Carmen Basilio: Boxing Losses Legend of Golden Era
Former welterweight and middleweight world champion Carmen Basilio passed away early Wednesday morning, November 7, 2012 at the Rochester Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. The International Boxing Hall-of-Fame has announced its flag will be flown at half mass in honor of Basilio.
Known as "The Upstate Onion Farmer," Basilio was born in Canastota, New York on April 2, 1927. Starting his professional career in 1948, Carmen Basilio finished a 13 year career with a record of 56-16-7 with 27 KO's.
He was born one of 10 children and referred to his father as "A fight nut" who bought his son his first pair of boxing gloves.
Basilio boxed in the Marine Corps during WWII; he later made his pro debut in 1948.
Basilio fought his first championship bout on September 18, 1953 against Kid Gavilan in a scheduled 15 round bout in the welterweight division. He dropped Gavilan in the second round for a nine count, flooring Kid for only the second time in his career Gavilan's career. Basilio was ahead on points at the end of the sixth round but Gavilan went on to outbox Basilio for the rest of the fight and won a split decision. The second round in which Basilio dropped Gavilan for a nine count was named RING Magazine's Round of the Year.
Some of Basilio's most impressive wins were over stars Lew Jenkins, Ike Williams and Billy Graham. And in June of 1955 he stopped welterweight Tony DeMarco in the 12th round to win his first world title. Incidentally, with the win he became the first world champion of legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
Later that year Basilio again stopped DeMarco in 12. The following year he fought welterweight Johnny Saxton twice stopping him in the 9th and 2nd rounds.
Carmen Basilio's most notable win was in September of 1957 in front of a crowd of 30,000 fans at Yankee Stadium when he won a split decision over hall-of-famer and pound for pound great Sugar Ray Robinson. With his win over Sugar Ray, Basilio went on to capture the world middleweight championship in a fight that won Fight of the Year honors by RING Magazine.
Legend has it that Basilio resented Sugar Ray ever since their brief encounter on the street in Midtown Manhattan. As Carmen puts it, "He pulled up with his entourage with his big Cadillac. I was walking past, so I decided to go over and introduce myself. I said, 'Hi Ray, I just fought Billy Graham the week before, the number 1 welterweight. I'm Carmen Basilio.' He gave me the brush-off, and I felt about an inch high."
The International Boxing Hall-of-Fame's executive director, Edward Brophy, said in a statement to the press, "Carmen put Canastota on the worldwide boxing map and gave the village's residents a sense of pride that couldn't be matched anywhere in the world. During the 1950's and 1960's Carmen was everyone's hero."
HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant covered boxing for decades as a writer in New York and Philadelphia but the first major fight he ever covered was Basilio-Robinson 1, he also covered the rematch.
In describing the fights Merchant said:
"As someone who thought Robinson was as good as it got I was surprised by the first fight by how well and how tough and strong Basilio was moving up from welterweight to middleweight. The image of the aggressive, warrior fighter of today is of a guy who goes in to take two punches to land one. Basilio was that kind of a fighter but he was smart aggressive. He got hit and he could take a punch, but he knew what he was doing. He knew how to get inside and he really knew how to fight."
Merchant continued, "The first fight was my first big fight. Ernest Hemingway and Joe DiMaggio were at ringside. It was that kind of event. In the rematch, Robinson blew Basilio's eye up with his jab and he looked like a one-eyed ogre for much of the fight, but he somehow managed to survive and make a pretty good fight out of it, even though he lost. He was as tough as they come. You shook his hand and it was like shaking a steel bar"
After retiring from boxing, Basilio, a high school dropout, taught physical education at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. He also worked in public relations for the Genesse Brewing Company.