Only one thing went according to plan. Despite the fact the fight went on at 7 p.m. to satisfy eastern televiewers, Wrigley Field was nearly full, 22,500 fans paying a record California gate of $236,521.10.
Art was in the ring a full 15 minutes before the main event. He wasn't nervous; there was a process server from Texas hovering around the dressing-room area. Art is being sued for not going through with the fight which ultimately brought him in court on bribery charges.
The crowd had come not in the hopes Aragon could beat Basilio but hoping he could give him a fight. Alas, Aragon, never very good, was just a shell of his former mediocre self. His timing was off. His left hook, which he can deliver only after taking a stance like a batter waiting for a pitch, bounced harmlessly off Basilio's face. And Basilio was relentless. A man who disdains a jab when a roundhouse hook will do, he was belting Aragon to the body with a back-swing as long as Sammy Snead's off the tee, and his fists were sinking wrist-deep in Art's middle. Two girls in row four were wincing with Aragon. "But Art's in shape," ventured one hopefully. The other girl was derisive. "You can't overcome 14 years with 6 weeks of training," she said significantly. In the ring the bell rang and Art paused, blinked and swayed to his corner. He looked at his handlers as though to say, "Well, you got me into this. What now?"
There was no out. Aragon, his back arched like a Gila monster, sought to defuse Basilio's bombs by working inside. This suited Carmen fine. He gave Art no respite until one of the wild cluster of blows Basilio was aiming fell low. Art promptly declared a holiday himself and assumed the duties of the referee, waving Basilio off while he grimaced in a corner. Basilio, unused to a character like Aragon, was under the impression for a minute his opponent had quit. The referee rushed in and, to Aragon's evident lack of enthusiasm, the battle was joined again.
As the rounds went on, Aragon assumed more and more the role of punching bag. His face was torn and bleeding. The girls in row four and, a little farther down, Cheryl Crane, daughter of Lana Turner, couldn't look. "But look at Basilio's face!" cried one. "It's got bumps on it." " Basilio's face was born that way," disillusioned the other.
Occasionally, Aragon lashed out and tried to drive his tormentor off him. But it was useless. Basilio was pitching a shutout. Aragon was just catching it. And he wasn't missing a pitch. Basilio couldn't have hit a bag more accurately. "Yah! Robbie took the fight outta that guy!" jeered one spectator. "I'd a hated to see him before." Joe Louis, at ringside, was one of those who joined in the laugh.
Art went out in the eighth round with neither a whimper nor a bang, just a sense of inescapability. A towel fluttered in the ring but caught on the ring ropes. It didn't matter. Referee Tommy Hart stopped it anyway. Art didn't even permit himself the theatrics of protest but wandered wearily to his corner.
In the dressing room afterward, Basilio explained: "In that last round, I wasn't trying to take him out with a punch. He was cut real bad and he was hurt plenty. I felt kind of sorry for him. Besides he was all elbows then and I didn't want to hurt my hand. He's a tough boy and he's got guts, but he just wasn't as fast as I thought he was."
In his dressing room, the ex-Golden Boy sat relaxed on a table, fully dressed, dark glasses over his cruelly cut eyes. When told what Basilio said, he grinned at the press. "I wasn't as fast as I thought I was," he joked. His trainer, Lee Boren, held forth. "I told Art at the end of the seventh round, I wanted to stop it," he explained. "And he said no." Art looked up, idly curious. "I wonder why," he said wide-eyed.
The reporters laughed. "Actually," quipped Art, "he said, 'Could we stop the fight?' and I said, 'Please do. Be my guest.' " The press laughed again. Did Art think he could go 12 rounds? was the question. "I was all right," shot back Art. "Only I kept wondering why they had let it go 47 rounds." Boren shushed him quickly. "These are eastern writers," he said reproachfully. "Oh, all right, 45 rounds," sighed Art. He added, "Maybe I should stick to welterweights. They don't punch as often."