West Jordan • If historians put together a list of Utah's most famous athletes, former world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer would certainly be near the top of the list.
The West Jordan native and resident won the title the first time by beating Sugar Ray Robinson on Jan. 22, 1957, and held the title on and off until he retired in 1963. He fought or defended the title 13 times in the golden age of boxing and, according to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, won 55 of his 64 pro fights, 24 by knockout, while losing six and boxing to three draws.
"Fullmer is a swarmer, a clincher, a dervish of awkward fury who throws punches from all angles of unorthodoxy and is as hard to swat as a fly in a hot room," wrote Sports Illustrated writer James Murray in describing a Salt Lake City title fight against Carmen Basilio in 1960.
The 81-year-old Fullmer recently moved from his home of 51 years to a retirement center. He and his family elected to add to an already impressive collection of boxing memorabilia at the Salt Lake County-operated Gene Fullmer Fitness and Recreation Center in West Jordan.
The family donated a large mural painted by famed Utah sports artist Ev Thorpe that depicted all of his championship fights against legendary fighters Dick Tiger, Spider Webb, Robinson and Basilio. Basilio signed the mural, which once hung in Fullmer's restaurant. Fullmer actually signed the mural on the day Basilio died.
A large championship photo poster of Fullmer and a fighter of the year trophy from the Ogden Elks Club in 1959 were donated to a collection that also includes a Ring magazine title belt, signed boxing gloves used by Fullmer, photos, a copy of a 1957 Sports Illustrated cover featuring a title fight between Fullmer and Robinson and a poster promoting a 1958 Derks Field fight with Webb where the most expensive tickets sold for $10.
Fullmer's son Bart said the family began sorting through memorabilia, newspaper clippings, photographs, trophies and awards when moving his father. Some of the memorabilia make up some of Bart's earliest memories of his father.
"Us kids took a couple of things and the grandkids took a couple of things, but the things we donated…we thought the best place for everyone to enjoy them would be at the recreation center."
Bart Fullmer said many people today don't recognize his father's name.
"They have no idea who he is," said Bart. "But anybody from back in that era knows exactly who he is. They remember the big parades when he came home from beating Sugar Ray Robinson and the 13 championship fights."
Brad Pitcher, the director of the Gene Fullmer Recreation Center, which is adjacent to a senior center, said "tons of patrons" come in to look at the fighter's memorabilia. He said he regularly gets phone calls from movie makers looking for details of Fullmer's fights. Others call to find out if they can get the boxer's autograph.
According to Salt Lake County's Jim Braden, former commissioner Brent Overson came up with the idea of naming the 50,000-square-foot facility that includes a gym, indoor running track, lap pool, leisure pool, aerobics room, day care facility and fitness center after the boxer when it opened in 2000.
The county already had named one of its recreation facilities after Marv Jenson, Fullmer's manager and a former Salt Lake County commissioner.
"It's a great recreation center and it is named for the right person," said Braden.
And the lobby and some of the workout rooms provide fight fans a chance to view memorabilia from the Fullmer era, a time that made him one of Utah's best known athletes.