Gene Fullmer Lives

By Castle Chalice on May 1, 2015
Gene Fullmer Lives
My father named me after Gene Tunney, whom he thought was one of the better fighters.

Went out for football, broke my leg. I went out for baseball, got kicked in the kidney. I figured I’d better stick with boxing…

We are on the eve of boxing’s biggest fight in years, between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio. The last time our sport was so frenzied was for a different Mayweather fight, between him and Oscar De La Hoya. It was on May 5, 2007. That’s the same day that I got to sit down with Gene Fullmer, one of the most exciting, hard-nosed middleweights the sport has ever known. Sitting down with him was like sitting down with one’s own grandfather, recalling days of yore in the annals of fistiana. And boy, what stories he had to share!

Rest easy, champ.

We’re at the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, and I’m sitting with Gene Fullmer, former middleweight champion of the world.

I’ve been enjoying all the fights. They’ve all been great.

You have a couple of kids from the Rocky Mountain Region competing?

Yeah, we had some but they found other kids were tougher than them, I guess.

Well, this is somewhat of a tough man contest, this sport of boxing.

Yes, that’s what you find out when you get in with this type of quality.

We know you were born in West Jordan Utah, back on July 21, 1931, and that you have a namesake.

My father named me after Gene Tunney, whom he thought was one of the better fighters, and he turned out to be one of the better fighters, so I’m glad I turned out to be as great as I was; not as great but as good — GREAT is a little stout.

How old were you the first time you stepped foot into the boxing gym?

Probably about 14 years old. Marv Jensen, who later became my manager, he had a gym set out in his mink yard, and I’d pass by in the school bus, and see these kids fighting, and it looked like it was a lot of fun to me. I went out for other sports. Went out for football, broke my leg. Went out for basketball, I got knocked down, a kid fell on my head, and I got two teeth knocked out. I went out for baseball, got kicked in the kidney. So I figured I’d better stick with boxing.

Getting your teeth knocked out or taking a shot to the kidney is not much different from what you probably experienced in boxing.

Well, it wasn’t as bad in the fight game.

You were 19 when you turned pro. When is it the right time for an amateur boxer to turn professional? Is there a tell-tale sign?

You got to pretty well decide what your stature is, what you can do, like if you’re not doing too well to start with. But if you win a few fights then everybody starts wanting to watch you fight. Then it becomes more interesting.

How has training changed from when you started until today?

My brother and I run a boxing gym and we tell the kids they ought to do more roadwork, and I tell them that don’t mean going from the bedroom to the bathroom. That means getting out on the road and doing some roadwork in the morning, like running for a mile, running hard for a couple of minutes, and then walking to get your breath back, and then running hard again. They’re finding out that it pays to do a little roadwork. They got a lot more air when they’ve been doing their roadwork then when they haven’t.

Championship rounds used to be 13, 14 and 15, but now contests don’t go beyond 12. Have you seen a lot of safety measures over the years?

Well, some. Once in a while I think the referee stops it sooner than they ought to; sometimes they don’t stop it as soon as they ought to. So I guess it’s your own opinion as to what you think is going on.

You fought Benny Kid Paret three times in 1961. His next fight was with Emile Griffith at the Garden. Some say referee Rudy Goldstein should have stopped that bout sooner.

Well, he shouldn’t have fought that soon. I beat him pretty bad in the boxing match I had with him. I knocked him out. He signed up for that fight way too soon after being knocked out. Later on in the years, they made sure that the fighters didn’t fight until after they had been checked by a doctor, and been out for a month. But this one didn’t go that way, and of course it ended up in a bad situation.

In 1956, before the Sugar Ray Robinson bout, your punch was measured at over 30 mph, 30.4 mph to be precise, with the force of over half a ton. A small car can weigh a little over half a ton. Did you ever think that your punch could do more damage to a man than being struck by a car doing 30 mph?

No, I never thought about that, but I thought I better be able to hit hard enough so that Robinson wouldn’t want to fight me.

How did it feel when you defeated Sugar Ray Robinson?

It was a great feeling. To think that I had beaten him, because he was supposed to be known as one of the better ones that ever came around — and he proved to me the second time that he was.

Let’s talk about that second bout. Some historians say that the shot he hit you with was perhaps the greatest left hook of all time. Tell me what you remember about that.

I remember sitting in the corner after I’d been knocked out, and I said to my manager, “How come Robinson’s doing exercises in between rounds.” He said, “Because they counted ten,” and I said, “When, I never heard any of it?” And so he hit me with as good a shot as I ever been hit with, and done what he wanted to do, knock me out, with no problem at all. Matter of fact, later when I was going to my dressing room, I asked my manager where we were going, and he said, “We’re going back home, we’re going to the dressing room.” I asked, “Where is it?” He had me bugged pretty hard.

You split your first two bouts with Sugar Ray Robinson. Another all-time great, Carmen Basilio, also split with Sugar Ray. Your fight with Basilio was named Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1959. What do you remember about that fight?

I remember he kept hitting me back. He was tough. He fought welterweight before, and then he was a middleweight, but I had always fought middleweight.  So I had maybe two or three lbs. of weight advantage over him and that might have been part of the problem, but he stayed right there fighting. He didn’t back down any.

Then in the 14th round, Angelo Dundee said that his man had enough.

Right, he decided he had enough. Then I fought him again after that, and they stopped it two rounds earlier than that.

Other candidates for Fight of the Year were Ingemar Johansson vs. Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston vs. Cleveland Williams. But apparently Ring Magazine felt that you and Carmen really gave the fans their money’s worth.

Well, he hit back!

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Gene Fullmer - Sugar Ray Robinson I

Sugar Ray Robinson KNOCK OUT Gene Fullmer

Carmen Basilio vs Gene Fullmer (I)

Read More Blogs
Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Eric 05:37am, 05/02/2015

    Clarence…I’ve noticed that almost without exception a boxers reputation suffers over the years, even the Ali legend seems to have diminished somewhat. Sometimes while watching some of his fights on Youtube, I’ll glance at the comments below. A good deal of the comments are what you would pretty much expect, but there are also quite a few comments on how Ali was overrated, was awarded decisions he didn’t deserve (Norton, Young, Jones), he wasn’t “The Greatest,” etc. I know that if I mentioned some of the superstars of the sportsworld of my era to a 20-something, I would receive mostly blank stares. I’ve met people who had no idea who Brooks Robinson was for example. New York athletes have an advantage over the smaller market athletes, Joe Namath is well known, but if you mentioned Dan Fouts to the average person on the street, they would have no idea who you were talking about. Namath’s stats pale in comparison to the numbers put up by Fouts. Outside of the New York area, Graziano’s name might even cause a few blank stares from the non-boxing crowd. The original “Rock” takes second billing to not only Marciano, but the fictional Balboa as well.

  2. Clarence George 02:46am, 05/02/2015

    Eric:  Like you, I never cared for Hogan and agree that he was very much a riff on Graham.  He had a weird and unsavory relationship with Bubba, having sex with the wife while Bubba filmed it.  Putski was immensely popular in his day, but I can’t remember the last time he was so much as mentioned.  Except when the Hall of Fame inductees are named, the WWE is very oriented to the present.  Too much so, IMO.  I, too, took a long hiatus from both wrestling and boxing.  Not at all impossible that I’ll do so again.

    The disrespect shown to Fullmer is (or at least should be) a lesson to today’s superstars.  You and I will be long gone, but 40 or so years from now it will be Mayweather’s turn to get a bare nod of acknowledgment on his passing.  Not even the great Sugar Ray Robinson proved an exception.  Why, even now his name hardly comes up in reference to Floyd, who said that he was greater than Ali *and* Robinson.  I still remember, though, the reaction when Marciano died (including Graziano crying like a baby).  But those were different times, in combination with Rocky dying young, dramatically, and unexpectedly.  In fairness, though, Ali would be another exception, but he is (or at least is perceived to be) in a class by himself.  I wonder, though, if that would be true should he live another 20 years or so.  “Legend” is written in water more often than not.

    The bottom line is that no endeavor has a future once its past has been trashed.

  3. Eric 08:24pm, 05/01/2015

    Clarence… Gagne, like many pro rasslers, was quite an athlete in college and high school. Gagne was a two-time NCAA wrestler and All-Big Ten football player for the University of Minnesota. That might have something to do with the diss of Fullmer, still no excuse though.  Hulk Hogan definitely “borrowed” a great deal of Superstar’s “character,” never really liked Terry Bollea. Some years ago, Bollea/Hulkster would appear on a radio show in Tampa with some character called, Bubba the Love Sponge. Hogan would trash Randy Savage continually, which is pretty low when someone isn’t there to defend themselves. Wasn’t a “work” either, there was a genuine riff between the two. Putski? Hell yeah, I remember, POLISH POWER. Maybe someday I’ll return to watching wrestling, so far I’ve taken about a 15 year break. Took a long break from the sweet sceince as well. “Man has got to know his limitations.”

  4. peter 03:22pm, 05/01/2015

    Thank you for this very interesting glimpse into a former world champion.  The men he fought—and beat—is outstanding. R.I.P.

  5. Clarence George 02:51pm, 05/01/2015

    Eric:  I think guys like Backlund and Graham were seen as transitional champs, a bridge between Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan.  Sort of like the guys, and this is not at all meant disrespectfully, who came between Gene Tunney and Joe Louis.  Hey, remember Ivan Putski?  One of my favorites.

    By the way, I saw that Gagne got a mention this afternoon on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”  Fine, but Fullmer didn’t.  And that’s not fine.

  6. Eric 02:38pm, 05/01/2015

    Clarence…I hated to see Superstar Billy Graham lose the title so soon to Backlund. Nothing against Backlund, but Graham was one of my favorites back in the day. “Superstar Billy Graham: Tangled Ropes,” isn’t a bad read. I know that Graham isn’t one of your favorite wrestlers but no denying the guy was a big draw back in his day. Seemed like the Shiek and Abdullah were always matched together back in the day and each match was full of blood and gore.

  7. Clarence George 01:56pm, 05/01/2015

    Thanks, Eric.  There some major holes in my wrestling knowledge, I see.  I don’t know The Sheik, for instance, though I do indeed remember The Iron Sheik.  Bob Backlund, who I believe lost his championship to the aforementioned Iranian, I remember very well.  I met him once decades ago at a steakhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut.  A terribly nice guy, but as earnest and dull outside the ring as he was in it.  John Cena has been compared to him, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for whatever’s left of his career.

  8. Eric 01:35pm, 05/01/2015

    Clarence…Sure do. I remember this guy from grade school. He was ruling the AWA as much as Bruno was dominating the WWWF. He was kind of like a Bob Backlund type if I remember right. Some guy used to bring in those old wrestling magazines to school and I remember the old rankings of the 3 major organizations from back in the day. The mag would have the WWWF, AWA, and NWA rankings. Bruno, Pedro, Bruiser, Crusher, Mil Mascaras, Jack Brisco, Dory Funk, Verne Gagne, The Shiek, Abdullah the Butcher etc., were always some of the named wrestlers featured.

  9. Clarence George 01:21pm, 05/01/2015

    I rank him a bit higher, Eric, at 12.

    By the way, my brother tells me that Verne Gagne died the same day as Fullmer, April 27.  Know the name?  To my embarrassment, it didn’t ring any bells.  No, the pun wasn’t intended.

  10. Eric 09:08am, 05/01/2015

    Fullmer was a very strong middleweight with a solid chin, but I wouldn’t call him a big puncher, respectable power but his strength was his strength. Probably one of the strongest middleweights ever. Gene receives an A for his list of opponents. I would definitely rank him somewhere in the 15-20 greatest middleweights of all time, not top 10 though. However, Gene would be a competitive matchup even for the elite of the division. A Fullmer vs. LaMotta bout would have been interesting.

  11. Clarence George 08:51am, 05/01/2015

    Glad to see Fullmer getting some attention.  I don’t have any illusions that his passing would have gotten much notice under the best of circumstances, but the misguided excitement surrounding Mayweather-Pacquiao has seen to it that his death (more importantly, life and legacy) would pass before the bovine stare of boxing fandom with nary a blink.

Leave a comment