West Jordan • Told last November that he only had a month or so left to live due to the effects of a 15-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Utah boxing legend Don Fullmer again beat the odds, making it longer than doctors expected.
Fullmer who fought nine world champions, won an American middleweight title in 1965 and fought for the world title in 1968 died Saturday morning surrounded by his family. He was 72.
"We were just hoping he would make it through the holidays," said the oldest of Fullmer's five sons, Larry. "Like always, dad gave us a bonus."
Don Fullmer was the brother of former world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer and a fixture in the Utah boxing community since he participated in his first amateur fight at the age of 5. After going undefeated in 65 amateur bouts, he turned professional at the age of 17 and would fight in 79 bouts over the next 16 years, compiling a pro record of 54 wins, 20 losses and five draws.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Nedra, and five sons who all have been involved in the sport to one extent or another: Larry, Brad, Troy, Hud and Kade.
Fullmer became president of the Rocky Mountain chapter of U.S. Golden Gloves in 1962 and helped run boxing gyms in Utah with his brothers, Gene and Jay, throughout his life.
"He loved the kids, and he loved being involved in the sport of boxing," Larry Fullmer said. "Boxing and his family were the biggest parts of his life. He loved both."
Don Fullmer was the No. 1-ranked contender for the world middleweight crown for several years in the mid-1960s, and lost an epic battle with Nino Benvenuti for the world title in 1968 in Italy. Fullmer knocked the great Benvenuti down but lost a 15-round decision.
Fullmer also fought champions such as Dick Tiger, Emile Griffith, Terry Downes, Jose Torres and Joey Archer. His style was often described as unorthodox, and he was often referred to as a gentleman in a sport that needed them.
Away from the ring, Fullmer worked for the Salt Lake County Fire Department.