It is fitting that the funeral for former boxing great Carmen Basilio took place on the recognized federal U.S. holiday of Veteran's Day this year. Several hundred people gathered at St. Kateri at Christ the King Church in Irondequoit, New York yesterday to say goodbye to this warrior who passed away last Wednesday at the age of 85.
Military veterans often receive special treatment in their respective countries due to the sacrifices they made during wars. They are generally treated with great respect and honor for their contribution to the world and country. Basilio served in the Marines before turning pro in 1948 but it was his wars in the ring that earned him the respect and honor for the contributions he made to the sport of boxing.
With his crouching style, knuckle-rimmed uppercut, vicious left hook and ability to withstand terrible punishment, this highly revered all-action fighter dominated from 1954 through 1958 going 17-2-1, including 5-2 in world title fights. Basilio participated in five Fights of the Year during this period, including two savage battles with the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson from whom he wrestled the world middleweight crown in 1957. His other accolades include being named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year for 1957, recipient of the 1957 Hickok Belt, the most prestigious award in sports at the time, and induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in its inaugural 1990 class.
Basilio's bravery and endurance also extended outside of the ring. His unyielding reluctance to deal with mobsters in the early 1950's when the sport was controlled by organized crime hindered his ascent. After losing to the great Cuban champion Kid Gavilan by split decision in his first title shot in 1953, Basilio ran into two years of mob infested roadblocks. Through it all, the determined fighter refused to turn over a percentage of his purse or take a dive to get a title shot, maintaining the honor and integrity of a true veteran.
Thanks to his defiance, Basilio was helped by a political outcry that resulted in cleaning up the sport and sending the mobsters to jail. This cleared the way for him to challenge Tony DeMarco for the title in 1955, win the first of his two welterweight championships and leave his indelible mark on the sport of boxing.
With his victory over DeMarco, Basilio became the first world champion trained by the legendary Angelo Dundee who passed away earlier this year. May we find comfort in believing that these veterans of the sport are now reunited in the same corner.
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