WEST JORDAN —
In the days when boxing was king and Ring Magazine was its bible, a middleweight from West Jordan, Utah, met a middleweight from Canastota, N.Y., in the Cow Palace in San Francisco in a bout scheduled for 15 rounds that only lasted 14.
When Gene Fullmer knocked out Carmen Basilio, Fullmer was crowned middleweight champion of the world and Ring proclaimed their brawl the Fight of the Year, and that 14th the Round of the Year.
The date was Aug. 28, 1959.
Fifty-three years ago tomorrow.
Bill Jenson remembers like it was yesterday. Every punch. Every smell. The cheers. The celebrities sitting ringside. Don Dunphy's play-by-play.
And that's not all Bill remembers. Give him a minute — no, give him a second — and he can recall all the details of those heady days in the late 1950s and 1960s when his father, the inimitable mink-farmer-turned-fight-trainer Marv Jenson, set a brood of Utah pugilists loose and West Jordan laid claim to boxing capital of the world. Bill's timing was almost as good as Fullmer's. He graduated from high school in 1957 and his dad appointed him Gene's corner man. For virtually every fight thereafter, until Fullmer retired in 1963 — a stretch that included 10 title defenses — Bill had the best seat in the house.
The problem is, many others don't remember as acutely as he does.
Like it or not, time has a way of dimming the past, even the stupendous past. What Gene Fullmer and Marv Jenson accomplished in West Jordan could easily be argued as the single most significant athletic feat by a native-born Utahn in the state's sporting history, and yet it is in jeopardy of being counted out. Ignore it for too long and it could go the way of Ab Jenkins' Mormon Meteor racing car, or those old uniforms of the Utah Stars.
That's why Jenson is fighting so hard for people to step up and support the building of a boxing museum in West Jordan while there's still time.
The idea has been around in earnest for five years now, ever since Marv Jenson passed away in 2007 at the age of 89.
After tributes poured in from fight fans and admirers all over the world, Bill and the rest of the family set to work cleaning out their dad's homestead. The basement could have doubled as a Hollywood movie set. Everything was there, including fight posters on the walls, heavy bags in the corners, and a full-size boxing ring in the middle.
Bill transferred as much as he could to his own basement nearby. As for the rest, he and his brothers Gary and Ray arranged to have it stored in sheds owned by the West Jordan Historical Society at the city park.
Hearing about this treasure trove, the Utah Legislature in 2010 appropriated $50,000 to the West Jordan Historical Society to erect a boxing museum to house and showcase all of Marv's memorabilia — but there the project has languished because at least $75,000 is needed.
And in the recession, no private donations have come forward.
All that Linda and Bob Dalley, curators of the Historical Society, have been able to do is wait and watch.
"We're so excited about this, if we can just get the rest of the money," says Linda. "A local builder has agreed to donate labor and sell the material to us at cost, so we'll be able to do it as cheaply as possible, but we can't get started until we can pay for it."
Once construction is under way, the plan, she says, "will be to basically re-create Marv's basement — including the boxing ring."
On the wall will be big-screen TVs that will show digitized videos of Gene Fullmer's fights.
Six decades later, people will be able to watch the four times Fullmer fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson (two wins, one draw and one loss), his legendary brawls with Basilio (he won both times they met), his 10th round KO of Benny "The Kid" Paret, or any of a number of his bouts as he compiled a career record of 65-6-3.
And that's far from all. The museum will hold artifacts, footage and memorabilia from West Jordan's many boxing greats, including Gene's brothers Don and Jay and a host of others trained by Jenson, including Rex Layne, Floyd Richardson, Javier Flores, LaMar Clark and the Olympian, Dr. Jay Lambert.
"We're just hoping to get this done while Gene's here," says Linda.Comment on this story
The champ is still with us, but he turned 81 last month and his health is not good.
If 25,000 people would chip in one dollar apiece, or if one person would chip in $25,000, or any combination thereof, the museum could become a reality.
To get involved, call Linda or Bob Dalley at 801-403-9030 or send emails to Linda_dalley@yahoo.com.
"There's just so much history," says Bill Jenson. "It would be a shame if it was lost."
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.