Boxing Hall of Famer Carmen Basilio dies at age 85
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Carmen Basilio, the former welterweight and middle weight boxing champion of the world who once defeated the great Sugar Ray Robinson, died early Wednesday morning, according to Tony Liccione, president of the Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame.
Basilio was 85.He died around 3 a.m. at Rochester General Hospital.
Basilio had been hospitalized due to pneumonia,
"We're devastated," said Liccione, who was a friend of Basilio's for many years. "Carmen was the people's champion. He never turned down an autograph. He had a tough beginning in boxing, but he persevered and he captured a part of the American dream. It was bigger back then to become a world boxing champion. It was huge in our society."
Basilio had heart bypass surgery in 1997 and received a pacemaker in 2000. But he remained an active and beloved figure in the local sports community.
"He was a great man whether he was an athlete or not," said Basilio's wife of 26 years, Josie Basilio. "He was just so personable and he loved everyone, he loved people."
Basilio's career record was 56-16-7 with 27 knockouts, but from 1954-58, he dominated, going 17-2-1 including 5-2 in world title fights. Twice he was voted Fighter of the Year by boxing writers and he took part in four Fights of the Year, two against the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson.
He was inducted into the
International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, in its first class in 1990.
His career helped inspire
organizers to build the hall in his hometown. Basilio was inducted along with Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake LaMotta.
Basilio was born and raised in Canastota, N.Y., and in later years lived in Irondequoit. He retired from boxing in 1961, but left a legacy as having one of the toughest chins in the sport.
Basilio worked 25 years as a physical education teacher at Le Moyne College in Syracuse a spokesman for Genesee Brewery.
Nicknamed the "Canastota Clouter," Basilio was a fan favorite for his ability to go toe-to-toe with opponents, which made for exciting bouts. His fights were described as near-death experiences.
With his crouching style, the 5-foot-6½ slugger bored relentlessly into opponents, wearing them down with body blows. He had a straight-up, knuckle-rimmed uppercut, a vicious hook and an ability to withstand terrible punishment. He rarely stepped backward.
The Fifties were a golden age for U.S. 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.
He captured the world welterweight title from Tony DeMarco in 1955 in Syracuse and regained it in 1956 from Johnny Saxton after a controversial loss to Saxton six months earlier in Chicago where it was deemed a mob fix was made with Saxton's managers.
In 1957, Basilio jumped up a class and defeated Sugar Ray Robinson at Yankee Stadium by split decision in a savage battle over 15 rounds. Robinson is generally regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time, winning scores of titles and engaging in 201 pro bouts in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Robinson regained the middleweight crown six months later from Basilio, also by split decision, in an equal display of wills at Chicago Stadium.
Mr. Basilio's five Fights of the Year as named by Ring Magazine were:
1955 (DeMarco); 1956 (Saxton rematch); 1957 (Robinson); 1958 (Robinson rematch) and 1959 (Gene Fullmer).
"It's a fabulous record, particularly for that era. It was a Golden Era," said the late boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar, who named Basilio one of his 100 greatest fighters of all time "not because I care for him and he's a wonderful person, but because he damned well earned it."
While he respected Robinson's talent, Basilio did not care for Robinson as a man. "He had an arrogance about him that turned you off," Basilio once said, "but he was a great fighter."
Basilio's life story made him a real-life Rocky. He was one of 10 children of an Italian immigrant onion farmer who became hooked on boxing listening to Louis' bouts on a crackling radio.
"You learn how to fight with five older sisters," he once quipped.
It took Basilio 50 pro fights before he got his first title shot, that against Cuba's Kid Gavilan, a loss by decision in 1953. During the height of his career, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, made TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Mike Wallace shows, and he was the 1957 Hickok Belt winner, the most prestigious award in sports at the time.
"People would tell me, 'What are you boxing for, why don't you quit that dirty, rotten game?' " Basilio said in a 2005 interview on the 50th anniversary of becoming world champ. "I was working in a factory and getting a week's pay but I'd still go to the gym and train. I'd tell (my boss), 'I'm going to be champion of the world some day,' and he'd tell me I was out of my mind. But I said 'I'm not giving up. Quitters never win.' "
Josie Basilio traced her husband's decline to heart-bypass surgery in 1992. An MRI scan revealed no brain damage from his prizefighting days, which Basilio acknowledged went on too long.
He is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren from two marriages. Arrangements are pending.
April 2, 1927: Carmen Basilio born in
Canastota, Madison County.
Nov. 24, 1948: In first pro fight, knocks out Jimmy Evans in Binghamton and earns $50.
June 10, 1955: Defeats Tony DeMarco for the world welterweight title in
Feb. 25, 1957: Makes first of three appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His other appearances were Sept. 16, 1957 and March 24, 1958.
Sept. 23, 1957: Defeats Sugar Ray Robinson for world middleweight title at Yankee Stadium.
March 25, 1958: Loses to Robinson in a rematch at Chicago Stadium.
Jan. 20, 1958: Receives Hickok Belt Award in Rochester as 1957 Pro Athlete of the Year in front of a capacity crowd of 670 in the Manger Hotel ballroom.
April 22, 1961: Loses 15-round decision to Paul Pender in his final bout.
June 10, 1990: Inducted into the inaugural class at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his hometown of Canastota.
Nov. 7, 2012: Dies in Rochester.