THIS TWO-division champion was one of the most popular fighters of his era. His tough, gritty style not only won him world titles, but it was the heart and desire he displayed in the ring that won him a place in the hearts of 1950s boxing fans, as well as 1957 "Fighter of the Year" honors from the Boxing Writers Association of America. So it's not surprising that his enduring legacy prompted his fellow townsmen of Canastota, New York, to honor him with a statue -- more than two decades after he retired -- which gave them the impetus to found the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
After his Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps, this son of an onion farmer turned pro in 1948. For the first four years, most of his fights were in central or western New York. A series of three consecutive tough contests, a draw and a loss to Chuck Davey and a loss to Billy Graham, catapulted him to prominence, where he stayed for the remainder of his career.
In 1953, he decisioned former lightweight king Ike Williams and later beat Graham for the New York State welterweight title. He then defended the title with draw, again against Graham. Basilio's fist world title bout, against Kid Gavilan was a grueling contest. He dropped Gavilan in the second round. Gavilan barely beat the count and recovered to win a 15-round decision.
Undeterred, Basilio continued his quest for a world championship. He went 9-0-2 in his next 11 bouts. His dream of winning a world title was realized on June 10, 1955. Before a hometown crowd in nearby Syracuse he went toe-to-toe in a bloody affair with welterweight champ Tony DeMarco. The champ had the best in the early going but Basilio came on strong, dropped DeMarco twice in the 10th round pressed the issue until the referee stepped in and halted the bout in the 12th.
Basilio beat DeMarco in his first defense, but lost a 15-round decision to Johnny Saxton in his next fight. But he regained the title from Saxton in a rematch (TKO 9) and stopped him in two rounds in the first defense of his second reign. As 1957 moved on, Basilio set his sights on the middleweight crown and its owner, Sugar Ray Robinson. That bout took place Sept. 23, at Yankee Stadium. Giving away advantages in height and reach, he sustained heavy punishment and a badly cut left eye, and won the title in 1957’s “Fight of the Year.”
But in the rematch on March 25, the following year, Robinson regained the title in an equally taxing bout. Basilio fought most of the bout with his left eye totally shut. With this dogged pursuit of victory under such conditions he garnered even more respect.
After two wins, he unsuccessfully challenged champion Gene Fullmer twice in 1959 and 1960 (TKO by 14, TKO by 12), who had dethroned Robinson. He won two more decisions before losing a 15-round decision to middleweight champion Paul Pender on April 22, 1961 in what would be his final bout.
In 1970, Basilio's nephew, Billy Backus, became the second Canastota native to win a world title, when he wrested the welterweight belt from the legendary Jose Napoles. In retirement Basilio worked as physical education instructor at LeMoyne College and as a Genesee Brewery representative. The gregarious Carmen is a frequent visitor to the Hall.