In another hit to the sports world this year, middleweight boxer Carmen Basilio has died after being admitted to Rochester General Hospital in New York. He was 85.
Basilio, whose most famous bouts occurred against Sugar Ray Robinson, earned the title of middleweight champ and the respect of millions when he took on Sugar Ray–then considered to be the best boxer in the world–and won. Although he came out on the other end looking like he’d gone through a meat grinder, he became famous for his determination and will.
“I don’t enjoy getting hurt, waking up with a puffed eye and pain, stiff all over,” he said. “But you have to take the bitter with the sweet. The sweet is when guys recognize you on the street, say, ‘Hello, champ,’ know who you are. It will always be sweet for me.”
The legend began when Robinson snubbed Basilio on the street, and from then on he became determined to fight the champ and win. He challenged Robinson before a huge crowd at Yankee Stadium in 1957, and history was made.
“He pulled up with his entourage with his big Cadillac,” Basilio said in an interview. “I was walking past, so I decided to go over and introduce myself. I said: ‘Hi, Ray, I just fought Billy Graham the week before, the No. 1 welterweight. I’m Carmen Basilio.’ He gave me the brushoff, and I felt about an inch high.”
Basilio was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1990. At the news of his death, the Hall’s executive director Edward Brophy made a statement.
“Carmen put Canastota on the worldwide boxing map and gave the village’s residents a sense of pride that couldn’t be matched anywhere in the world,” he said. “During the 1950s and 1960s Carmen was everyone’s hero. They talked about him in the coffee shops, grocery stores, gas stations and barbershops all the time. And they still talk about him today. He was loved, respected and idolized. His career and memories will last forever in the Village of Canastota.”
ESPN reports that Basilio died of complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, four children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.