Lee Groves

10: Greatest one-punch finishes

2. Sugar Ray Robinson KO 5 Gene Fullmer II – May 1, 1957, Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Ill.

 

At his very best – in his 20s and at welterweight – Robinson was as perfect a fighting machine as has ever been built. He had lightning hand speed, nimble footwork, one-punch power in both hands, a rock-solid jaw, cut-resistant skin and a drive to excel. By the time he first met Gene Fullmer in January 1957 many of those assets had gradually eroded but enough of them remained to keep him amongst the sport’s elite. But just as he had against Randy Turpin in 1951, Robinson fell victim to a physical strongman armed with unorthodox technique and ended up losing a decisive decision to the “Cyclone” from West Jordan, Utah.

Though Robinson had yet to lose twice to the same man in middleweight title fights, Fullmer’s domination in fight one was such that he was favored to become the first. Just two days short of his 37th birthday, Robinson dearly wanted to prove them wrong.

Instead of exchanging with Fullmer as he did four months earlier, Robinson chose to lay back and look for counters while the champ pressured and focused his attack to the body. Fullmer’s more consistent work contrasted with Robinson’s spectacular but brief spurts and through three rounds it looked as if fight two’s result was going to end up looking much like fight one’s.

Robinson started the fourth with a big right hand that brought a roar from the pro-Robinson crowd but Fullmer shook off the blow and kept steaming in. With every passing minute Robinson silently continued to collect reconnaissance and early in the fifth one critical piece of information showed itself. Robinson noticed that as Fullmer came in he carried his right arm a couple of inches lower than was the case previously. Just before the round’s midway mark Robinson seized the moment in an unforgettable way.

With Fullmer walking in and preparing to throw a right, a retreating Robinson stopped, set his feet and fired a compact hook that instantaneously short-circuited Fullmer’s synapses. Fullmer rolled onto his right side and, in crab-like fashion, instinctively tried to pull himself upright. Instead he fell on his face and referee Frank Sikora signaled the beginning of Robinson’s fourth middleweight championship reign.

From that day forward, Robinson’s final blow would be known as “The Perfect Punch.”

“It was supposedly the greatest left hook ever thrown and it happened to hit me on the chin,” a good-natured Fullmer recalled years later. “When I came to, I was standing up and he was over in the other corner jumping up and down. I asked my manager ‘how come Robinson is doing exercises between rounds?’ He said ‘it’s not between rounds.’ I said ‘what do you mean’ and he said ‘they counted 10.’ I said ‘well, it must have been on me because I never heard any of it.’”

Rest assured, the world heard it, saw it and will remember it until the end of time.

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