Sugar Ray Robinson died with the reputation of being the greatest boxer of all time. He left 109 knockout victims as evidence.
Gene Fullmer fought the "greatest boxer" four times and lost once - when Robinson knocked him out in Chicago in 1957."I was sad to see a legend go," said Fullmer, a fan at the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. "I got along with him very well personally. He was easy to talk to; a realy high-class guy.
"Professionally, he was a little tough to deal with. Other than being a great boxer, he always wanted all of the money. I might get the big head except for one thing: My style was extremely hard for Robinson to adjust to and his style was easy for me."
The difference in styles enabled Fullmer to have a 2-1-1 record against Robinson. The draw actually was a victory because it enabled Fullmer to retain the world middleweight title in December 1960 in Los Angeles.
"He (Robinson) did not apply much pressure, but was very sharp with his punches when you tried to get inside. I put a lot of pressure on people. That was what I could do best. My success was just a matter of the difference in our styles favoring me and tending to work against him."
Robinson, from Detroit, had 201 pro bouts from 1940 until 1965. He won 177, suffered 18 losses and fought six draws. Fulmer was 57-4-3 during a 13-year pro career (1951-64) that was launched in his native Utah. He won a 15-round world middleweight title fight with Robinson in January 1957 in New York. Their final meeting was a classic, in 1961 in Las Vegas. Fullmer retained his title with a 15-round decision.
Fullmer fought several of the greatest middleweights, including Benny "The Kid" Paret, Dick Tiger, Carmen Basilio and Ralph "Tiger" Jones.
"The largest purse I fought for was $100,000 and that was with Robinson," Fullmer said. "The least was $10,000 ... I don't begrudge what some boxers are paid now. They may as well be paid. We used to get paid and blow the money real fast. At least nowadays they get enough to put some in the bank."
Through it all, the 5-8, 160-pound Fullmer had a style that resembled the great Rocky Marciano.
"That was not by accident. My strategy was to take a couple of shots to get one in - and hope I could get three instead of one."
Many times the punches Fullmer waded through caused his eyes to be virtually swollen shut by late rounds. Despite this, he had the will to successfully defend his world title seven times, including against Florentino Fernandez in 1961 when Fullmer fought the last three rounds with a broken right arm.
"He caught me with a left hook on the right elbow," said Fullmer. "I had to finish it one-handed, but the thought of quitting never entered my mind. No way. I was far enough ahead on points to win. I could still win. I guess it's just the way you are born and bred. You either want it or you just do it for a purpose."
Fullmer, 57, a semi-retired mink farmer in Utah, remains a champion for safety in boxing. He winces when he discusses the "negative image the Rocky movies gave boxing - I never saw nobody get their eyes cut with a razor because of swelling."
Fullmer frowns at what he considers a double-standard about injuries in sports.
"I was watching an NBA game between Phoenix and Golden State the other night and that (Chris) Mullins kid gets creamed. Another guy goes out with a broken nose. I've already seen more nose injuries in an NBA game than I have here in two nights.
"You don't see guys laid out on the canvas with a doctor checking him out. I saw that in a basketball game and those guys aren't supposed to get hit. Here the boxers are trained to expect it. They wear headgears and they are in shape. If they get dinged with one shot, it's an eight count.
"There is a lot of safety in boxing you don't find in other sports. A kid who gets dinged on the head can't go into the gym for 30 days and he can't get back in the ring for 90 days - sometimes it is 120 days. The NBA, hell, they throw a bucket of ice water on the guy and send him right back in. It's the same in football. Everybody who complains about safety in boxing isn't looking very hard at the safety in other sports - that's all I'm saying."