The boxing world lost another great this week as we learned of the death of Carmen Basilio who passed away at the age of 85 in an upstate New York hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
Basilio is remembered by boxing fans mostly for his fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, Billy Graham and Kid Gavilan. He was among the first class of inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, along with Muhammad Ali, Jake LaMotta, Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, and Joe Louis.
In a time when boxing was utterly corrupt by the Mafia, Basilio’s career suffered because he refused to work with mobsters. He still managed to become a fan favorite in a time when fights were broadcast three times a week in black and white, as well as on the radio. Over the course of his thirteen year career, he attained the welterweight championship, which he won from Tony DeMarco, as well as the middleweight belt, which he attained towards the end of his career.
Mr. Basilio was born on an onion farm in Canastota, New York. He was one of ten children born to Italian immigrants. He began working the farm at the age of five years old. No doubt that this helped instill the discipline and conditioning that boxers are known for. After a stint in the United States Marine Corps, he began his boxing career in 1948.
His style is similar to what modern day boxing fans might call the Arturo Gatti style of blood and guts warrior. In a fight with Tony Demarco in 1955, he took a left-hook to the chin that lifted his feet up off of the canvas and buckled his legs, but he did not go down. In fact he came back to stop DeMarco in the 12th round, for the second time. Having been described as a fighter who did not have too much technical ability, but “you had to kill him to get him out of there”, he has left his mark as one of the greats. Angelo Dundee said about him “He belongs in any era, any time; I would have to put him as one of the best.”
He had a habit of holding a grudge, like he did with foe Ray Robinson, which he then brought into the ring. After being brushed off by Mr. Robinson when he tried to introduce himself, Basilio kept the incident in his mind, and brought it to the ring when the two met at Yankee Stadium, where Basilio took home a majority decision. Mr. Robinson won the rematch and declined a third fight after that Basilio unsuccessfully fought for a title three more times; before ending his career in 1961 and starting a new one as a physical education teacher at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY, where he stayed for twenty one years.
Many modern day fans do not know too much about Mr. Basilio or other fighters of his era, and that I think is a shame. As we, the boxing community continues to lose so many of these fighters, I think the best way to remember them is to learn about them and keep their legacies alive. The Tony Demarco’s and Carmen Basilio’s of the world deserve that much from the fans to whom they gave their all.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mr. Basilio, if you have any memories you would like to share, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.