Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio – And Two Of The Most Savage Middleweight Title Fights In History

By James Slater - 03/25/2023 - Comments

Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio, kings of the ring both, ended up all-even at 1-1; their two savage, give too much wars seeing both legends go to a place precious few fighters have ever had to go to and ever will have to go to.

Fight-one took place at Yankee Stadium, New York, this on September 23rd of 1957. Basilio won a punishing 15 round split decision.

Fight-two took place at Chicago Stadium, Chicago, this on March 25th of 1958. Robinson won a damaging 15 round split decision.

There never was a rubber-match. Two great yet brutal fights were enough.

Basilio had his nickname, that of “The Onion Farmer.” And Robinson had his, far more celebrated nickname, that of “Sugar.” Together, these two immortals fought 30 magical, sizzling, stunning rounds of boxing.

Both men won the world welterweight crown – Robinson by defeating Tommy Bell, Basilio by beating Tony DeMarco. Both maestros had their up and downs; losing titles, regaining them, forging their respective legend. And then they fought each other.

It was back in September of 1957 when Basilio, a two-time welterweight champ (having lost the crown to Johnny Saxton, only to get his revenge in the sequel), moved up to challenge Robinson for the world middleweight championship. Basilio was offended by the way Robinson controlled things at the negotiating table; the respective paydays of the two sluggers especially.

Robinson was notorious by this celebrated stage of his career for threatening to pull out of a fight if things were not just to his liking (sound familiar??). And Sugar Ray would often demand more money ahead of a fight, and then threaten to withdraw his services if his demands were not met. “He’s an arrogant and greedy man,” the humble onion farmer once said of Robinson (again, sound familiar??.

Yet when these two waged war in the ring, there was nothing but mutual respect; that and a ton of adulation from the viewing fans. In short, Basilio and Robinson took each other to another place, an horrific place; the hell room only the fighters with the biggest hearts are ever familiar with.

Fight-one was, some say, the greatest fight ever, regardless of weight. Basilio presented relentless pressure, his stamina, his willingness to take as well as give, his toughness and heart something to behold. Robinson boxed beautifully, he jabbed, he landed some serious hurt, he took everything and anything that came his way, and he was just as unwilling as his challenger was when it came to giving in. In the end, Basilio won via scores of 9-5-1 Basilio, 8-6-1 Basilio, and 9-6-1 Robinson.

Both men were exhausted at the end, maybe even before then. Neither great had much time to decide what was next. The rematch came just six months later, and this time the war was even more brutal and damaging, even more savage, with Robinson battering Basilio’s eye shut and then showing zero mercy in zeroing in on the damage. The fight would have been stopped something like five or six times over had it been taking place today.

It was on this day 65 years ago when Robinson, an amazing 142-6-2, won the middleweight crown a fifth time. It would have been the perfect way for the 37 year old to call it a career. The split decision win – scores being 72-64 Robinson, 71-64 Robinson, and 69-66 Basilio – might have taken as much out of Robinson as it did Basilio. Maybe more so.

But Sugar Ray couldn’t quit, and so on he fought – for some seven years. The war Robinson won on this day all those years ago was his final great, great performance. How lucky fight fans of the 1950s really were.