Carmen Basilio (Born Carmine Basilio, April 2, 1927 – November 7, 2012) was an American professional boxer who was the world champion in both the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions. He is also famous for defeating the great Sugar Ray Robinson to take the Middleweight title. An iron chinned pressure fighter, Basilio was a combination puncher who had great stamina, and eventually wore many of his opponents down with vicious attacks to the head and body.
Basilio was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. The Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year in 1957, while the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) named him Fighter of the Year in 1955 and 1957. In 2002, Basilio was voted by The Ring magazine as the 40th greatest fighter of the last 80 years.
Basilio began his professional boxing career by meeting Jimmy Evans on 24 November 1948 in Binghamton, New York. He knocked Evans out in the third round, and five days later, he beat Bruce Walters in only one round. By the end of 1948, he had completed four bouts.
He started 1949 with two draws, against Johnny Cunningham on January 5, and against Jay Perlin 20 days later. Basilio campaigned exclusively inside the state of New York during his first 24 bouts, going 19-3-2 during that span. His first loss was at the hands of Connie Thies, who beat him in a six-round decision on 2 May 1949. He fought Cunningham three more times during that period. Basilio won by knockout in two rounds on their second meeting, Cunningham won by a decision in eight in their third fight and Basilio won by a decision in eight rounds in their fourth.
In the middle of that 24 bout span, 1950 rolled over, and Basilio met former world champion Lew Jenkins, winning in a 10-round decision.
For fight number 25, Basilio decided that it was time to campaign out West so he went to New Orleans, where he boxed his next six fights. In his first bout there, he met Gaby Farland, who held him to a draw. He and Farland had a rematch, Basilio winning by a knockout in the first round. He also boxed Guillermo Giminez there twice, first beating him by knockout in eight, and then by knockout in nine. In his last fight before returning home, he lost by a decision in 10 to Eddie Giosa.
For his next seven bouts, Basilio only went 3-3-1, but he was able to avenge his loss to Giosa by winning a ten-round decision over him in Syracuse.
In 1952, Basilio went 6-2-1. He beat Jimmy Cousins among others that year, but he lost to Chuck Davey and Billy Graham. The draw he registered that year was against Davey in the first of the two meetings that year.
Things began to change for the better for the fighter in 1953. Basilio started winning big fights and soon found his name climbing up the Welterweight division's rankings. Soon, he found himself in his first world title fight, against Cuba's Kid Gavilan for Gavilan's world welterweight championship.
Before fighting against Gavilan, he beat former world light-weight champion Ike Williams, and had two more fights with Graham, avenging his earlier loss to Graham in the second bout between them with a 12-round decision win, and drawing in the third. Basilio lost a 15-round decision to Gavilan and went for a fourth meeting with Cunningham, this time winning by a knockout in four. Then, he and French fighter Pierre Langois began another rivalry, with a 10-round draw in the first bout between the two.
In 1954, Basilio went undefeated in eight bouts, going 7-0-1 with 2 knockouts, and defeating Langois in their rematch by decision.
1955 arrived and Basilio began by beating Peter Müller by decision. After that, Basilio was once again the number one challenger, and on June 10 of that year, he received his second world title try, against world Welterweight champion Tony DeMarco. In what has become a favorite fight of classic sports channels such as ESPN, Basilio became world champion by knocking out DeMarco in the 12th round. Basilio had two non-title bouts, including a ten-round decision win over Gil Turner, before he and DeMarco met again, this time with Basilio as the defending world champion. Their second fight had exactly the same result as their first bout: Basilio won by a knockout in 12.
For his next fight, in 1956, Basilio lost the title in Chicago to Johnny Saxton by a decision in 15. It has often been said that the reason that Saxton got the nod was because of his ties with the underworld. His manager, mafioso Frank "Blinky" Palermo", was later jailed along with his partner Frankie Carbo for fixing fights. Basilio said of losing his title to the referees' decision, "It was like being robbed in a dark alley." In an immediate rematch that was fought in Syracuse, Basilio regained the crown with a nine-round knockout, and then, in a rubber match, Basilio kept the belt, by a knockout in two.
After that, he went up in weight and challenged ageing 36- year-old world Middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson, in what perhaps may have been his most famous fight. He won the Middleweight championship of the world by beating Robinson in one of the most exciting 15-round decisions in middleweight history, September 23, 1957. The day after, he had to abandon the Welterweight belt, according to boxing laws. In 1957 Basilio won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year.
In 1958, he and Robinson met in a rematch on March 25 and Robinson barely regained the title with a 15-round controversial decision. Basilio's left eye was totally swelled shut from the 6th round on and still many of the ringside press thought Basilio won this second fight. This too was a split decision just as their first fight was.
From that moment, and until his retirement in 1961, he fought only sporadically, but 3 of his last fights were attempts to recover the world's Middleweight title, losing twice to Gene Fullmer; by a TKO knockout in 14 at San Francisco; and by a TKO knockout in 12, in Fullmer's home state of Utah (in Salt Lake City), and then also later, when he lost a 10-round decision to defending world champion Paul Pender.
In between those fights, he was able to beat Art Aragon, by knockout in eight, and former world Welterweight champion Don Jordan, by decision in ten. His fight with Pender for the title, was also his last fight as a professional boxer.
Basilio retired with a ring record of 56 wins, 16 losses and 7 draws, with 27 wins by knockout.
After his retirement, Basilio worked for a time at the Genesee Brewery in Rochester, NY. Later Carmen, a high-school dropout, taught physical education at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. Basilio, who was also a member of the United States Marine Corps at one point of his life, was able to enjoy his retirement. Carmen was associated with a sausage company, (frequently confused with a separate sausage company run by his brother Paul), for which he was a salesman. During the 1970s, his nephew Billy Backus became world's welterweight champion after having a shaky start to his own boxing career, and Basilio declared on the day that Backus became champion, that to him, Billy winning the title was better than when he won it himself.
In 1990, Ed Brophy decided to build the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in Canastota, New York to honor the two world champions who were born there: Basilio and his nephew. Although Backus isn't a member of the Hall Of Fame, Basilio is, along with many of the fighters he met inside the ring.
In the late 1990s, Basilio became seriously ill, and he required triple bypass heart surgery. Doctors were able to repair his heart.
Basilio was interviewed for an HBO documentary on Sugar Ray Robinson called "The Dark Side Of A Champion". He mentioned that although he respected Robinson's talents in the ring, he did not like him at all as a person. He called him a "son of a bitch" and said he was the most arrogant, unpleasant person that you would ever want to meet.
In 2010, "Title Town USA, Boxing in Upstate New York" by historian Mark Allen Baker was published by The History Press in 2010 and identifies Canastota as the epicenter of Upstate New York's rich boxing heritage. The book includes chapters on both Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus. The introduction was written by Edward P. Brophy Executive Director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He died aged 85 in 2012.
|World Welterweight Champion
June 10, 1955 – March 14, 1956
|World Welterweight Champion
September 12, 1956 – September 23, 1957
Sugar Ray Robinson
|World Middleweight Champion
September 23, 1957 – March 25, 1958
Sugar Ray Robinson