SI Vault
Martin Kane
September 16, 1957
It is Mr. Carmen Basilio's left, which Sugar Ray may find gloved in iron when the two meet at Yankee Stadium for the middleweight championship
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September 16, 1957

The Velvet Hand

It is Mr. Carmen Basilio's left, which Sugar Ray may find gloved in iron when the two meet at Yankee Stadium for the middleweight championship

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"Right here is the one that's going to do the real damage—the left hook digging up into the body, my favorite punch. You've got to work inside with a big man—I'm 5 feet 6� inches, he's six foot, that's a big difference." Basilio despises "head-hunters" who look so spectacularly aggressive and accomplish little.

The hands of Carmen Basilio are long and slender and, except for the lumps, skinned spots and bruises which are the stigmata of his fist-fighting trade, they suggest in no way the popular notion of what a fighter's hands should be like. Welterweight Champion Basilio takes extremely good care of these gentle-looking hands, padding them with foam rubber during training sessions. With them he intends to win the middleweight championship of the world from Sugar Ray Robinson at Yankee Stadium on the night of September 23.

Especially, he points out, with the left hand. Basilio is a hooker. His right hand is good, too, but it serves him primarily as a diversionary force, something to keep the opponent occupied while setting him up for a left hook. He is, furthermore, a body hooker—a truly fine infighter with the cold patience of the professional. He knows that while head shots delight the crowd, competent infighting is most discouraging to the opponent. Blows to the liver are painful, blows to the solar plexus are breathtaking, and a solid punch under the heart can make a flat-footed plodder out of a graceful, light-stepping boxer. Like, for instance, the graceful, light-stepping Sugar Ray.

This promises to be a magnificent fight. It will be a battle of champions, a good little man against a good bigger man and, so far as Carmen Basilio is concerned, a bit of a grudge battle. Sugar Ray once snubbed him. In pre-fight bargaining Sugar Ray forced him to take 5% less than Basilio felt entitled to. Then for 10 days Sugar Ray's histrionics and demands made it appear that the million-dollar fight might be off, after Basilio had spent weeks training for it, after he had passed up two $100,000 fights to get it. Sugar Ray is in for a rough night.

Basilio has been studying movies of Robinson's fights, just as Robinson has been studying Basilio movies. He has seen a few things and he has a plan. The plan will not, however, involve any radical change in his style. Basilio is an infighter, a crowder, a buzz saw, a man who wears his opponents down and outstays them. He is master of the war of attrition.

With this kind of attack Basilio does not, generally speaking, knock out his opponents in the early rounds. Each of his two knockouts of Tony DeMarco came in the 12th round. It was not until his third fight with Johnny Saxton that he-was able to put away the former welterweight champion in the second round. The first fight went 15 rounds, and Basilio lost on a mighty peculiar Chicago decision. The second ended in the ninth with Saxton knocked out.

Only when he has his man worn down with a body attack does Basilio turn to the head. Like most topflight professionals, he has contempt for the head-hunters who look so spectacularly aggressive and accomplish so little.

That will be the pattern of his fight against Sugar Ray Robinson. It is the pattern of a man who is wonderfully patient, even imperturbable, until a day or so before a fight. Then he becomes "mean." He will have something to be mean about in this fight.

It is most likely that a secondary consideration in the mind of Sugar Ray when he mounted his filibuster for a bigger share of theater television proceeds was the fact that such an act would unnerve any ordinary opponent. For nine days there was no certainty that the fight would be held at all. Most fighters would have ranted and fumed. Basilio did nothing of the sort. Announcement that the fight was off—at least temporarily—came to Carmen while he was holding three kings in a poker game at his training camp in Alexandria Bay, New York.

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