The chin that caught the most famous left hook in boxing history anchors a crushed, pulpy face. Repeated pummeling by the best middleweights of the 1950s has left the face eerily geometric. The lips are stretched half ovals; the ears are flattened semicircles; the nose is a squashed isosceles triangle. "This nose runs in the family," Gene Fullmer says. "Boxing didn't help it any."
At 65, Fullmer is a little more thickly constructed than he was in January 1957, when he upset Sugar Ray Robinson for the 160-pound world title at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Fullmer, a mauling, brawling apprentice welder, fought Robinson four times and lost only once. But that defeat is as indelible as the blood that still stains the trunks Fullmer wore. Forty years ago this month, he waded into Robinson's sublimely timed left hook, pitched to the canvas and surrendered the crown he had won 119 days before. Fullmer doesn't remember the punch. "I never even saw it," he says. All he recalls is gazing up from the floor and seeing Robinson bounce up and down.
"How come Sugar Ray's doing exercises between rounds?" Fullmer asked his manager, Marv Jenson.
"It's not between rounds," said Jenson. "The ref counted to 10."
"Jeez! It must have been me who got counted out, 'cause I didn't hear any of it."
Fullmer laughs at the memory. He laughs easily and often—a rough, giddy, slightly dippy laugh that sounds like cheese graters mating. He's laughing right now while he rummages in the trophy room of the house he had built on his grandfather's homestead in West Jordan, Utah. "No, I don't have Alzheimer's," he says, "I have Halfheimer's. I don't remember half of what I ought to." He half-remembers where he put his old boxing trunks and gloves. "Here's the eight-ounce gloves I wore for the first Robinson fight," he says. "And here's the six-ouncers I wore for the second. It's the only time I ever wore gloves that light, and it may have cost me the title."
In a black-and-gold-flecked plaster case are the gloves that knocked out Carmen Basilio in 1959 for the vacant National Boxing Association's middleweight title. "They always had a good feel," Fullmer says. "Like I could put them right through a wall if I had to." The gloves his late wife, Dolores, put on a wall dangle inside a trophy case. Dolores nailed them there after they failed to ward off Fullmer's final opponent, Dick Tiger, in 1963. "I hung your gloves up," Dolores told Gene after the seventh-round TKO, "and that's where they're staying." They haven't budged in 34 years.
"Cyclone" Gene Fullmer walloped his way to the middleweight championship of the world, lost it, regained it and defended it seven times. He won 55 fights, lost six and drew three. "I had a terrific time taking some terrible beatings," he says, massaging the bulging flesh above his brows. "Now I just raise a few pigs and a few horses. And I lose money on all of them."
He used to raise minks, but he gave that up after marrying his second wife, Karen. "In 14 years Karen and I have never had an argument," Fullmer says. "We've followed two rules since our wedding day. Rule 1 is that I wouldn't leave her on account of her kids, and she wouldn't leave me on account of my mother. Rule 2 is that her money is her money, and my money is her money. So what's there to. fight about?"
Fullmer pushes his nose with his thumb, bending it like putty. The nose has been changing shape since the day he raced down a sidewalk, tripped over a tire and splatted face first on the concrete. "I was three," he says. "That's what happens when you're named after a fighter."