Born: April 2, 1927; Died November 7, 2012.
Carmen Basilio, who has died aged 85, was an American boxing legend and two-times world champion, at welter and middleweight. He defeated Sugar Ray Robinson over 15 torrid rounds in 1957 in what it is still regarded as one of the greatest boxing battles ever. He was also admired as someone who bravely refused to cut the gangsters who ruled American boxing in the 1940s and 50s into his earnings.
Basilio was born to an Italian-American onion farmer in upstate New York and from an early age toiled on his father's onion patches, hard labour which Basilio reckoned toughened him up for boxing which he embraced with his father's support.
After a stint in the Marine Corps, where he discovered his natural pugilistic talent in inter-service boxing matches, he joined the professional ranks under two fellow Italian Americans, Joe Nitro and Johnny DeJohn, and was also supported by top local boxing promoter Norman Rothschild, a trio who played a key role in Basilio's rise to stardom in the 1950s.
However, the fact that Basilio and his managers all shared identical Italian-American ethnicity was no protection from gangsters like Frankie Carbo and "Blinky" Palermo, who demanded a share of the profits. Rothschild was forced to reach a financial accommodation with Palermo and Carbo in order to stage Basilio's world welterweight title winning fight against Tony DeMarco in Syracuse in June 1955. But Basilio refused to allow either Netro, DeJohn or Rothschild to pay a single cent of his own earnings to the mob.
Having established himself as undisputed king of the welterweights, Basilio next challenged Afro-American legend Sugar Ray Robinson. Basilio fought brilliantly and defeated Robinson on points over 15 rounds in New York's Yankee Stadium to add the world middles crown to his catalogue of achievement. However, in the 1958 return bout with Robinson, Basilio suffered one of the worst swollen eye injuries ever seen, a handicap from round six that he could not overcome, so losing the middleweight crown back to Robinson.
After that, Basilio's career was anti-climatic, losing three bids to win back his world crown. When he lost a final attempt to recapture a world middleweight crown in 1961 to Paul Pender, Basilio retired. He became a PT instructor at his local LeMoyne College in Syracuse but continued to work with local amateur boxers and pros like Greg Sorrentino, whom he brought to London in 1978.
Basilio was also a devoted family man to his second wife Josie and two stepsons from his first marriage. He was inducted into the American Hall of Boxing Fame in 1990.
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