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Prizefighters are not characters in a play, yet the public demands a theatrical curtain for its heroes. Type-cast, they hang around for one more exit line, the one that will top the last or make up for the missed cue.
As Act I of Carmen Descending opens, we find Carmen Basilio symbolically fiddling with a roll of Life Savers in his hotel suite. It is several hours before he is to fight Gaspar Ortega at Madison Square Garden and he is diligently pursuing the role of the prizefighter who cannot make up his mind. Four of his hunting buddies, down from upstate New York for the fight, troop sheepishly in and out of the bedroom like bewildered extras. Basilio is 33 years old, has been welterweight and middleweight champion; during the last two years he has had but two fights and, with obviously diminished talents, lost both of them. He is pondering retirement as a visitor enters.
Visitor: You seemed to be horsing around at the weighin this morning. Has your attitude toward fighting changed over the years?
Basilio: You get older; you get mellow. I find out that it's easier to relax. This way you're able to save energy. You learn all these things. That's experience.
Visitor: Do you still enjoy fighting?
Basilio (moody): It's a source of endeavor. I haven't found any other source of endeavor. When I quit it's going to be like saying goodby to an old friend. It hurts to get old.
Visitor: Looking back, are you content that you went into boxing?
Basilio: I was nothing before I was a boxer. Boxing made me. Anyone in my position who would knock boxing would be stupid, an ingrate. I don't enjoy getting hurt, waking up with a puffed eye and pain, stiff all over. But you have to take the bitter with the sweet. That's the bitter. The sweet is when guys recognize you on the street, say hello champ, know who you are. It will always be sweet for me. I don't say this to be egotistical but they'll always remember me and say hello. But if you can't take the bitter, you don't deserve the sweet.
Visitor: What do you think about the fight with Ortega?
Basilio: It isn't going to be easy. I'll have to fight tonight. But the only thing that's going to lose this fight for me is running out of petrol. If I don't I'll lick him. I'll take the first six rounds. I might dump him in the first round. I know I'm talking awful porky. That son of a bitch—that's a figure of speech; he's not a son of a bitch—will try to run but he don't know how to run.