FAMILY NIGHT IN SYRACUSE
While New Yorkers mulled the "Directors' Dilemma" at the Garden, an upstate city had some notable guests
A variegated assembly of families foregathered at the ringside in Syracuse, N.Y. last Friday night. Among those present were the Helfands from Brooklyn. Mr. Helfand is a boxing commissioner who has been charged with "making things tough" for the game. The Helfands brought some guests, a couple named Harriman from Albany (below). Mr. Harriman is the governor of New York State. After "a fine show," the governor made a pointed reference to the importance of "clean" sports. Along with the Harrimans and Helfands, an Italian family named Basilio held a little reunion with their own breadwinner, Carmen (opposite page), though they had to wait until a man named Kessler (he came alone) gave the O.K. Present as well was a heavy-bearded promoter from New York and points west named James D. Norris (left). He arrived with members of his official family but later, like a tot at the beach, lost them in the crowd. However, he subsequently found them and even indicated a desire to enlarge the clan. The occasion for this assembly was a fight for the welterweight title which is described on the next page by Budd Schulberg.
New year's eve came early to Syracuse this year. The revised date for the Salt City is June 10. If you miss the significance, any Onondaga County man will be glad to inform you: that's the night their boy, Carmen Basilio, finally found his pot of gold at the end of the welterweight rainbow. Side-stepped by Kid Gavilan, avoided by Johnny Saxton, he had waited almost two years for this crack at the 147-pound title. Things don't always come to them that waits, but the old adage stood up for Carmen Basilio. An overflow crowd of 9,170 passionately vocal rooters stood up for him too, bringing an oldtime sense of excitement to the war memorial auditorium as they hollered their man through some of the bloodiest, hardest-fought rounds this onlooker has seen since the days of Ace Hudkins and Sergeant Sammy Baker.
June 19, 1955
Knocked senseless in the 10th round, drawing on incredible reserves to come out for the 11th, still fighting back in the 12th when sight and endurance and hope were gone, Tony DeMarco had the classic courage of a champion. He may have come into his title undeservedly when he was given the night with Saxton that should have been Basilio's. But watching him hook and bleed and come on and dig in with both hands and bleed some more through those 11 and a half tense and brutal rounds, you knew he had the heart of a champion even if he lacked the skills of the great ones. Built like a middleweight, dangerous with both hands, aggressive and game almost beyond understanding, the Boston Italian is a formidable man.
But formidable is altogether too mild a word for the new welterweight champion. Flat-faced, squint-eyed, scrawny-strong, bearing the scars of a violent and honorable career, Carmen Basilio doesn't box—he fights with the abandon and vicious intent of the alley brawler. The admirers of Jimmy McLarnin, Barney Ross, Sugar Ray Robinson and other smart-moving welterweight champions may wonder if boxing has become a lost art when Carmen rules the division, for he's a crude one by their standards. But he's a battler in the tradition of the ringmen who loved to fight—the Wolgasts, the Nelsons, the Mickey Walkers. They seem as scarce as buffalo these days, and as an antidote to the Saxtons, Maxims and Dykeses an all-out guy like Basilio gives this cruel but sometimes exhilarating sport some much needed vitality—one could even say virility.
"YOU LIKE IT, CARMEN!"
Tony DeMarco landed some smashing lefts and rights on Carmen's jaw and mouth and eyes through the opening and middle rounds, and every time he scored, a Basilio rooter next to me would cry out gaily, "You like that, Carmen, you don't mind getting punched like that. You like it, Carmen!"
A pretty silly thing to say about a man getting his face punched in, it seemed to me. But by God, Carmen did seem to like it. The punishment—and his face was almost as bloody a mess as Tony's—seemed only to incite him to fight back more fiercely. Tony's gameness was almost frightening to see; Carmen was more than game—his will to win was inexorable. He was not to be persuaded, moved or affected by DeMarco's best punches. It was still a close fight at the end of nine rounds, but at that point my Basilio rooter looked at my score card and said, "Throw it away. The rounds don't matter. Carmen's gonna kayo 'im."
It was strictly old-fashioned Pier Six and there was a nice homely touch (in a hysterical way) at the end, when Referee Kessler finally stepped in to save the floundering champion from Basilio and Tony's own stand-or-die courage. Carmen fell on his knees and thanked his God for delivering up to him the world's championship he had pursued so long. His plump, bespectacled mother climbed through the ropes to embrace him. His cuts and bruises were forgotten; the flush of victory numbed them like novocain. A bloody, battered and joyous figure, he danced across the ring to kiss his handsome blonde wife. Fame and fortune, those elusive goddesses, had come at last to the Carmen Basilios, of the onion-and-potato country of Canastota, N.Y.
A few minutes later, Ex-champion DeMarco, still dazed, exhausted, bleeding from his wounds and breathing with difficulty through his broken nose, was lying under a white sheet on the rubbing table in his small, overcrowded dressing room. There were nasty slices in both eyelids. His lip was torn, and there was an ugly gash under his chin. His relatives stood around in silent, mournful groups.
"Kid, you were great tonight ever-if you didn't win," a well-wisher said. "I still think you're the better fighter. You'll get him next time, in Boston."
The beaten fighter smiled sadly. A placard at ringside had advertised that the Beantowners were "counting on you to bring home the bacon to Boston." Now all he was bringing home was $60,000, a busted nose and a broken dream.