On this day in 1931, “Cyclone” Gene Fullmer was born in West Jordan, Utah. Although Utah is hardly known as a boxing hot bed, Fullmer would go on to become the middleweight champion of the world during a very competitive era.
Fullmer launched his career in 1951 and won his first 29 fights, including a decision over future world champion Paul Pender in February 1955. Fullmer lost his first fight two months later, to Gil Turner, but avenged the loss in an immediate rematch in June 1955.
In January of 1957, Fullmer beat the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson to capture the world middleweight title. This was a 36-year-old version of Robinson, who had been through two decades of ring wars, but even at 36, he remained an elite fighter. Robinson reclaimed the title from Fullmer in a rematch in May 1957, KOing Fullmer with a perfect left hook that he threw while backing up.
In August 1959, Fullmer became a world champion for a second time, when he seized the vacant version of the North American Boxing Association world title by TKOing the great Carmen Basilio in Round 14 of a classic.
Fullmer would fight a tough string of opponents in his second run as a champion. He beat Spider Web in his first defense, then drew with future champion Joey Giardello in April 1960. Two months after facing Giardello, he won a rematch against Basilio. In December 1960, Fullmer drew with Robinson in a third fight between the two. In March 1961, he defeated Robinson in a somewhat controversial decision. In one calendar year, from April 1960 to March 1961, Fullmer fought four times against Hall of Fame opponents, going 2-0-2.
In December 1961, Fullmer handed a terrible beating to welterweight champion, Benny Paret, who had moved up to 160 pounds to challenge for the world title there. Despite the damage he suffered against Fullmer, Paret would insist on a rematch with Emile Griffith just three months later, where he would die tragically after being knocked out by Griffith in Round 12.
In October 1962, Fullmer lost his belt to Dick Tiger. He would challenge Tiger twice in rematches, drawing with him in February 1963 and losing by Round 7 TKO in August 1963. It would be the last fight of Fullmer’s career.
Fullmer lived until April of this year, when he died at age 83. He was the eldest of three boxing brothers. His brother Don challenged twice for the middleweight title and his brother Jay was a lightweight with a record of 20-5-2.