The record number of straight passes in a dice game, according to Historian John Scarne, is 39, set by a Texas lady at San Juan's Caribe Hilton Hotel casino on January 18, 1952. The odds against the feat are 956,211,843,725 to 1. (Crapshooters will be appalled to learn that she netted a mere $1,600.)
There is luck in prizefighting, but a principal factor is the quality of the opposition. The odds, therefore, are 9 to 5 that Sugar Ray Robinson will not make his fourth straight successful pass at rewinning the middleweight championship, which would be a bit of a record all its own. Though Robinson's punch has, on occasion, upset the odds, the quality of his opposition on the night of March 25 at Chicago Stadium will be Carmen Basilio, a little man but young and tough, a stouter defender than Robinson has recently met.
Robinson's previous rewinnings of the title were against Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson and Gene Fullmer. Since to be cynical is to be rated a knowing one in boxing, Sugar Ray's reputation as a miracle-worker has benefited by a common wise guy belief that he sometimes has lost the title deliberately in order to take advantage of a rematch purse and betting odds. Let us say fie on such notions, which are belied by the pictures on the next few pages. They show Ray was trying against Basilio in their first fight.
The victories cited have been overrated, it seems here, as a gauge to what will happen against Basilio. The second Turpin fight was six years ago, when Sugar Ray was much closer to the prime of his fighting life than he is today. He beat Olson every time they met, which was four times. When he fought Fullmer the second time he took advantage of a country boy's overconfidence.
But Sugar Ray is now far past his prime—he is officially 37 years old. He will be fighting a Basilio who has already beaten him, not an Olson who never could beat him. He will be fighting a man who has proved he can take the Robinson punch, as Fullmer could not.
That is the common sense of it. What Robinson has going for him in this fight is largely superstition ( Chicago has been a "lucky" town for him, "unlucky" for Basilio) and the memory of what he used to be. Even the superstition doesn't quite stand up for Robinson, though he first won the middleweight title in Chicago against Jake LaMotta, knocked out Rocky Graziano there and beat Olson and Fullmer there. But Chicago luck did him no good against Tiger Jones, who almost wrecked his comeback campaign with a 10-round victory three years ago and never could get a rematch.
The memory of what Robinson used to be returns to his muscles and reflexes now and then in a big fight, as it did last September when Basilio beat him in 15 rounds. There were moments in the fight, and not a few of them, when the Sugar Ray of the glory days seemed born again. But the renascence was in each case much too brief, and that is largely how he lost the fight. Basilio fought full three-minute rounds, never looked brilliant but always looked tough. Robinson fought in flurries.
The flurries were just magnificent, though. With a year or two more of youth on his side, and a year or two less of games and gaiety, Robinson might well have kept his title. At least a couple of his punches were good enough to stagger Basilio.
Those punches, or more like them, are Robinson's big hope. He may rely also on a tendency of Chicago officials to score more heavily on a good defensive showing than is customary elsewhere in the country. He has proved against Fullmer and Basilio that his dancing legs can carry him through 15 rounds without trouble, provided he doesn't use them too much in pursuit of his man.
Well, he won't have to pursue little Carmen. So it could go the distance again.