The perfect punch is rare in boxing, rarer than the home run in the days of Home Run Baker, or even the hole-in-one. The perfect punch is always a left hook—for no straight right-hand throw can be as pretty as a hook—delivered against a strong-jawed man who has not been weakened by a long, hard fight. It comes fast and it executes instantly, like a well-timed squelch. Only the great ones have been able to throw it and they but seldom when facing a fresh and sturdy opponent.
In all the history of boxing the perfect punch never has been so well-delivered with so much at stake as on the night of May 1 at Chicago Stadium when Sugar Ray Robinson, underdog once more at ringside odds of 1 to 3, saw an opening as wide as a boulevard arch and drove smartly through to his old familiar home, the middleweight championship of the world. He dwells there, it seems, whenever he feels like moving back in. Many's the time he has propped his nimble feet before its fireplace and leaned his sleek head back against the antimacassar—more times than any man. To get there this time he dispossessed Gene Fullmer, an inoffensive tenant who moved in only last January and hadn't even had time to get the attic cluttered up.
The historic punch came in the fifth round. It came suddenly, with no hint of preparation save for a right hand to Fullmer's body, which is built like a Sherman tank. Fullmer was leading then on all three official cards, and rightly so, for he had lost only the fourth round on a strong Robinson flurry.
The pattern of the first Robinson-Fullmer fight at Madison Square Garden was beginning to reappear except for one enormous blunder. A nondrinker, Fullmer had tasted the wine of championship and it went straight to his head. In the first fight he had rushed Robinson cautiously, both hands protecting his jaws until he was well inside. This time he came at Robinson in the fifth round with his right hand low on his chest. He meant to bring the right up from his heels at the first opportunity. This was apparent even to children at home reading comic books while they watched TV. Sugar Ray saw it, too. It was what he had been waiting for.
Later, in euphorious retrospect, the sugary Ray recalled that he had been subtly "showing him the right all night in order to set up the left." The Fullmer version is that he never saw the right, didn't notice it at any time. It does seem to be the essential truth, agreed upon by all, that Fullmer walked into a left hook. For a while thereafter he couldn't walk at all.
Robinson's preparatory right to Fullmer's body had the effect of bringing Fullmer's head over to the left. As the head swung back to the right in the same arc—Gene was planning to throw his underslung right and needed balance—Sugar Ray's perfect left hook caught it with precise timing and precisely on the Fullmer button. The lights went out. Hours afterward Fullmer was still in the dark as to what had happened. He could remember nothing. That part of the fight is hearsay so far as he is concerned.
Fullmer went to the canvas so suddenly that the crowd—there were 14,757 paying fans in the stadium—was totally hushed for a moment. Then it burst out with an ear-pounding roar of astonishment and admiration. For in the little interval that it took Referee Frank Sikora to glide into position above Fullmer and start his count it became clear that Gene, though drawing manfully on some wellspring of inherent courage, would not be able to rise again in 10 seconds. His powerful legs pumped in the effort, but he had no more control of them than if he had been an infant squirming in his crib. He rolled and twisted. Sikora bellowed the seconds—he is one of the few referees who can be heard loud and clear at such a moment—and they went relentlessly by. As they went, so went Gene Fullmer's brief hold on the title.
Sugar Ray Robinson knew the title was coming his way once more. In a neutral corner, arms spread along the red ropes, he took a deep breath of triumph. He showed his white mouthpiece in a happy grin. When Sikora had counted to 10 Robinson had done what no man had done before. He had won the middleweight championship for the fourth time. He had been the first man to knock out Gene Fullmer.
Fullmer knew nothing of all this. Rising on crisscrossed legs (see picture on page 27), he wobbled back to his corner and into the arms of his manager, Marv Jenson.
"Why did they stop the fight?" Fullmer inquired. He had begun to see that things were not going well.