By Ryan Maquiñana
Every summer, California-based promoter Don Chargin makes an annual trip to Canastota, N.Y., to visit old friends and fellow enshrinees at the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
When he returns to “The Showplace of Boxing” next year, he will do it with a heavy heart as Carmen Basilio, the man who always sits next him during the induction speeches, has passed away at age 85 due to complications from pneumonia.
“Carmen was one of my best friends in boxing, and it was always a pleasure to see him there [at the Hall of Fame] every year,” Chargin told BoxingScene.com Wednesday morning.
“He meant so much to the sport. Carmen’s the reason why they have the Hall of Fame in Canastota, because it was his hometown and also of his nephew, [former welterweight champion] Billy Backus.”
Despite living on opposite sides of the country, Chargin had kept in contact with Basilio and his wife Josie over the years via telephone.
“He was a great guy and a real joker, too,” Chargin said. “[He was] a lot of fun to be around. It killed me because every year I could see him deteriorating, and I just feel terrible. It was not unexpected. I talked to Josie a couple weeks ago, who takes care of him, and she told me he wasn’t doing well. I’m really going to miss him.”
Basilio (56-16-7, 27 KOs), a relentless pressure fighter out of a converted southpaw stance, was renowned for his unwavering grit—one that willed him to world titles at welterweight and middleweight.
“The Upstate Onion Farmer” secured his first championship in 1955 when he stopped 147-pound king Tony DeMarco in 12 rounds. Two years later, he would capture the 160-pound crown, earning a split decision victory over Sugar Ray Robinson. Both battles were part of a string of five consecutive Ring Magazine Fights of the Year in which Basilio participated (1955-59).
“As a fighter, he was really something, a great welterweight and middleweight,” Chargin said. “His fights with Ray Robinson were epic. This guy was so tough, it was unbelievable the chin and guts he had. His eye would be a bloody mess and you wouldn’t be able to notice him, but he just kept coming.
“Think of all the guys he fought. There were those great fights with Tony DeMarco and Gene Fullmer. I could go on and on. Every fight was a war, and Carmen was as much a warrior as there’s ever been.”
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.