|Fullmers epitomize Golden Gloves toughness
by David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press
Tuesday May 06, 2008, 2:00 AM
The Fullmer family shares quite a boxing history, as Gene Fullmer defeated Sugar Ray
GRAND RAPIDS -- Not all boxing champions have lithe footwork and flat bellies. The
enduring ones become craggy-faced gentlemen who return to the land where they were
raised, pass their knowledge through the generations, and expect nothing in return beyond
the self-fulfillment of helping others. Oh, make no mistake, the Fighting Fullmers have their
calling card. Gene Fullmer, 76, only beat Sugar Ray Robinson, if that still counts for
anything. Judging by the people asking for just one smile into the camera during Monday's
National Golden Gloves opener at DeVos Place, it still counts. Fullmer beat Robinson again
four years later, making him one of only three men to defeat the perfect prizefighter twice.
Don Fullmer, 69, had the Hong Kong flu for several days before knocking Nino Benvenuti to
an Italian canvas in the seventh round of a 1968 middleweight title fight. He beat the likes of
Emile Griffith and Carl "Bobo" Olson, but that flu, in a 15-round decision loss, may have
denied the Fullmers a second middleweight champion. Jay Fullmer, 71, had a respectable
20-5-2 record as a welterweight, then later gained acclaim as an official. His four sons all
are referees or judges. He still is an active referee, and was the officials' inductee into the
Golden Gloves Hall of Fame this week. The story of the Fullmer family is pretty simple, if
you overlook all the bright lights and championships, oddly interspersed with their Mormon
upbringing in West Jordan, Utah. The brothers stuck together, had devoted families of their
own, and have helped youth the same way they once were helped, with boxing as their
avenue. Gene used to spy other boys sparring in an outdoor ring operated by the man who
would become his manager, Marv Jensen, who died last year. "I would see kids boxing as I
was riding the school bus," he said, "and I always wanted to do it." When he was 15, he
finally did. His four fights with Robinson, who was 10 years his senior, are the centerpieces
of a rich family history. He won the middleweight title on a 15-round decision in 1957 at
Madison Square Garden, then lost it back that year on one perfect left hook, in the fifth
round at Chicago Stadium. Fullmer also fought Robinson to a draw in 1960 at Los Angeles
Sports Arena, and won a unanimous decision in 1961 at Las Vegas Convention Center,
both in 15-rounders. Fullmer was short, not particularly athletic, but exceedingly tough and
strong -- and one of the most frustratingly awkward champions of any era.
"Gene would hit you when he didn't even know he was going to hit you," Jay Fullmer said.
After their boxing careers were complete, they all built houses on the same 11-acre plot of
land owned by their father, Lawrence. Few knew Lawrence Fullmer by his given name.
"His nickname was 'Tough' -- a street fighter, not a boxer," Gene Fullmer said. "And he was
tough." About 15 years ago, Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym opened in an old fire station
donated for the purpose, in West Jordan, a Salt Lake City suburb. "We open at 6 o'clock
every night, and maybe keep a few kids out of jail," Don Fullmer said. "We'll have 40, 45
kids every night -- a new kid almost every night. It gives them something to do." "It's just to
help them," Gene Fullmer said. "We don't charge nothing, but it ain't all for nothing for the
kids." They lost their sister, Colleen Tyson, last year. She was 73 and battled multiple
sclerosis for 50 years. "She was probably a better fighter than any of us," Jay Fullmer said.
"The Fullmer boys got a lot of credit for being tough, but the Fullmer girl was tougher than
all of us." The common trait the sons of Tough Fullmer envision in their Rocky Mountain
Golden Gloves team is not surprising. "They all think they're tough, that's the main thing,"
Gene Fullmer said. "You've got to think you're tough before you can be tough."