TWIBH: September 23rd, 1957 – Basilio vs. Robinson
The great Sugar Ray Robinson had retired from boxing, had been singing and tap-dancing for three years. He didn’t have much success, and came back to the ring in ’55. He was still in shape though, said in his autobiography he would run five miles a day before a gig, and dance for five hours at night.
In that year of 1955, Robinson goes 6-1, and takes the middleweight championship from Bobo Olson with a second-round knockout. Thinks he should be named Fighter-Of-The-Year, but that title is given to welterweight champion Carmen Basilio. Sugar Ray said later that this was the greatest disappointment of his career.
Basilio had started off the year of 1955 by beating Peter Müller, thus staking his claim as the number one welterweight challenger. On June 10, he knocks out Tony DeMarco in the twelfth round to take the welterweight championship. He fights DeMarco again later that year and knocks him out again.
Basilio recalls the circumstances leading up to his fight with Robinson:
“Well, we were in a position where he was looking for an opponent and I was looking for an opponent so we thought that a Basilio-Robinson fight would be a good thing for the people. So that’s what happened, so we fought each other. They were big world championship fights and I moved up from welterweight into middleweight, to the upper class. One of my great thrills was that I fought him in Yankee Stadium.”
The fight itself is beautiful. Robinson working his jab expertly throughout, but Basilio just keeps pressing, bobbing, weaving, always aggressive. They’re both exhausted but they just keep fighting right to the end of the fifteenth, neither of them going down once. It’s exciting to see the two men taking themselves beyond the limit, working from some weird otherplace of honour and mutual respect. They just never let up.
It was a hard fight to score, because they were both fighting in close for most of it. In the end, the cards read 9-5-1 Basilio, 9-6-1 Robinson, and 8-6-1 Basilio – giving the rough and tumble onion farmer Basilio the middleweight crown.
Conscious of what the public was clamoring for, Robinson and Basilio had a rematch just six months later. In this second fight, Robinson regained his title from Basilio by decision. This fight too would receive “Fight of the Year” honours, and Robinson secured his place in history by becoming the first fighter to win a divisional world title five times.
Robinson is considered by many to be the greatest fighter pound-for-pound of all time. His legacy could serve as instructional to someone like Floyd Mayweather Jr. who, despite never losing a fight, has failed to gain the respect of the public or even many of his fellow members in the boxing community.
It is one thing to have one’s boxing skills held in high esteem; it is another thing to be thought of as a true fighter. A fighter shows up to fight, every time, gives the people a spectacle, puts it on the line for glory, respect. Sugar Ray Robinson suffered losses in his career, including this first match against Basilio. Yet he fought an incredible fight, one that people continue to talk about more than fifty years later. Though it shows as a loss on his record, it is remembered as something more. – David Como