Gene Fullmer dies at 83; middleweight champ twice defeated Sugar Ray Robinson

Gene Fullmer, middleweight champion who twice defeated Sugar Ray Robinson, has died at 83

Outside the boxing ring, he was called "Gentleman Gene" for his polite manner. Inside the ring, however, middleweight champion Gene Fullmer was the "Cyclone" or the "Mormon Mauler."

Fullmer, a warrior of the ring known for his strength and hammer-fisted style whose 55 career victories included two wins over Sugar Ray Robinson, has died. He was 83.

A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Fullmer died Monday in Taylorsville, Utah. Larry Fullmer said his uncle had a bacterial infection as well as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The Utah native and devout Mormon turned pro in 1951 and six years later met the legendary Robinson at New York's Madison Square Garden. At 25, he was considered a decent challenger but was not favored to win the match against the stylish, 36-year-old "Prince of Harlem."

Instead, Fullmer scored a knockdown in the seventh round, leaving a cut over Robinson's left eye. By the final round, Robinson's face was streaked with blood. His stocky, powerful opponent was declared the victor in a sizable upset and claimed the middleweight title.

"Although Fullmer's tactics of slamming away with a free hand after charging into a clinch drew some boos," the Associated Press reported, "the big turnout found the new champion a sturdy warrior with the youth and strength to brush off the biggest bombs of the Sugar Man."

Fullmer held the title for only four months. On May 1, 1957, Robinson stopped Fullmer in five rounds with a powerful left hook that boxing historians called the "perfect punch." It was the first time Fullmer had been knocked out in more than 40 fights.

"I was careless," Fullmer later told reporters. "I must have dropped my guard. I never knew what happened after that."

In 1959, Fullmer regained the vacated title by beating Carmen Basilio. He defended it seven times in all.

In 1960, he and Robinson faced off again, but the fight resulted in a controversial draw at Los Angeles' Sports Arena, and Fullmer won the series on a decision in Las Vegas.

Named the Boxing Writers Assn. of America's "Fighter of the Year" in 1961, Fullmer retired three years later with a 55-6-3 record, including 24 knockouts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

The oldest of three brothers, Fullmer was born July 21, 1931, in West Jordan, Utah. He said he was named for fighter Gene Tunney.

In between matches in the 1950s, he worked for his father in a Utah copper mine. Later, he ran a mink farm and with his younger brothers, Jay and Don, both of whom also were fighters, he operated the Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym in South Jordan, Utah.

Don died in 2012. Jay died last week from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and was buried Monday. Gene died later that day.

"When they told him that Uncle Jay died, it was almost like the light switch turned off and he went downhill immediately after that," Larry Fullmer said.

At the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., the flags were lowered in Fullmer's honor. "A tough and rugged middleweight champion, Gene Fullmer was one of the shining stars of the Golden '50s boxing scene," Executive Director Edward Brophy said in a written statement.

Fullmer's survivors include his wife, Karen; four children; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I want him to be remembered as a gentleman and someone who loved the sport, but he loved people, too," his nephew said. "If you ever look at any clips of his fights or see any interviews, you'll never see any arrogance or cockiness or pride about his accomplishments. … He was always a gentleman and never spoke ill of any of his opponents."

news.obits@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
71°