Carmen Basilio, a genial onion farmer's son with a malevolent left hook who wrestled the world middleweight boxing crown from Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957, has died. He was 85.
Edward Brophy, executive director of the Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York, says Basilio died early Wednesday morning in a Rochester hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
In the 1940's and 50's, boxing was one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and Canastota's Carmen Basilio was one of it's biggest stars. Basilio captured the welterweight title at the War Memorial in Syracuse in 1956. In 1957 he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson for the middleweight title in a match held at Yankee Stadium.
"He was on the front cover of Ring Magazine month after month, front cover of Sports Illustrated, Carmen Basilio gave Canastota a sense of pride," said International Boxing Hall of Fame Executive Director Ed Brophy.
Ross Stagnitti grew up in Canastota and said Basilio's success put the Central New York town on the map. "I remember going to school after he would win a title or regain a title and you felt like you had won a championship and you felt like you were a world title holder," said Stagnitti.
Baseball has Cooperstown, football has Canton and boxing has Canastota thanks to Carmen Basilio. He was in the Boxing Hall of Fame's first class and over the past twenty five years, the sport's biggest stars have come through Basilio's hometown. Carmen Basilio was known as one of the sport's great ambassadors and his statue overlooks one side of the hall.
Those who knew him say much of Basilio's appeal came from the fact he was a blue collar fighter - and he loved the people of Canastota as much as they loved him.
"He probably had all kinds of opportunities to do endorsements and he probably was being pulled in ten different directions by the media but he remembered Canastota and came back for our little league banquet in 1957," said Stagnitti.
Basilio's boyhood home was declared a historic site earlier this year.
Friends and fans say Basilio's legacy will live on and he will never be forgotten in his hometown of Canastota.
The flags at the International Boxing Hall of Fame are currently flying at half-staff in memory of Basilio.
Calling hours for Basilio are scheduled, the Rochester Democrat and Chroniclereports, from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Paul Harris Funeral Home in Rochester, NY 14617. His funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at Christ the King church.