Note: This unedited article was lifted from the May 1958 issue of THE RING Magazine for our special 90th Anniversary issue (February 2012).
ROBINSON’S RETIREMENT PREDICTED IF CARMEN HANGS UP GLOVES
Those and similar expressions were heard following the great accomplishment of Ray Robinson in regaining the world middleweight championship from Carmen Basilio by a split decision in the Chicago Stadium. Though the contest, like their initial affair at the Yankee Stadium last year, warranted a rematch, it is doubtful if either the winner or loser will again appear in a ring contest.
Such was the deduction after Carmen, his left eye badly wounded, was examined by several doctors who predicted that for the preservation of his eyesight, it would be best for Basilio to hang up his gloves. And should this happen, it’s certain that Sugar Ray, without an opponent who can draw the kind of gate he’s accustomed to, will also hang up his gloves.
In a contest that didn’t quite measure up to the standard set in their New York bout, which furnished the crowded Chicago arena with plenty of excitement, Sugar Ray showed why he is called a ring marvel by succeeding in doing what never before had been accomplished—winning a title for the fifth time. His record performance is not likely to be repeated in many years.
In his seventeenth year as a professional, fighting his 150th battle, and spotting his opponent seven years in age, Sugar Ray achieved his goal amidst the wild cheers of a gathering of 17,976 persons who paid a gross of $351,955 to see the return engagement between the ring master of the century and the defending title-holder.
Fighting with one eye closed from the sixth round on, Basilio did a he-man’s job in going the route under the most adverse conditions, but so badly hurt was he, I doubt he ever again will appear in a ring battle.
Subject to easy cutting, Carmen in his last stand looked so pitiful as he awaited the verdict that despite the protests of his seconds that the decision was unwarranted, it would be best for the up-state New Yorker to retire to avoid possible blindness.
Referee’s Decision Unpopular
Although Referee Frank Sikora scored the affair in Carmen’s favor, 69 to 60 in points and nine rounds to five and one even, only one of the ringside reporters agreed with him and when the decision was rendered, the booing was not in disagreement with the verdict, but with Sikora’s tally. Judge John Bray gave it to Sugar Ray, 71 to 64 in points and 11 to 4 in rounds, while Judge Frank McAdams had it for new champ, 72 to 64 with 11 rounds to three and one even. My count in points was 70 to 63 for Robbie with rounds 10 to 4 and one even.
Sugar Ray has now staged four successful comebacks and has the unique distinction of gaining the middleweight crown five times. He came back to defeat Randy Turpin after having lost the title to him in England; stopped Cene Fullmer after losing to him; beat Carl Bobo Olson when Ray came out of retirement, and wound up with his triumphant return to the top by his latest victory. He is eager to rest on his laurels, and will engage in another bout only if Basilio is his opponent, since that bout alone can bring in the money Ray would expect.
He has signed a contract agreeing to fight for Jim Norris in his next title defense should he continue in the ring, the agreement calling for 42½ percent of the gate, radio and closed circuit T.V. His future rests with Basilio.
Ray won by a wide margin in the eyes of almost everyone in the huge arena, but he was a far more tired man than in the Yankee Stadium bout. He was supported by his seconds as he left the arena, his face drawn and his body limp. His opponent not only showed the same signs of weariness, but with his left eye completely closed and a hemorrhage adding to his troubles, he couldn’t see his way into his dressing room.
Chicago has been a lucky city for the victor. There he won the middleweight title and regained it three times there. Carmen lost his contests in the same city with Chuck Davey, Billy Graham, Johnny Saxton and now Robinson.
BASILIO WANTS ANOTHER CHANCE
With head bowed, towel with ice held against his injured eye, tears flowing down his cheeks, Basilio, visited in his dressing room by James D. Norris, requested the boss of the International Boxing Club to get him a return bout.
“He didn’t hurt me at any time,” said Carmen in a sobbing voice. “Were it not for this eye damage, I would have repeated. I don’t think I lost but I know I beat him once and I can do it again.
Norris, sympathetically replied, “I’ll see Robinson, I’ll arrange a return for you.”
Queried by THE RING, Norris replied: “I’m willing but it’s up to Ray. I don’t know whether he’ll fight again. He wants to think it over. If it’s Basilio, I’m sure he’ll go.”
Basilio, spotting the challenger six and one-half pounds and almost five inches in height, had both working heavily against him. He found it necessary as in his first bout to crouch and leap to get at his man, while Ray almost from the start fought on his toes, a perfect stance with proper leverage to make each blow count. Sugar Ray employed more holding when hard pressed than in any bout in which I’ve ever seen him, and he made his weight count.
Yet, despite these advantages, he took severe body punishment from Carmen, who never let up in the attack even when he couldn’t see the target. Not only did he remain on his feet, but after his eye was tightly closed, he gained five rounds on the score card of the referee, two on mine and the same number on the cards of the other officials and almost every scribe at ringside.
In his seventeenth year as a pro, and at the age of 37, Robinson succeeded in doing what no boxer has ever done, again disproving the axiom that a ring champion never comes back. His is the most successful comeback ever made in the many attempts by other previous title holders.
EYE INJURY TURNING POINT
No opponent ever whipped Ray a second time. Facing a rugged, aggressive fighter who possesses remarkable recuperative powers, Ray entered the ring on the long end of the betting odds –2 to 1 at ringtime. But, undismayed by the choice of his opponent as favorite, he worked his way by degrees into the lead and held on to the end. During the first five rounds it appeared that Carmen would repeat his New York victory but the tide quickly turned.
Ray challenged a much younger opponent and ring precedent and he triumphed over each.
No other champion ever won a world crown more than three times. Basilio was favored to repeat last year’s victory because of his age advantage and because he’s rough and rugged, but determination, the will to reach a goal never before attained and faith in his ability, enabled Ray to turn the tables.
Ray, the Wonder of the Roped Square, came from behind after the fifth round to roll up a margin too big for Basilio to overcome. It was a lead gained after Carmen’s left eye was injured. Peppering the champion round after round with straight, stinging left jabs, it didn’t take long for the challenger to find himself fighting a one-eyed title holder.
The Chicago contest saw Ray, despite his victory, absorb more punishment than in most of his top fights. In fact, interviewed at his hotel, he said that he thought Basilio gave him his toughest battle since he won the title from Jake LaMotta, the bout he calls the hardest.
Ray had planned a different type battle from his last one and he carried the plan into execution to perfection. He boxed beautifully, hooked only when he saw a good opening and rode to victory mostly on stinging jabs. Several times he traded punches in close, but his long left to the face did most of the damage.
RAY’S LEFT HOOKS DECISIVE
A left hook started the downfall of the champion. It landed on the head in the fourth round and brought a discoloration to Carmen’s eye.
The defending champion rushed from his corner in the opening round and immediately began to work on Ray’s body. He continued that for three rounds, all of which I thought he had won. In the third, Ray caught Carmen with a solid left hook that opened a small cut at the side of his nose.
In the fifth, Ray, during an exchange, let go a left that jarred his opponent and added damage to the left eye to the extent of puffing it. Carmen retaliated with several lefts to the body and until bell time, the spectators were treated to plenty of action.
From then on it became apparent that only fortune could keep Basilio in possession of his crown. But he never faltered. He took and handed out punishment, despite the handicap that made him miss often.
Half-blinded but strong, he kept wading in and fighting back while the crowd cheered his gameness. When he did land, Ray was badly hurt and wrestled Carmen against the ropes or in mid-ring.
Ray took some hard knocks in the tenth round, one of Carmen’s best, a round in which he rocked the ring marvel several times.
Robinson came back in the eleventh, however, and took command throughout as he chased Carmen about the ring, jabbing his sore eye frequently and playing a tattoo on the other eye. He was attempting to damage that also.
Thereafter, to the finish, it was all Ray’s. Both tired after the eleventh, but Robinson possessed more than his opponent to score heavily in the closing sessions. Try as he did, however, he couldn’t drop his wounded rival.
Twice in the fifteenth frame he hurt Carmen badly. After Basilio had butted him, for which he was warned by the referee and apologized, Ray cut loose with a barrage and a right to the jaw caused Carmen’s body to quiver. Ray followed with a left and three jolting jabs and Basilio’s knees buckled. But he kept on his feet to fight it out to the final clang of the gong.
The newly crowned king, a man of extreme pride, had his craggy-faced opponent’s left eye in a pitiful state at the end of the bout. The contest between the masterful boxer, one of the greatest of all time, and the plodding, aggressive, tear-in battler from Chittenango, New York, was not as spectacular an affair as their initial encounter, but will take its place in ring history with the great middleweight bouts of the past.