The hound-dog who couldn't catch a rabbit in Chicago clobbered him in Syracuse, thus restoring balance and equity to boxing's welterweight division, where for a time it had been made to appear that a rabbit can lick his weight in hound-dogs.
Master of hounds on this occasion was Julius Helfand, New York's boxing commission chairman, who had suspended a principle so that Hound Carmen Basilio might have a decent chance to regain his championship from Rabbit Johnny Saxton, who is managed by Warrener Blinky Palermo. In New York, Blinky is regarded as a poacher, unworthy of a license. But, even so, he gets along just fine wherever he goes.
In Chicago there had been adroit running by Saxton and maladroit scoring by officials, but in Syracuse there was no question of justice to be raised. Basilio won on a technical knockout in the ninth round, and it was technical only because the referee intervened to save Saxton from an even more terrible pounding than he had already endured, one which, in two or three more punches at most, would have sent him senseless to the canvas.
Whether out of pride, as Saxton said, or out of mistaken notions of strategy, as Palermo said, Johnny decided to stand and fight for the first two rounds, the first of which was very close, the second of which he won clearly. By the third round, having suffered some appalling body blows, Saxton was a mite more cautious, and by the fourth he had reverted to type, jabbing and backing up in his natural style. But the body blows had worked havoe. His reflexes were slowed, his jab had lost its sting and his attempts to move away from Basilio's pounding fists were feckless. He tried to lean far forward, so that his belly would be hard to reach, Basilio hit him on the head. He tried to run, and his legs no longer worked.
A Basilio right to the mouth in the seventh round opened up a slit, long and deep, in Saxton's upper lip. It was, said Whitey Bimstein, the venerable cut man, the worst he ever had seen. Most fighters would have concentrated on the cut thereafter, but Basilio figured otherwise. "Stay away from the cut," he told himself. "He'll be protecting it." He slammed lefts to Saxton's head, rights to his body.
By the eighth round, in which Saxton could deliver but one feeble punch, a left to the head, it was clearly over, and in the ninth it ended. Basilio, weeping hysterically, ran around the ring, dropped to one knee and prayed, rose again and dashed across the ring to thank Helfand.
He could thank himself, too. He had trained rigorously since May and was, quite possibly, in the peak condition of his career despite his 29 years and hard, enervating fights with Saxton, Tony DeMarco and influenza. Now he rests until the hunting season, when he takes up his favorite sport behind a pack of fine, rabbit-chasing beagles.
There is $50,000 in escrow to guarantee a return match, and this, very likely, will take place in January, but not, you may be sure, in Chicago. And that ought to be enough of that. The case is amply proved. Basilio is today the welterweight champion of the world beyond dispute.
IN THE FINAL SECONDS OF HIS CHAMPIONSHIP, JOHNNY SAXTON BOWS, HOPE GONE, AWAITING CARMEN BASILIO'S RIGHT-HAND SMASH