WHILE fighters today spit and sulk after losing their carefully constructed unbeaten records, Carmen Basilio rebounded from 11 defeats – learning a lesson from each reverse – before he dethroned world welterweight king Tony DeMarco in 1955’s Fight of the Year.

His robust spirit was shaped early in life. The Angelo Dundee-trained slugger worked in onion fields in Canastota with his nine brothers and sisters; after that anything that boxing threw at him was comparatively simple to catch.

Carmen basilio

Carmen lost his title to Johnny Saxton in 1956, but the nature of the controversial Chicago Stadium points defeat was harder to accept than previous losses; 11 of 18 ringside reporters had him winning and it was the third time he’d lost a contentious decision in the stadium. In the rematch he left no room for doubt, stopping Saxton in nine, before drilling him again – in just two rounds – in the rubber match. Next up for the rugged New Yorker was his most famous victory; a thrilling 15-round points success over world middleweight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson. Basilio neglected his trademark body attack for much of the bout and stunned the boss with relentless raids to the head. Even so, at the end it was close.

“Robbery!” bellowed Ray’s trainer George Gainford after Carmen got the verdict.

“Of course I won,” responded Basilio. “I forced the fight, didn’t I? I got in the most punches didn’t I? Then I won.”

Carmen then took to his unlucky Chicago Stadium again, and lost his crown to Robinson in the rematch but he had no arguments this time. From the sixth, his left eye inflated like raspberry bubblegum and the injury prevented him from fighting at his best. He simply could do nothing about the blinding brilliance swarming all over him.

Three subsequent attempts to regain his title failed (twice against Gene Fullmer and once against Paul Pender) and, in 1961, he retired.


Billy Backus – nephew of Basilio – became the second member of the family to win the world welterweight title in 1970 when, as a 9-1 underdog, he snapped the reign of the great Jose Napoles in four rounds. After being beaten to the punch early, Backus opened cuts over the champion’s eyes and forced the referee to step in.

“It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me since I won the title myself,” said a proud Uncle Carmen.


Born April 2, 1927 in Canastota, New York Wins 56 Knockouts 27 Losses 16 Draws 7 Best win Sugar Ray Robinson (I) w pts 15 Worst loss Gene Fullmer (II) l rsf 12 Pros Fighting intensity, heart Cons Cuts and tendency to swell, open defensively