Rochester, New York: Carmen Basilio, a genial onion farmer’s son who wrested the world middleweight boxing crown from Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957 and lost an equally epic, razor-edge rematch six months later, died on Wednesday at age 85.
Edward Brophy, executive director of the Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York, said Basilio died at a Rochester hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
Basilio was among the first class of Hall of Fame inductees in 1990, a group that includes Robinson, Mohammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake LaMotta.
Basilio’s ferocious battles with the likes of Billy Graham and Kid Gavilan riveted the US during the age of black-and-white television. Hindered on his ascent by a reluctance to deal with mobsters, he took the welterweight title from Tony DeMarco in 1955 and added the middleweight belt near the close of a 13-year career.
In his later years, Basilio still could conjure up dates of championship fights, the size of a purse, the name of a referee he loathed. But his mental agility had eroded and his recollection of the round-by-round combat he waged in his climb to the top was mostly blank.
Basilio’s wife, Josie, traced his 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.
With his crouching style, the 5ft 6in puncher 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.