Famous Ring Wars: Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Gene Fullmer 2: “The Perfect Punch”
By John F. McKenna (McJack): On May 1, 1957 Sugar Ray Robinson squared off with middleweight champion Gene Fullmer at Chicago Stadium for the 2nd time. Robinson, all through the 1940’s and in the early 1950’s had been unbeatable. But now at the age of 36 he was on a downward slide in his magnificent career which had begun in 1940.
Most Boxing writers and historians refer to Sugar Ray as the greatest fighter of all time and deservedly so. It was said of Robinson that he could outbox the boxers and outpunch the punchers.
Just for the record let’s take a brief look at some of his accomplishments in the ring. Looking at Robinson’s early career, the time when he was unbeatable helps one to understand his greatness as a fighter. He won all eighty five of his amateur fights. Sixty nine of those wins came by KO. Of the sixty nine KO’s, forty came in the first round.
In 1940 Robinson began his professional career and won his first forty professional fights before losing a decision to the “Bronx Bull” Jake Lamotta. Sugar Ray avenged the loss to Lamotta three weeks later then won his next ninety fights in a row, fighting as often as sixteen times a year. In 1946 Robinson won the welterweight championship and held it until 1951 when he stepped up in class to challenge Jake Lamotta for the middleweight title. He stopped Lamotta in the 13th round on February 14, 1951 in a fight that would be forever known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
After failing in an attempt to move up and take the light heavyweight title from Joey Maxim in 1952 Robinson retired for the first time. He stayed retired for 2 ½ years and came back in 1952. Sugar Ray eventually won the middleweight championship again, but he did not come close to the fighter he had been pre 1952. Robinson lost the title to Gene Fullmer by decision on January 2, 1957. Fullmer was a very rugged fighter who was built like a tank and fought that way.
In the rematch Robinson was focused on catching Gene Fullmer on the way in with a left hook, or with a left right combination. In their first fight Fullmer was more wary of Sugar Ray’s well known punching power. When Fullmer bore in, he would come in with his head low and his chin tucked into to his right elbow for protection. In the 2nd round Robinson noticed that Fullmer would sometimes drop his elbow exposing his chin when he prepared to launch a body attack.
Robinson intentionally ignored the opening hoping to give Fullmer a false sense of security. Several times Gene repeated the mistake, to the extent that his corner warned him to keep his guard up. Going into the fifth round Fullmer, who was a 3 to 1 favorite, became increasingly careless. Finally Robinson acted and threw the lethal left hook that boxing historians to this day refer to as “The Perfect Punch”. Fullmer immediately crumpled to the canvas and was counted out, his legs unconsciously moving in all directions in a futile effort to get up.
When Gene came around after the KO, he was disoriented and had no memory of what had happened. He saw Sugar Ray celebrating across the ring and asked why he was jumping up and down, not realizing he had just been KO’d. When he asked his trainer why the fight had been stopped he was told that the count had reached eleven.
Sugar Ray Robinson unfortunately would continue to fight for another eight years, and continue his downward spiral. For that one brief moment on May 1, 1957 however, he brought back the magic to millions of TV viewers who had never before seen the greatness that was Sugar Ray Robinson.