APRIL 29, 1957
Any aspiring boxer who walks into the old sugar factory in West Jordan, Utah, after six on weeknights can get a lesson in the sweet science from none other than former world middleweight champion Gene (Cyclone) Fullmer. Four years ago the 72-year-old Utah native opened Fullmer Brothers Boxing, a club where anyone 11 or older can get free instruction from Gene and his two brothers, Jay, 67, and Don, 65, both prizefighters in the 1960s. "The training keeps the kids off the streets and away from drugs," says Gene. "When I was growing up, Marv Jenson [a former gym operator] did the same for me. If I was sitting at home instead of doing this, the kids wouldn't benefit and I wouldn't either. In here they get the trouble pounded out of them in a hurry."
Fullmer was pummeled plenty himself during a 12-year pro career. A classic brawler with an iron chin and plow-horse stamina, he turned pro in 1951 and slugged his way to a 55-6-3 record. He was still working full time as a $17.56-a-day apprentice welder when he upset Sugar Ray Robinson in January 1957 to win the world middleweight title at Madison Square Garden.
But Fullmer is best known for a blow he took in the fifth round of his second fight with Robinson, at Chicago Stadium four months later. As Fullmer prepared to throw a roundhouse right, Robinson uncorked a superbly timed left hook that knocked out Fullmer for the only time in his career. "I never saw that punch," Fullmer says of the hit that The Ring magazine selected in 1997 as the best knockout punch in history. "When I came to, my manager [Jenson] was holding on to me and I could see Ray jumping up and down. 'How come Sugar Ray's doing exercises between rounds?' I asked him. 'It's not between rounds,' he told me. 'The fight's over.' "
Fullmer regained the middleweight belt with a TKO over Carmen Basilio in 1959 and made seven successful defenses (two against an aging Robinson) over the next four years before being outpointed by Dick Tiger in October 1962. The two fought to a draw four months later, and then Tiger delivered a seventh-round TKO in August '63.
Fullmer retired after that loss—"I just figured there was no use endangering my life anymore," he says—and turned to breeding mink on the West Jordan homestead he had purchased from his father in 1960. Gene and his first wife, Dolores, raised four children (Kaye, 47; Delaun, 45; Bart, 42; and Marianne, 39) before Dolores died in 1983. The following year Fullmer married his present wife, Karen, shut down the mink business and became a full-time retiree.
Though he had heart surgery in 1998, he was determined to start the free boxing program. Recent knee-replacement surgery has slowed him, but Fullmer remains committed to grooming future boxers. "I limp," he says, "but it's not like I have to get in there and kick their butts. I just have to tell them to kick each others'."