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Everyone but Carmen Basilio gets a crack at the welterweight title

Two of my heroes are Joe Louis and Joe E. Lewis, a couple of champions who know how to set you up and move in and murder you, the former with quicker-than-the-eye combination punches, the latter with smart, jabbing lines, satirical songs and a mischievous elegance that earns him my vote on the first ballot in the comedians' Hall of Fame.

This may seem a roundabout way of getting to the main item on our agenda, the forthcoming Saxton-DeMarco welterweight title fight. But bear with us, for both Joes cast their shadows over the Palermo-Sam Silverman thing that is coming up in Boston, April 1. April 1 is, of course, April Fool's Day, which just goes to show that Philadelphia's Blinky and Boston's Sam have a sense of humor. In this case the joke is on Carmen Basilio, the perennial No. 1 welterweight challenger who lost an eyelash title fight decision to Kid Gavilan a year and a half ago and has been doing a lot of road work ever since, chasing first Gavilan and then his successor, the crowned unchampion, Johnny Saxton. Saxton, you may remember, won the title from Gavilan in Blinky's home town last fall in the smelliest fight since a couple of grapplers wrestled in the ring in You Asked For It.

Joe Louis, unlike Blinky and his eight-armed—forgive the word—champion, never walked away from a challenger. Unlike Johnny and practically every heavyweight champion including John L. Sullivan, the Bomber took on the best heavyweights alive between 1934 and 1951. Call him a champion and you have to find another word for Saxton. This is some indication of what hoods like Palermo are doing to our cruel and noble sport. A Palermo champion leads you out of the world of sport and into the hairsplitting netherworld of semantics.

As for Joe E. Lewis' right to a paragraph or two in a boxing column, I submit that he described the Gavilan-to-Saxton-to-DeMarco runaround of Basilio with all the humor of a Red Smith and all the eloquence of a Jimmy Cannon in a certain ballad with which he used to regale the last show customers at the Copacabana. It concerns the unhappy lot of a prospective husband whose efforts to wed the lady of his choice are hopelessly thwarted by the crowding in of all sorts of visitors from the butcher to the baker to his uncle who plays the horses at Jamaica.

The butcher, in this case, would be Gavilan, on the basis of what he does to the King's English rather than the King's men. Saxton will do nicely for the baker, a fellow who kneads the dough so desperately that Referee Abe Simon can't pry him loose from the stuff. The uncle who plays the horses at Jamaica could be Blinky, although booking the numbers might put him a little more in character.


Boxing fans from San Ysidro, Calif. to Fort Kent, Maine will fill in the name of the groom, Carmen Basilio, who to my mind hasn't lost a fight since the one to Billy Graham nearly three years ago. In 1953 he was uncouth enough to knock Kid Gavilan off his feet and nearly off his throne. The commissioners, whose word is as good as their word, decreed that Gavilan should meet the upstate (N.Y.) left-hooker within six months—another six months—and another. Dissolve through, as we say in the movies, and who's in the ring with the fading mambo dancer? The fifth-ranking Saxton, clearly entitled to the honor by virtue of a draw with Johnny Lombardo, who himself had qualified for Saxton by losing six of his last nine. Before Lombardo, Saxton had gone into the record books as a winner over Johnny Brat-ton, in another Donnytrickle that gave off a heady perfume of dead fish.

But don't go away, fight fans, your interests were being protected. The commissioners were going to see to it that Saxton defended against Basilio within six months or forfeit his title.

So what could be more logical (for this business) than that Johnny Saxton, inspired by his nontitle defeat at the hands of Ronnie Delaney, meet fourth-ranking Tony DeMarco in Chowder Town this April Fool's Day?

Basilio celebrates his 28th birthday the following day and is beginning to look a little old for a groom after being left waiting at the church since September 18, 1953. As usual he has been promised a title bout with the Saxton-DeMarco winner on his home ground, Syracuse, on April 29. Norman Rothschild, the youthful, personable and trusting promoter up there, says, "We have contracts on file with the New York State Athletic Commission calling for Basilio to meet whoever is the welterweight champion on that date."

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Boxing Commission has its own contracts on the record, calling for a return Saxton-DeMarco match within 90 days.

Harry (short for harried) Markson, the pipe-smoking, book-reading Union College graduate who is the managing director of the IBC really had his heart set on a Saxton-Basilio match. It used to be protocol to stab you in the back in the boxing business. There seems to be a new trend toward the frontal assault. Quoth Markson, "As Joseph Welch, the Boston attorney has said, 'I can stand one stab in the heart a day.' Lamar [Mass. Boxing Commissioner] has stabbed me in the heart this day. From a Harvard man yet."

As Joe E. Lewis' parable would put it, the church is just too crowded. The brother-in-law from Toledo got in, a guy with a misfit tuxedo got in—but the groom...

Tony DeMarco is a pretty fair fighter, but Basilio has been all dressed up and no place to go for a long time. April Fool's night in Bean Town, Tony and his soft-shoe partner will be a couple of guys in misfit tuxedos.

P.S. APPPFF (Association for the Protection of the Poor Put-upon Fight Fan) arise! You have nothing to lose but your patience.


"What would he good in a restaurant owned by a prize fighter?"



Bob Fitzsimmons knocked out Jim Corbett and won the world heavyweight boxing championship at Carson City, Nev., 58 years ago this week. Floored in the sixth round, Fitz got up and carried the fight to Corbett. In the eighth he landed a hard left to the stomach which turned the tide of battle. In the 14th round the same punch knocked Corbett out and was immortalized by Sportswriter Bob Davis as the "solar plexus" blow.