It is the contention of Angelo Dundee, who works Carmen Basilio's corner, that Carmen could beat Paul Pender in a 100-yard foot race. It is Carmen's immoderate boast that he can run the 100 in between nine and 10 seconds: the world's record is 9.3. Be that as it may, Basilio unfortunately chose to fight Pender instead, and last Saturday in the Boston Garden he was sorely beaten.
It was Basilio's contention before the fight that he could make up for time's erosions—he is 34—with cleverness. "I have devised a system," he said somewhat playfully, "to defend successfully against Pender. What I am going to do will foul up his expectations to the maximum, but I just don't want to overelaborate."
"He won't fire aimlessly shots," Dundee gratuitously explained.
"Sometimes fighters sound like they've been educated," Carmen said, grinning. "It's part of the script for them to talk like this—"duh, duh, duh.' I talk too much sometimes; at least that's what my wife keeps saying, 'Keep your big mouth shut!' Is that libelous?"
Basilio said he could always box a little, but, in his heyday, would rather fight. He attributes his cleverness to his Roman heritage: Carmen's father was born in Rome and Romans consider themselves a sophisticated lot. By way of illustration, Carmen tells a little joke. A Roman dog came upon a Sicilian dog carrying a very juicy bone. The Roman dog flattered the Sicilian and sweetly asked him where he came from. "Sicilia," the dog shouted proudly, and, of course, dropped the bone. The Roman dog picked it up. The Sicilian sourly asked him where he came from. "R-r-r-roma," the Roman dog growled deep in his throat, teeth firmly clenched about the bone.
Alas, the Boston Garden is neither the Forum nor a café on the Via Veneto, where wit, oratory and cunning may carry the day. Floyd Patterson has said: "When you get in that ring it's not a spelling contest. It's a battle." Basilio, in his great hours, was nothing but a battler, and it was again as a battler that he had his most successful minutes Saturday night.
Saturday was gray and foul, a good day for fighting, even murder. Johnny Buckley, a bitter old man who used to manage Pender, was going around muttering that he would kill Paul if he could get away with it. Pender had recently split with Buckley and manages himself. "Managers just aren't mentally equipped," says Paul, who gives considerable evidence that he is. "The game has gone by them." Until early Saturday afternoon Basilio managed himself, too. Then, John DeJohn and Joe Netro, banned for life in New York, received their licenses from the Massachusetts commission. Neither was in Carmen's corner, however. DeJohn sat on a suitcase directly below it, as though the commission might at any moment change its mind and he'd have to blow town.
Losses and gains
There were omens that afternoon, too. Basilio lost a dime in a pool at the weighin, predicting he would weigh '56¾. He weighed, surprisingly, 159. But Pender, even more astonishingly, was a pound and a quarter over the 160-pound limit for a middleweight championship fight. It took an hour and 25 minutes of running in place in a raincoat with a towel wrapped about his neck and four weighins before Paul made the weight. "What did you have for breakfast?" he was asked. "Too much," said Paul.
Eight hours later Paul had too much for Carmen. In the first round, however, he seemed a little listless and out of joint; his arms waved like seaweed in the tide. It was evident that it was Basilio's intention to box him from a crouch until a proper opening presented itself. To this end, Basilio flopped up his foolish jab, which starts with a little pat on his left hip; it is, he admits, "crazy." The second round started languidly. There was no infighting to speak of, as Referee Eddie Bradley broke the fighters with almost excessive haste. (Bradley was, it turned out later, a man of uncommon compassion.) Suddenly Basilio flashed out a long, powerful right which caught Pender behind his ear. It thoroughly stunned Pender, and Basilio drove Paul against the ropes with a succession of hooks. Although Pender fought out of trouble, a few more accurate hits there might have decided matters differently. In the third, Pender began jabbing with frequency and accuracy. Basilio, crouching so low his head was at times below his waist, responded fitfully. Basilio's corner was whooping it up. Reminded that Pender was scoring more points than Basilio with his punches, Dundee retorted: "You go swimming, you get wet." But Basilio was all but drowning.
'Dead, dead, dead'
Basilio lost the third round and though he won the fourth, he hurt his left shoulder, a recurrent injury, and was unable to throw any proper hooks for the remainder of the fight. "If I had my hook I could have fooled him," he said later. "But you need two arms to fool someone. You can't feint with one hand. My arm was dead, dead, dead." From that round on, with the exception of the 11th which I scored for Basilio, and the 12th, which I called even, Basilio was finished.
In the fifth, Pender began to get his hook working, and Carmen started to bleed from the nose; unhappily, he never picks off a punch except with his face. "Get under, get under," Carmen's corner kept yelling to him. But when Basilio crouched he neglected, for the most part, to weave, and wasn't, besides, in an advantageous position to punch. Pender became more confident, moving with lightness, breaking off his short, precise, almost finicky hooks on Carmen's barren face. "From the fifth round on, I started to breeze," Paul said.
In the 12th, Carmen looked at the clock beseechingly when there was a minute still to go. In the 13th, Basilio's face was a broken mask of tragedy. A series of combinations staggered him; he returned them doughtily but a right sent him down, a left hook contributing to his descent. He got up fairly promptly and started to wander, disassociated, toward the ropes, lost his balance and fell again. Bradley came over and—seemingly dismayed at the bloody, beaten object at his feet—pulled Basilio up, which is, of course, prohibited by the rules. It was only the second time in a proud career spanning 13 years, 78 fights and two championships that Basilio had been down.
Carmen survived the 14th, but his corner was in an uproar. "Is he all right?" DeJohn asked desperately. "He talks all right," Dundee said and then, turning to the ring, shouted, "Get down! Way down! Get down!" But Basilio was knocked off his feet in the furious 15th, this time from a left hook. He got up and manfully returned the fire but was almost knocked down twice again, once keeping himself up by grabbing Pender, who inadvertently supported him under the arms. He was teetering at the bell.
The decision was overwhelmingly in favor of Pender—perhaps a trifle too much. But then it was Boston, the home of the home-town decision as well as the cod. There was talk of Patterson defending in Boston in the future. "He better bring along three American officials," someone cracked.
When asked why he made such an all-out assault in the last round when it was obvious he had the fight won, Pender replied: "So I got careless. I like to be exciting, give the people a run for their money." Pender, who got a reputation for extreme caution in his two wins over Sugar Ray Robinson, is, it seems, turning into the kind of slugger he once criticized. His new style will undoubtedly swell his purses, however, and he is relentless in his search for money. "My ambition," he says, "is to make money. My career is a business proposition." His next proposition is a return match with Terry Downes in London on July 3. As for Gene Fullmer, who is middleweight champion of all the world except New York, Massachusetts and Europe, Pender said cockily in his dressing room: "I may give him a shot sooner or later." He wore, incongruously, nothing but a bed sheet, and reminded one of that celebrated noncombatant, Gandhi.
Good pay, bad beating
Basilio looked a patriotic mess in his dressing room—red, white and blue. "It don't pay to get old, do it," he said. Someone told him that, at least, he had had a good pay day; he earned some $40,000. "I think I got underpaid," he said, with ironic accuracy. Someone else said it had been, at least, a good fight. "I didn't win," said Carmen. "I think it was lousy." A reporter told him that it was one of his best fights. It was, perhaps, a genuine comment or a shy, awkward expression of condolence. But it is just this kind of flattery, mendacity, what have you, that keeps guys like Carmen in the parade, stumbling on. Stumbling? Basilio thought he had been knocked down only once! And he was the one, when asked by Senator Dirksen last year whether fighting was a sport or a business, who answered proudly: "A profession." It was a courageous, gallant effort, yes, but not a good fight for Carmen. It was Bosquet, the French general, who said as he watched from a height the foolhardy but immeasurably brave charge of the Light Brigade, "It is magnificent, but it is not war."
BLOODY BASILIO, HALFWAY THROUGH ROPES, IS HELPED TO FEET BY REFEREE BRADLEY