“Learn from the Fight” took us back to the careers of Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer as we rounded out 1960.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Gene Fullmer 03.12.1960
For the first time in his remarkable and unparalleled career Sugar Ray Robinson had faced defeat twice in a row and off the same man. He had lost his title and then failed to win it back. The 38 year old former champion now looked over at the NBA version of the title began negotiations with Gene Fullmer. This option was open to him due to the legacy he had left. Whilst he had still been champion the NBA had stripped him of their belt when he and Carmen Basilio had failed to reach an agreement on their rubber match. Basilio had faced Fullmer for the newly vacated title and Fullmer had taken it. Although a popular fighter, especially when fighting out of his home state of Utah, Fullmer’s defences of the title had been controversial for various reasons. After winning a decision over Ellsworth Webb in their rematch, Webb had stated the Utah judges had been biased to their favourite son. Joey Giardello had then fought a dirty war with Fullmer in their next fight, responding to Fullmer’s rough tactics with his own blatant head-butting and ending the fight in a draw. Fullmer had held onto the title due the rules of the draw. Basilio had got his rematch with Fullmer but he was clearly not the swarming champion that had been celebrated for the second half of the 1950s and his frustrations at being unable to handle Fullmer had resulted in another technical knockout, this time two rounds earlier.
However, one thing no one could hold against Fullmer was his willingness to fight anyone. He accepted the fight with Robinson, a man he had once out-pointed but who had knocked him out in their previous encounter by setting him up with what many have called “the perfect left hook”. This had been the only time Fullmer had been stopped in his career so far.
Both men came in at 159 lbs. The fight took place at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California. Robinson and others remarked on how he was unused to receiving so little for a fight, having been the champion so long. Nevertheless, he was to take 20% and Fullmer 40% of the net takings. The audience of 13,465 produced a gross gate of $122,584. Furthermore, the promotion received $100,000 from TV rights.
The fight was to be scored using the point system. Here the winner of a round received one to five points and the loser none.
California ruled 8 oz rather than 6 oz be used. This is something Robinson would continually gripe about, believing it worked against his style of fighting.
The first two rounds saw Robinson take an aggressive lead, probably chasing a second knockout victory over the champion. This lead to both fighters acting somewhat differently with each other than they had done in previous encounters. I would have scored them fairly even. Fullmer resorted to a spoiler counter-offensive. This is something he very effectively used in rounds three and four. Robinson had trouble landing clean shots during these rounds and ended up in clinches. Throughout the fight, his work in the clinch cost him dearly with the Cyclone very busy hacking away with his right overarms. Sugar Ray seemed to have little answer to this situation and did little else than cling to an over-hook. The trouble was he was trapping the left hand and not Gene’s most effective tool.
Round five, six and seven saw Robinson get into his stride. He moved onto the back foot and found his distance, landing some excellent combinations. Fullmer was also back into a more comfortable position with his reverse cross-arm guard now up at long range. The familiar charges were present but Robinson had a strategy to deal with the guard. He used a pawing jab and sent a right hook over Fullmer’s left forearm. This didn’t mean his left hand wasn’t busy – double-jabs/hook combinations often punctuated with shovel hooks and uppercuts were a regular feature.
Rounds eight to ten were fairly tight with Robinson making full use of his repertoire and Fullmer keeping up his infamous charges. We had the multiple left hand combinations as well as Sugar Ray’s trademark hooks to the body and the bolo punch. His left hook was not getting past Fullmer’s guard however. The champion transitioned regularly between a strong high parallel guard with his chin tucked in to his reverse cross-arm. At long and medium range alone, the challenger was clearly winning. However, when it came to clinching the champion retained a strong upper-hand; his overhand rights hitting everything and anything it could find (often rabbit and kidney punches).
Round eleven and twelve saw Fullmer change tact, attempting some shifts in angle from the outside. In round eleven he even caught the challenger off balance at his home game. We skipped rounds thirteen and fourteen. The final round saw neither man give an inch and I would have given it to Robinson.
The match was ruled a draw. Tommy Hart the referee, had for Robinson 11-4. One judge gave it Fullmer at 9-5. The other judge ruled it a draw. The press were also split. The Associated Press had it 7-6 for Fullmer and the United Press had it 10-7 for Robinson. A UPI survey at ringside had 14 in favour of Robinson, six for Fullmer and three saw it as a draw. According to Robinson, the audience erupted into a chorus of boos when the verdict was announced.
Robinson complimented Fullmer on his unpredictability and general toughness. Fullmer said he had a grudge against Robinson outside the ring for once saying, “Gene Fullmer? Who’s he?” However, he called him a gentleman in the ring.
In accordance with the rules and much like the Joey Giardello fight, a draw meant the champion kept his title. A rematch was scheduled for March next year.