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Original Issue


A jeer for Saxton and a tear for Graham

Despite the hubbub surrounding him after his On the Waterfront won the Academy Award, SI's boxing writer took time to consider a new and an old situation in the welterweight division:

The captains and the kings depart, an old sportswriter called Kipling once put it. Last Friday night a welterweight king who didn't deserve the crown and an old beauty of a welterweight who once deserved it and got dished out of it both departed on the short end. We mean Johnny Saxton, who got run over by a small truck named Tony DeMarco in Boston; and Billy Graham, the old-school gentleman boxer who mastered every trick of his trade except the final one which seems most difficult of all—knowing when to quit.


The juxtaposition of the DeMarco-Saxton and the Graham-Vejar bouts last Friday night, the former an untelevised financial wash-out for the world's welterweight title, the latter a regular IBC-TV offering from Syracuse, struck me as a tableau of the welterweight trend. Put the series of Gavilan-Graham fights alongside the DeMarco-Saxton and you have a measuring stick for the slump in first-class talent that elevates strong club fighters into contenders and champions in the present bear market.

It is more than nostalgia for the late 40s that convinces me that a real smart, shifting, feinting, jabbing, punch-and-get-away boxer like Graham or the spirited, flurrying Gavilan would have lapped the strong, plodding, two-fisted but ungifted Boston Italian who relieved Johnny Saxton of his tainted laurels the other evening.

Just the same, we should be grateful to Tony DeMarco for clearing the air. Johnny Saxton had about as much right to be the welterweight champion of the world as mentor Blinky Palermo has to be mayor of Philadelphia. (An underworld assistant mayor is about the end of the line for Blink.) Carmen Basilio, The Canastota Express, was sidetracked a couple of times in order that Blinky and his toothless tiger could enjoy a shot at the aging Gavilan's crown and then pick up $40,000 for defending the tarnished diadem against the third-ranking DeMarco. Rumors were rife as cod in Boston that plans for a Saxton-DeMarco rematch would leave Basilio where he is usually to be found—on the outside looking in. But apparently Blinky Palermo was so touched by the gesture of Boxing Commissioner Henry Lamar (Harvard?) in granting him a license—a privilege denied him by New York's middle-brow City College commissioners—that he immediately began to make like a Harvard man. In his new role of gentleman, scholar and sportsman, he waived Saxton's rights to a return match so that DeMarco would be free to meet the legitimate contender, Basilio.

The APPPFF herewith welcomes to its ranks the philanthropist and humanitarian, Mr. Palermo. In fact, we may have to change our name to the Association for the Protection of the Poor Put-upon Fight Fan and Palermo. A promising Palermo heavyweight called Clarence Henry got a detached retina and a haul-down to headquarters for monkeying around with the Giardello-Honest Bobby Jones fight. Another of Blinky's rated heavyweights got himself caught in a revolving door named Hurricane Jackson. And now Saxton. Before we start getting up a collection though, it's comforting to remember that Blinky still has a few little unmentionable things going for him in Philadelphia. Even if he is persona grata at Harvard.

The new welterweight champion who goes by the square handle of Leonard Liotta is a squat, swarthy popular young man who likes to fight and—eschewing finesse, as they say in Cambridge—comes at you with both hands. That sounds something like Basilio, and if they really meet in Syracuse in June it could be quite a go.


So long live the king, at least until he tangles with Carmen. And as for Billy Graham, who beat Basilio easily in August of 1952, Billy, it's time to quit with honor. You'll be 33 this September. You've got your looks, your brains and a nice family, and you've given a fresh polish to that old saw about being a "credit to the game." There was a night four years ago when you were the classiest welterweight in the world but you were sound where Gavilan was flashy, and the judges went for flash. A Billy Graham who can't lick a Chris Christensen, a Ramon Fuentes or even a Chico Vejar is a hapless impersonator of the real Billy Graham who knew the secret of the old-time skills.


"You're leaning too far to the left!...Bend your knees more!...Don't gel so close to the fellow on your right!"