The Petulant Pretender (diary entry)

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Gene Fullmer versus Carmen Basilio NBA World Middleweight Championship 29.06.1960

Gene Fullmer might have been a busy defending world champion since he stopped Carmen Basilio in round 14 of their clash for the forcibly vacated NBA version of the title with his two 15 round wars against Ellsworth Webb and Joey Giardello, but Carmen Basilio hadn’t fought anyone. He seemed to be in a state of semi-retirement and many would remark about how he had become soured to the sport. The disputes with Sugar Ray Robinson over their proposed rubber match for the undisputed title might have set the scene. His loss to Fullmer had frustrated him. This was also the year that had seen Basilio make a bitter and impassioned speech at the US Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly in boxing. During the hearing Basilio had explained how Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo’s lieutenant, Gabriele Genovese, cousin to the infamous mafia don, Vito Genovese, had been his unofficial manager. Genovese had been convicted the previous year for being an unlicensed boxing manager. Evidence was submitted that Basilio’s two real managers had been forced to pay Genovese $39,334.41 and approximately $25,000 respectively for his welterweight and middleweight title matches. He called for there to be a mass cleaning operation on professional boxing.

However, what commentators felt was mainly aggravating Basilio, the only man to be involved in five Fights of the Year in the row and once winning Fighter of the Year, was that he had become a middleweight when his natural fighting division was welterweight. Lured by a big pay-cheque he gone up a weight category and successfully challenged the great Sugar Ray Robinson for the middleweight belt. After winning it, Robinson had beaten him in the rematch and then Fullmer had beaten him in the aforementioned vacant title shot. Despite early stoppages of lightweight Art Aragon and middleweight Arley Seifer, Basilio seemed out of place now. He had bulked up to compete in the middleweights but many commentators believed he was stuck there and couldn’t get back into his more natural welterweight division.

Regardless of the reasons, Basilio brought a lot of anger to the match and Gene Fullmer, now an elder in the Mormon Church, had yet another very embittered rival to face on fight night.

However, Basilio had a fight plan. He believed his previous defeat was down to a tactical error. Both men were swarmers in style but different in their execution. Fullmer was very unorthodox with his hammerfist jabs, arcing overhand right and scything body hooks. He also carried with him more size than Basilio and a slugger’s power. Basilio was not without his own peculiarities. Like Sandy Saddler, Joey Giardello and many others, was naturally left-handed but fought from an orthodox stance (something he had adopted only during his adult career). However, he was more of a pure swarmer like Jake LaMotta and relied a lot on his courage. Last time, he figured, he had brought the fight to Fullmer and that had been a mistake. This time the Upstate Onion Farmer was going to pull back and allow the larger man to mount his trademark rushes. At this point Basilio would play the role of switch-hitter, changing back to his childhood southpaw stance and hit him his best punch, the left hook. This was same technique he’d used to stop Tony DeMarco and Johnny Saxton as well as shake up the great Kid Gavilan. He would spring his trap in round 2.

Basilio weighed in at 157 lbs to Gene Fullmer’s 159 lbs.

Round 1 – This was a fairly uneventful warm-up round.

Round 2 – Basilio timed Fullmer’s rush and let fly from his classic crouch. The hooks hit their target but seemed to have no effect on Fullmer. And so his frustration began to rise.

Round 3 – Basilio was cautioned for a low blow. He apparently told the referee to “Go to Hell!”

Round 5 – When Fullmer’s manager, Merv Jenson, signaled “Seven-two”, Basilio apparently broke off the fight to shout back “Six-two”.

Round 8 – Whilst distracted by ringside reporters, Basilio was caught with a left hook to the chin. Despite being a clean knockdown, the infuriated Basilio performed a backward roll to his feet and convinced the referee to rule it a slip.

Round 9 – Again Basilio had it in for Jenson when he heard him shout “Watch the low blows” he shouted back “Watch these!”

Round 10 – Basilio was clearly in trouble now and fighting a losing war against Fullmer. Fullmer was easily picking his shots now.

Round 11  – Fullmer was dominating again with Basilio now doing very little to prove otherwise.

Round 12 – Basilio looked hopeless. He wasn’t so much as trying to wade into Fullmer as hold on for dear life, his head bowed low and his arms around the champion’s waist whilst he received body shot after body shot. The referee divided them for the last time and stopped the fight, enraging the challenger who he threatened.

The New York Time reported on the fight – “When the referee intervened Basilio screamed, ‘What do you mean? What are you talking about?’ Then cocking his fist, he said to the referee, ‘I’ll give you one.’ Two policeman entered the ring and led Basilio to his corner still protesting.”

Carmen Basilio wouldn’t fight again until next year and he would never face Gene Fullmer again. His next opponent would be in January when he would go up against welterweight/light middleweight fighter, Gasper “Indio” Ortega, considered one of Mexico’s greatest welterweights, who had his eyes on the world welterweight title.

Gene Fullmer would fight one more time in 1960 and put his NBA title on the line against the man who had the title stripped from him: Sugar Ray Robinson.

Next lesson will continue the trajectory of Sonny Liston’s power jab as comes up against Roy Harris and Eddie Machen.



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