Carmen Basilio, the world champion boxer of the 1950s who died Wednesday at 85, is part of upstate New York sports history.
Mr. Basilio, who held the welterweight and middleweight boxing titles, fought two grueling bouts against Sugar Ray Robinson, another important figure in north country sports history and considered one of the best boxers of all time.
A native of Canastota, Mr. Basilio won a split decision to claim the middleweight title in September 1957 from Sugar Ray Robinson, who received his nickname Sugar from former Times sports editor John Jack Case.
When Mr. Basilio fought Sugar Ray Robinson (twice), he trained for the bouts at his camp in Alexandria Bay. He made many friends in the north country, including Mr. Case, visiting Watertown often and fishing in Alexandria Bay. He was among the first to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, having a career record of 56 wins, 16 losses and seven draws.
Mr. Basilio, a tough, gritty and determined fighter, has a north country boxing event named after him the Carmen Basilio Quest for Champions. He attended the fourth annual event last August at the Duffy Fairgounds in Watertown.
Mr. Basilio, who lived in Irondequoit, stayed in touch with the boxing community long after he stepped out of the ring for the last time in 1961. Watertown Area Boxing Club president John Pepe spoke of his meetings with Mr. Basilio: Being a world champion is something that has a lot of dignity to it, and it really seems like he added more dignity to it as a person. The person he was, aside from the boxing, thats what really touched my heart and kind of got me close to the family there. While in Alexandria Bay, the boxer opened the Carmen Basilio Motel and later taught physical education at LeMoyne College in Syracuse.
His advice to fighters was simple. Get in shape, work hard and be in good condition, he once told the Times. And live a clean life.