May 1st, 1957. Chicago Stadium. The rematch between young, tough Gene Fullmer, and the living legend, Sugar Ray Robinson. Pre-fight predictions were mixed, but most thought time was finally up for the Sugar Man. In fact, Robinson’s incredible career had appeared to have entered its twilight several years before. Having dominated the welterweight and middleweight divisions for over a decade, he had failed to capture a third divisional crown from light-heavyweight champ Joey Maxim in 1952 when, far ahead on points, the 100-degree heat made it impossible for him to continue. He announced his retirement months later and successfully stayed away from the prize ring for two full years. But, like so many ex-champions before and after, financial difficulties led to a comeback.
Robinson’s career, already the stuff of legend, would from now on be a series of peaks and valleys. He suffered a tough loss to Ralph “Tiger” Jones in only his second comeback fight, before rebounding with five straight wins, including a second round knockout of Carl “Bobo” Olson for the middleweight title. He beat Olson in the rematch and then took on tough Gene Fullmer of Utah, a young bruiser whose wins over a host of middleweight contenders, including Jones, made him a legitimate threat to the great Robinson. Their first match, at Madison Square Garden, was a grueling fifteen round battle in which Sugar Ray learned not for nothing did they call Fullmer “The Utah Cyclone.” The challenger’s smothering, brawling style dictated the terms, with Gene knocking Robinson out of the ring before taking a unanimous decision.
Now, five months later, it was time for the rematch and the 35-year-old challenger was a 3-to-1 underdog. And for the first three rounds the odds appeared justified with Fullmer bulling in and landing hard shots to Robinson’s body. In the fourth Sugar Ray began to come on, connecting with some of his sharp, snapping flurries. And then in the fifth, something extraordinary happened.
Fullmer was nothing if not incredibly strong and tough. His huge neck and shoulder muscles made him appear bull-like, primordial, and allowed him to absorb tremendous punishment. In forty fights he had never been stopped. So it was a shock when, like a bolt from the blue, Robinson feinted a right hand and then struck with a short left hook to the champion’s jaw that instantly ended the fight. Fullmer pitched to the canvas and rolled over, attempted to rise, but then fell on his face as the referee finished the count. It would be the one and only time in a 64 fight Hall of Fame career, including two more clashes with Sugar Ray, that Fullmer would be knocked out.
Robinson had won the middleweight championship for a record-setting fourth time but also added a new chapter to his legend, for the left hook that put Fullmer on “Queer Street” was delivered with such perfect leverage and timing, in such a correct and compact manner, and with such outstanding results, that it came to be known as the “The Perfect Punch.” And it was of course fitting that the man many regard as the closest thing to a perfect boxer the sport has ever seen would land such a legendary clout.
– Michael Carbert