Former world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer passed away April 27 at the age of 84. Promoter J Russell Peltz, International Boxing Hall of Fame class of 2004, recalls watching Fullmer on television as a kid.
GENE FULLMER: IT TOOK TIME TO APPRECIATE HIM
I hated Gene Fullmer! He was one of the first fighters I saw when I began watching boxing on television with my dad when I was 13. This was late in 1959 and I remember seeing Fullmer defend his National Boxing Association (NBA) title against Spider Webb from the Cow Palace in San Francisco. I thought it was dreadful.
Fullmer was all shoulders and elbows and he had no style, just a bull rushing in, falling into unorthodox clinches, grabbing, turning, twisting, doing anything to disrupt the flow of the fight.
The 15-round decision– remember when real men fought 15 rounds—went to Fullmer by wide margins and I couldn’t believe it. Four months later, Fullmer defended against Philly’s Joey Giardello in one of the dirtiest fights in boxing history and it ended in a 15-round draw and the fight had more head butts than you would see at a convention of billy goats.
Why did he always get to fight in his backyard, places like Salt Lake City or Bozeman, Montana?
I rooted against Fullmer every time I saw him on television, whether it was against Carmen Basilio or Florentino Fernandez or Sugar Ray Robinson or Benny Kid Paret. Poor Benny! What kind of masochist let the undersized welterweight champ fight the Paul Bunyan-lookalike from Utah?
I did cartwheels when I read the newspaper the day after he finally lost the title to Dick Tiger in 1962 in San Francisco. They fought a draw in a rematch—Fullmer had three draws in world title fights, probably a record—before Tiger ended Fullmer’s career with a knockout win in their third fight in 1963 in Nigeria.
Then a funny thing happened—I got older and I got wiser.
As the years went by, I realized that not every great fighter had to fight in the classic pose of a Joe Louis or a Sugar Ray Robinson. I learned that the really good fighters used their God-given ability and made the most out of it and that it didn’t always have to be pretty and no one ever accused Gene Fullmer of being pretty.
Gene Fullmer had 64 pro fights from 1951 to 1963 and he only lost five of them. He scored 24 knockouts and he rarely fought cupcakes. Most of today’s fighters would break out in a rash if they were given the schedule Fullmer had.
He fought Sugar Ray Robinson four times, Dick Tiger three times, Gil Turner three times, Carmen Basilio twice, Spider Webb twice, Tiger Jones twice, Wilfie Greaves twice, Paul Pender, Joey Giardello, Peter Mueller, Rocky Castellani, Moses Ward, Eduardo Lausse, Charley Humez, Ernie Durando, Al Andrews, Del Flanagan, Bobby Boyd, Joe Miceli, Neal Rivers and Chico Vejar and if you are not familiar with a lot of these names then you should go get a record book and look them up because on today’s boxing landscape they would have a picnic.
He was only stopped once and it took the greatest left hook ever thrown–by Robinson–in their second fight in 1957 in Chicago to put Fullmer down. Fullmer had whipped Robinson badly in their first fight earlier that year to win the undisputed crowd at Madison Square Garden.
I ran into Gene numerous times over the years every June at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. One of his brothers, Don, had boxed for me in 1973 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. A third brother, Jay, who passed away last week, also had been a capable pro.
The Fullmer family was about as nice a group of people you would ever want to meet and seeing them every year in Canastota was always one of the highlights of the annual trip.
Don passed away in 2012 and Gene was slowing down himself by then and I don’t think he made the trip the last two years and that’s a shame because he was sorely missed.
You rarely hear Fullmer’s name mentioned when today’s so-called boxing experts discuss the best middleweights of all-time. To them, I have one thing to say: Take a look at the record!