ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Carmen Basilio, a genial onion farmer’s son who wrested the world middleweight boxing crown from Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957 and lost an equally epic, razor-edge rematch six months later, died today at age 85.
Edward Brophy, executive director of the Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York, said Basilio died at a Rochester hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
Basilio lived in the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit and was among the first class of hall of fame inductees in 1990, a group that includes Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake LaMotta.
Basilio’s ferocious battles with the likes of Billy Graham and Kid Gavilan riveted a nation during the age of black-and-white television. Hindered on his ascent by a reluctance to deal with mobsters, he took the welterweight title from Tony DeMarco in 1955 and added the middleweight belt near the close of a 13-year career.
He moved on to teach physical education at Syracuse’s Le Moyne College for 21 years and marketed beer for Rochester’s Genesee Brewing Co. His gift as a raconteur won him legions of new fans at charity banquets, and even old foes came to revere him.