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Boxing | International

Legendary Carmen Basilio dies

Former world champion Carmen Basilio, one of the legends of boxing, has died at the age of 85.

Basilio, who held world titles at welterweight and middleweight, died of pneumonia at the Rochester General Hospital in the United States on Wednesday.

He will always be remembered for his two middleweight title fights with another legend, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Basilio, who retired in 1961 with a record of 56-16-7, including 27 knockouts, was voted Fighter of the Year twice by boxing writers.

He also fought in four bouts that were voted the best fights of the year. Two of these were against Robinson.

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota in 1990.

Basilio was born in Canastota and worked as a physical education teacher at the Le Moyne College in Syracuse for 25 years.

His first professional fight was on November 24, 1948.

Boxing enthusiasts loved his style. Most of his fights were toe-to-toe battles and he had the ability to shrug off punishment.

He had to go through 50 fights before getting a shot at the welterweight title, losing to Cuba's Kid Gavilan on points in 1953.

Basilio won the world welterweight title from Tony DeMarco in Syracuse in 1955 and later regained it after a controversial loss to Johnny Saxton the next year.

Even though he was regarded as too small for a middleweight, he challenged Robinson in 1957.

Basilio was one of ten children of an Italian who moved to the United States and became an onion farmer.


SAPA-AP reports that Basilio was among the first class of Hall of Fame inductees in 1990, a group that includes Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake LaMotta.

Basilio's ferocious battles with the likes of Billy Graham and Kid Gavilan riveted the US during the age of black-and-white television.

Hindered on his ascent by a reluctance to deal with mobsters, he took the welterweight title from Tony DeMarco in 1955 and added the middleweight belt near the close of a 13-year career.

In his later years, Basilio still could conjure up dates of championship fights, the size of a purse, the name of a referee he loathed.

His wife, Josie, traced his decline to heart-bypass surgery in 1992. An MRI scan revealed no brain damage from his boxing days, which Basilio acknowledged went on too long.

With his crouching style, the 1.69m slugger bored relentlessly into opponents, wearing them down with body blows. He had a straight-up, knuckle-rimmed uppercut and a vicious hook.

The two savage, seesaw 15-rounders against Robinson formed the capstone of his fame. But in the early 1950s, Basilio endured a bitter wait for a breakthrough in a sport then dominated by organised crime.


He drew his first title shot in 1953 against Gavilan. He floored the Cuban great for the first time in his career, only to lose on a split decision. A rematch never came. Basilio ran into two years of gangland roadblocks.

The Fifties were a golden age for US boxing when thrice-weekly "fight nights" helped sell TV sets. But it also was a dark diversion directed by mob bosses. Basilio said he refused to cooperate with them and, despite his growing supremacy as a welterweight, was repeatedly passed over.

Helped by a political outcry, his second chance finally arrived against DeMarco in 1955. When he stopped DeMarco in the 12th round, Basilio knelt in his corner, repeating: "I did it! I did it! I did it!"

In their next fight, a left hook from DeMarco almost lifted Basilio off his feet. He pirouetted, his legs buckled but somehow he stayed up. He knocked out DeMarco in the 12th.

Basilio stepped up to middleweight against Robinson on September 23 in 1957. Four years earlier, after wresting the state welterweight title from Graham, Basilio was walking down Broadway in New York when he spotted Robinson with his entourage and introduced himself.

"He gave me a brush-off, and I lost my respect for him right then and there," he recalled. "People come up to speak to you; you have to be happy because it's people that make you what you are. He was an arrogant guy."


He carried that grudge into their encounter in the Yankee Stadium. During the referee's instructions, Basilio was startled when Robinson leaned in snarling, baring his teeth like a wildcat. Basilio went back to his corner and burst out laughing, and it loosened him up.

"You're talking about the finest boxer of all time," Angelo Dundee said before his death this year, "and Carmen outboxed the guy. He beat him soundly."

In the eleventh round, Basilio clobbered Robinson with 34 straight punches, pinning him against the ropes. "I don't know what kept Robinson up because Carmen nailed him some real good shots," Dundee said.

Robinson rallied in the 12th but was hanging on at the end, and Basilio won on a 2-1 vote by the judges. Only one other modern-era welterweight champion had ever hoisted the middleweight belt – Robinson in 1951.

In the rematch in March 1958, Robinson regained the title on another razor-edge decision. A rupture above Basilio's eye swelled to the size of a potato. "I had to change my stance so I could see him, but I thought I won the fight that night," he insisted.

Basilio's susceptibility to cuts proved a recurring nightmare. “He says he made me the greatest cut man on earth because he used to bleed for me," Dundee said. "He bled at press conferences."

Robinson's refusal to fight a third time undermined Basilio's drive, and his career (56-16-7 with 27 knockouts) petered out in 1961 after three unsuccessful title shots against Gene Fullmer and Paul Pendor.

When DeMarco's son died in a car crash in 1975, Basilio showed up for the funeral in Boston. "You don't forget things like that," DeMarco said in 2007.


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