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A Look Back At Carmen Basilio's
by Dan Cuoco
From his professional debut
on November 24, 1948, until his match with Chuck Davey on May 29, 1952, Carmen
Basilio was never considered more than a useful undercard fighter. In 1951 he
had gone 3-3-0 and his record stood at an unimpressive 25-8-3, with 14 kayos.
With no money coming in he took a job
in a factory and might have stayed there except for his burning desire to make
it big in boxing.
While working out at a local gym in Syracuse his dogged determination attracted
the attention of Johnny DeJohn and Joe Netro. Johnny and Joe managed and trained
Johnny's brother Joey, a vicious punching but fragile middleweight. Joey was a
big box office attraction in Syracuse. Carmen's exposure with the DeJohns
brought him to the attention of Norman Rothschild
a young promoter who saw potential in the rugged 25-year-old Basilio. Rotschild
launched Basilio as a main event fighter against Detroit's unbeaten Chuck Davey.
Even though the fight ended in a draw, Carmen proved he was a drawing card.
Carmen now had a recognizable name and started getting major fights. After
victories over Ike Williams, Vic Cardell, Carmen Fiore and Billy Graham (for the
New York State welterweight title) he earned a title shot at welterweight
champion Kid Gavilan. Carmen, a 4-1 underdog, dropped the champion in the
second round and had him badly hurt and was ahead on all scorecards after six
rounds. But Gavilan took six of the next nine rounds to come away with a split
decision. The referee and one of the judges gave Gavilan the fight 8-6-1 and
7-6-2, while the other judge had Basilio ahead 7-5-3.
In Gavilan's next title defense he lost the title to Johnny Saxton, who in turn
lost it to Tony DeMarco.
Twenty months later Carmen earned another crack at the title when he faced
champion Tony DeMarco in Syracuse. Carmen survived an all-out war to stop
Tony in the 12th round to win the title. Then he went to Boston and again
stopped Tony in the 12th round of another all-out war. Both fights are
In his next defense Basilio lost a highly disputed decision to a retreating
Johnny Saxton in Chicago. The furor from the public over the decision was so
great that they were rematched six months later in Syracuse. This time Saxton
fought aggressively, but Basilio took him apart and stopped him in 9 rounds to
regain the title. They fought again early the next year and Carmen ended all
doubts of his superiority by destroying Saxton in two rounds.
Carmen now eyed the biggest prize of his career - a shot at Sugar Ray Robinson
for the middleweight championship. A victory over the legendary Robinson
would make him only the second reigning welterweight champion to win the
middleweight crown while still in possession of the first title. Only Robinson
had done it before when he stepped up to stop Jake LaMotta for the title in
The night of the fight the odds were 6-5 pick 'em. Many bettors thought that
Robinson was slipping and that Basilio was getting better. Others were concerned
about Basilio's weight, which was 153 1/2, the heaviest of his career. Those
concerned about Basilio's weight said he had looked slow in one of his non-title
fights when he weighed 152 pounds. Now he was 1 1/2 pounds heavier.
The 38,000 in attendance couldn't help but make comparisons about the physical
difference between the two fighters. The 5' 11 1/2" tall champion looked
like a sleek greyhound while the 5' 6 1/2" craggy faced muscular challenger
with short arms and legs looked like a pit bull. The 36-year-old champion
entered the ring with a ring record of 144-4-2-1 (91) while the 30-year-old
challenger entered the ring with a ring record of 51-11-7 (25).
Robinson came out for the first round in his picture book classical style. He
used the ring superbly, stabbing Carmen with his long jab. Basilio tried to
crowd Robinson and get underneath his jab and work his body with his left hook.
Through the first six rounds Robinson was full of energy and controlled most of
In the seventh Carmen started to make his move. He stepped up the pace and
finally broke through Robinson's guard with a strong left hook to the jaw. He
followed up with a hard right to the body and another right to the head. The
distance between them was now gone. Robinson was fighting Basilio at Basilio's
The momentum of the fight had clearly switched in favor of Basilio and he
controlled most of the action in the eighth, ninth and tenth rounds.
After 10 hectic rounds most observers had the fight dead even going into the
But, Ray Robinson wasn't a legend for nothing. In the 11th round Robinson caught
his second wind and again gained control of the fight by snapping vicious left
jabs into the scar tissue over Basilio's left eye. Then reminiscent to the
Robinson of old he tore into Basilio with an all-out attack, landing thunderous
punches with both hands to Carmen's head. It was attacks like this that had
broken the spirit of many of his opponents in the past. Basilio showed he had
the heart of a champion as well as a rock hard
chin, by answering Robinson's barrage with a barrage of his own. Carmen charged
into Ray driving him to the ropes where he rained a dozen blows by actual count
on Ray before the round ended.
Many have called the 11th round one of the greatest rounds in championship
history - ranking with the first round of Hagler-Hearns. Anyway you want to call
it - Basilio's heart refused to bow to Robinson's devastating attack. His tough
bouts with DeMarco and Saxton had prepared him for this.
In the 12th round Robinson again pressed forward, shooting combinations to
Basilio's head bringing blood to both his nose and his left eye. Impossible as
it may seem, Robinson picked up the pace in the 13th and both combatants refused
to give quarter. In the 14th Robinson doubled up Carmen with a right to the
body. Again Basilio refused to give in.
The fight appeared up for grabs heading into the 15th and final round. The
determined Basilio came out for the last round and brushed past Robinson's jab
and landed a hard right to the body that stopped Ray in his tracks. Robinson
held after taking a left and right to the jaw. Ray continued to shoot hard left
jabs, but Basilio was able to slip the jabs and batter Robinson's body. Ray
tried to open up with one final desperate charge, but there was no stopping
Basilio now. Carmen's strength was just too great for
Ray this late in the fight. He bombarded Ray with blistering head and body shots
until the final bell.
Judge Artie Aidala had Basilio ahead 9-5-1, eliciting approval; referee Al Berl
had Robinson ahead 9-6, which clearly wasn't popular. But the boos quickly faded
when famed announcer Johnny Addie announced judge Bill Recht's score in favor of
This was Carmen's finest hour. He proved in winning the title from Robinson that
his dogged determination, his will to win and his great heart could overcome all
the hardships he had to endure to get to the top. Carmen's victory was also the
culmination of his five-year transformation from a useful club fighter to the
height of greatness.