It is the contention of Angelo Dundee, who works Carmen Basilio's corner, that Carmen could beat Paul Pender in a 100-yard foot race. It is Carmen's immoderate boast that he can run the 100 in between nine and 10 seconds: the world's record is 9.3. Be that as it may, Basilio unfortunately chose to fight Pender instead, and last Saturday in the Boston Garden he was sorely beaten.
It was Basilio's contention before the fight that he could make up for time's erosions—he is 34—with cleverness. "I have devised a system," he said somewhat playfully, "to defend successfully against Pender. What I am going to do will foul up his expectations to the maximum, but I just don't want to overelaborate."
"He won't fire aimlessly shots," Dundee gratuitously explained.
"Sometimes fighters sound like they've been educated," Carmen said, grinning. "It's part of the script for them to talk like this—"duh, duh, duh.' I talk too much sometimes; at least that's what my wife keeps saying, 'Keep your big mouth shut!' Is that libelous?"
Basilio said he could always box a little, but, in his heyday, would rather fight. He attributes his cleverness to his Roman heritage: Carmen's father was born in Rome and Romans consider themselves a sophisticated lot. By way of illustration, Carmen tells a little joke. A Roman dog came upon a Sicilian dog carrying a very juicy bone. The Roman dog flattered the Sicilian and sweetly asked him where he came from. "Sicilia," the dog shouted proudly, and, of course, dropped the bone. The Roman dog picked it up. The Sicilian sourly asked him where he came from. "R-r-r-roma," the Roman dog growled deep in his throat, teeth firmly clenched about the bone.
Alas, the Boston Garden is neither the Forum nor a caf� on the Via Veneto, where wit, oratory and cunning may carry the day. Floyd Patterson has said: "When you get in that ring it's not a spelling contest. It's a battle." Basilio, in his great hours, was nothing but a battler, and it was again as a battler that he had his most successful minutes Saturday night.
Saturday was gray and foul, a good day for fighting, even murder. Johnny Buckley, a bitter old man who used to manage Pender, was going around muttering that he would kill Paul if he could get away with it. Pender had recently split with Buckley and manages himself. "Managers just aren't mentally equipped," says Paul, who gives considerable evidence that he is. "The game has gone by them." Until early Saturday afternoon Basilio managed himself, too. Then, John DeJohn and Joe Netro, banned for life in New York, received their licenses from the Massachusetts commission. Neither was in Carmen's corner, however. DeJohn sat on a suitcase directly below it, as though the commission might at any moment change its mind and he'd have to blow town.
Losses and gains
There were omens that afternoon, too. Basilio lost a dime in a pool at the weighin, predicting he would weigh '56�. He weighed, surprisingly, 159. But Pender, even more astonishingly, was a pound and a quarter over the 160-pound limit for a middleweight championship fight. It took an hour and 25 minutes of running in place in a raincoat with a towel wrapped about his neck and four weighins before Paul made the weight. "What did you have for breakfast?" he was asked. "Too much," said Paul.
Eight hours later Paul had too much for Carmen. In the first round, however, he seemed a little listless and out of joint; his arms waved like seaweed in the tide. It was evident that it was Basilio's intention to box him from a crouch until a proper opening presented itself. To this end, Basilio flopped up his foolish jab, which starts with a little pat on his left hip; it is, he admits, "crazy." The second round started languidly. There was no infighting to speak of, as Referee Eddie Bradley broke the fighters with almost excessive haste. (Bradley was, it turned out later, a man of uncommon compassion.) Suddenly Basilio flashed out a long, powerful right which caught Pender behind his ear. It thoroughly stunned Pender, and Basilio drove Paul against the ropes with a succession of hooks. Although Pender fought out of trouble, a few more accurate hits there might have decided matters differently. In the third, Pender began jabbing with frequency and accuracy. Basilio, crouching so low his head was at times below his waist, responded fitfully. Basilio's corner was whooping it up. Reminded that Pender was scoring more points than Basilio with his punches, Dundee retorted: "You go swimming, you get wet." But Basilio was all but drowning.