Carmen Basilio, who beat Sugar Ray Robinson, dies

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Helped by a political outcry, his second chance finally arrived against the newly enthroned DeMarco in 1955 _ and more than just childhood dreams were at stake. When he stopped DeMarco in the 12th round, Basilio knelt in his corner, repeating “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

His real measure emerged in their next duel. A left hook from DeMarco almost lifted Basilio off his feet. He pirouetted, his legs buckled but somehow he stayed up. He KO’d DeMarco in the 12th.

Basilio stepped up to the 160-pound middleweight class against Robinson on Sept. 23, 1957. Four years earlier, after wresting the state welterweight title from Graham, Basilio was walking down Broadway in New York when he spotted Robinson with his entourage and introduced himself.

“He gave me a brushoff, and I lost my respect for him right then and there,” he recalled. “People come up to speak to you, you have to be happy because it’s people that make you what you are. He was an arrogant guy.”

He carried that grudge into their encounter in Yankee Stadium. During the referee’s instructions, Basilio was startled when Robinson leaned in snarling, baring his teeth like a wildcat. Basilio went back to his corner and burst out laughing, and it loosened him up.

“You’re talking about the finest boxer of all time,” Dundee told the AP before his death earlier this year, “and Carmen outboxed the guy. He beat him soundly.”

In the 11th round, Basilio clobbered Robinson with 34 straight punches, pinning him against the ropes. “I don’t know what kept Robinson up because Carmen nailed him some real good shots,” Dundee said.

Robinson rallied in the 12th but was hanging on at the end, and Basilio won on a 2-1 vote by the judges. Only one other modern-era welterweight champ had ever hoisted the middleweight belt _ Robinson in 1951.

In the rematch in March 1958, Robinson regained the title on another razor-edge decision. A rupture above Basilio’s eye swelled to the size of a baking potato. “I had to change my stance a little bit so I could see him, but I thought I won the fight that night,” he insisted.

The most serious moment came at around 3 the next morning. After hours of icing, Dundee noticed blood seeping from the corner of Basilio’s eye and rushed him to the hospital. “Thank God we saved the eye,” he said.

While his determination was bottomless, Basilio’s susceptibility to cuts proved a recurring nightmare.

Carmen says he made me the greatest cut man on Earth because he used to bleed for me,” Dundee said. “He bled at press conferences.”

To be a champion, though, “you got to cross that fine line, and Carmen crossed that line many times,” Dundee added. “He belongs in any era, any time. I would have to put him as one of the best.”

Robinson’s refusal to fight a third time undermined Basilio’s drive, and his career (56-16-7 with 27 knockouts) petered out in 1961 after three unsuccessful title shots against Gene Fullmer and Paul Pendor.

He moved on to teach physical education at Syracuse’s Le Moyne College for 21 years and marketed beer for Rochester’s Genesee Brewing Co. His gift as a raconteur won him legions of new fans at charity banquets, and even old foes came to revere him.

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