Sugar Ray Robinson’s nightmare turned reality

It’s been 74 years since Sugar Ray Robinson killed Jimmy Doyle in the boxing ring

It’s happened to everyone at one point or another: You lay down to sleep at night, and end up having a dream that feels more real than others. Typically, the details and specifics of your dreams get hazy and drift away not long after you wake up.

Some dreams are different. Sometimes you remember everything that happened, remember exactly how everything felt and swear the dream felt more like an actual memory or premonition.

On the night of June 23, 1974, boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson fell asleep the night before the first title defense of his career. That night, Robinson had one of these supernaturally-real-feeling dreams. The thing is, Robinson’s dream unfolded right before his eyes the next day in the ring against 22-year-old Jimmy Doyle.

In his dream, Robinson envisioned himself knocking out Doyle with a left hook. The only problem was in the dream Doyle never got up off the canvas, as he laid there dead. Robinson woke up shaken. He immediately considered pulling out of the fight. The dream felt so real, and the last thing Robinson wanted to do was risk seriously injuring Doyle.

A talk with a Catholic priest convinced Robinson that what happened truly was just a dream, and had no bearing on that night’s fight. Hours later, having been convinced to move forward with the fight, Robinson’s nightmare unfolded before his eyes.

Robinson controlled the fight for the first seven rounds. Victory was all but guaranteed when a left hook, just like the one Robinson had envisioned, connected with Doyle’s head, knocking him to the canvas. The referee quickly realized Doyle was unresponsive, and the boxer was rushed to a nearby hospital.

The attempts to revive Doyle were unsuccessful. Robinson’s dream had become reality, just as he was afraid of.

Later, Robinson spoke on the dream saying, “I woke up in a cold sweat, yelling for Jimmy to ‘get up, get up, get up.’ My yelling woke me up, I guess. And the sight of Jimmy lying there on the canvas in the dream seemed so real that I had the jitters, and I woke up, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just laid there, tossing around in bed and I felt lousy the next day. And in the back of my mind, I felt scared every time I thought about the coming fight.”

In wake of the tragedy, Robinson set up a trust fund for Doyle’s parents that would send them $50 a month for the next 10 years. Any criminal charges against Robinson never materialized.

Doyle, who died less than two months before his 23rd birthday, ended his boxing career with 43 wins, seven losses and three draws. He was the first professional boxer to die in the ring.

Robinson, who many would go on to call the best pound-for-pound boxer to ever live, fought 120 more times after that night.

Robinson finished his career with a 125-19-6 record.

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