When I was a kid my dad always talked about a professional boxer who grew up in his neighborhood. He was a few years older than my dad, but he was a living legend in my home. His name was Gene Fullmer and and he became the World middleweight champion in 1957 when he beat Sugar Ray Robinson by decision. A few months later Sugar Ray knocked him out to reclaim the title, but Gene was far from done.
He beat Robinson again and held the NBA middleweight title from 1959 to 1962. He defended the title against a slew of talented boxers including Spider Webb, Florentino Fernandez and Benny "Kid" Paret. Dick Tiger took the belt in 1962 and held Fullmer off on two rematchs--the first was a draw and the second was a TKO in seven in 1963. My father told me, in his final fight against Tiger, Gene was ill with a stomach virus and Tiger kicked the tar out him. His father-in-law was in the audience when he had a heart attack and died. It was the end of Mr Fullmer's career, but his legendary feats, specifically his two triumphs over the great Sugar Ray Robinson very much lived on in my childhood home.
When I first met Gene--the only time I met Gene--he was the first base coach of either his nephew's or son's--I forget which--little league team. I was the firstbaseman and I was more than in awe of the man and even more amazed at how small he was. He seemed a frail little man I couldn't connect with the image I had built. He was quiet and didn't say much. He gently spoke with the base runners as they passed through and he smiled at me more than once. I've never spoken to the man. Not really, but he feels like family. The terrific uncle who is never really around, but the uncle everyone admires and talks about.
A few weeks ago I found some clips of several of Gene's fights on YouTube and I was amazed at his bull-like strength and powerful, damaging right hand. Damn he could box.
1957: Sugar Ray Robinson v. Gene Fullmer ; final few rounds
1960: Gene Fullmer v. Joey Giardello
1961: Gene Fullmer v. Benny "Kid" Paret