ring in desperation, the unlicensed scene a far cry from the sold-out arenas of old.
Turpin would be declared bankrupt in 1962 over an unpaid tax bill. Stories of suicidal thoughts and depression, a sad reminder of what life can be after boxing. The tunnel was long, there was no light.
In 1966 Turpin received another tax demand, the prospect of a second bankruptcy loomed large, three days later aged just 37, he was dead. A desolate, lonely and tragic end.
Turpin committed suicide, before shooting himself, he shot his 17-month-old daughter, somehow, she survived. The events of that fateful day were disputed. A reputation to save led to conspiracy theories. Turpin left a note, the definitive evidence of what happened in that soulless room above a café he owned in Leamington.
The funeral was a modest quiet affair, old friends remained absent, his sport forgot him, the end was sad in many ways.
Turpin had many flaws outside of the ring, but inside it, he was some fighter. A British, Commonwealth and European champion, Turpin was far more than just a 64-day hero. But he had his demons, too many, in the end, they won.