9. Gene Fullmer – World champion (January 2, 1957-May 1, 1957), NBA titlist (August 28, 1959-October 23, 1962)
Fullmer’s first championship tenure began with an electrifying upset decision over Sugar Ray Robinson and ended with an equally electrifying one-punch KO to Robinson four months later. That pivotal blow, a beautifully timed left hook, was so well delivered that it was labeled “the perfect punch.” It was the only 10-count ever tolled over the Utah strongman.
Fullmer made this list on the strength of his second reign, which began with a 14th round TKO over Carmen Basilio that was named THE RING’S 1959 Fight of the Year. The way he won was astonishing; instead of his usual crude brawling Fullmer circled and jabbed – and did so with surprising fluidity and effectiveness. Fullmer built a huge lead on the scorecards (128-119, 129-121, 125-121) before a barrage persuaded referee Jack Downey to intervene in the 14th. Versatility is a hallmark of greatness, and Fullmer proved he had it in the Basilio fight.
Fullmer defeated Spider Webb (W 15), drew with future champion Joey Giardello, stopped Basilio in 12 in the rematch (the only stoppage losses in Basilio’s career), drew with and decisioned Robinson, survived a broken forearm to outpoint hard-hitting Florentino Fernandez and pounded welterweight champion Benny “Kid” Paret into a 10th round knockout. While their cumulative records weren’t as glossy as those seen today (a combined 521-64-21, .861 winning percentage), their fistic quality couldn’t be denied. Giardello, Basilio and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame and the rest were among the best in their day.
Fullmer ended his career by going 0-2-1 against future Hall of Famer Dick Tiger, one of the very few who could match Fullmer’s ruggedness. A champion is judged by the company he keeps – and beats – and in that regard Fullmer stacked up well.