There is one hugely important anniversary on the boxing calendar this month, as on March 8, “The Fight Of The Century,” between rival unbeaten heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, will be an amazing 50 years old. You can expect a veritable ton of tributes, specials and celebratory pieces on the fight that, for some, will never be topped. But one fight that is also important in that it saw the greatest fighter of them all (and even Ali agreed that the distinction belonged to this man) engage in his very last world title fight, also has its anniversary this month; today in fact.
It was March 4, 1961 when the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson met the teak-tough Gene Fullmer in the fourth and final fight in their at times brutal rivalry. Fullmer was circulating around his peak at the time of the fourth duel, while the aging Sugar Ray, who had been punching for pay for almost 21 years, was closing in on the exit door. At least he should have been, Sugar Ray instead battling on until 1965. But the fight in Las Vegas from 60 years ago was Robinson’s final big-time fight. And though he was pushing 40 years of age and had had an astonishing 155 pro fights (his record prior to the fourth war with the 52-4-2 Fullmer being 143-9-3), Robinson had his moments in the fight.
Fullmer had won the first fight he had with Robinson, scoring a 15 round decision. Then, in the return clash, Sugar Ray had stunned the world with his picture-perfect left hook to the jaw, the shot taking the iron-chinned Fullmer out in spectacular fashion. Then the two boxed a controversial 15 round draw in fight-three (with most people feeling Robinson had deserved the victory). Now the fourth and final fight came. There was drama before the fight got underway. Robinson demanded an 18-foot ring, unhappy as he was with the planned 16-foot ring. Also, Sugar Ray said he’d walk if the fight was not fought with 6-ounce gloves, not eight-ounce. Robinson might not have been the pound-for-pound king he once was but he could still get things his own way. Fullmer had no choice but to comply, that or the fight would not go ahead.
When it did, Robinson enjoyed early success, with the former champ opening a cut above Fullmer’s left eye in the third round. This torrid session also saw Fullmer dish out plenty of hurt, his shots driving the older man to the ropes and keeping him there. The round ran over by 15 seconds, with nobody hearing the bell. By the end of yet another gruelling fight between these two wholly different fighters, both men were feeling the pace and then some. it seemed clear to all, however, that Fullmer had won the fight. Shockingly, the MC wrongly announced Robinson as the winner as he read out the decision! The error was soon rectified.
Robinson failed in his bid to become a six-time middleweight ruler. Fullmer had failed to score a KO over the man who had knocked him silly back in 1957. And this rough, tough and often savage rivalry was done. Fullmer saw out the remainder of 1961 as middleweight champ, before losing to Dick Tiger in October of the following year. Robinson, despite being way past his best, pushed himself through a further 44 fights, this an entire career worth of bouts by today’s standards.
Fullmer finished with a 55-6-3(24) record. Robinson’s final numbers read a mind-boggling 173-19-6(109).
Gene passed away in April of 2015, while Sugar Ray died in April of 1989.