57 Years Ago Today Carmen Basilio vs Gene Fullmer – Today marks the 57th anniversary of the first meeting between Carmen Basilio and Gene Fullmer. The match was held at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California on August 28th 1959. The fight was completely one-sided. Fullmer was comfortably ahead on the scorecards when the bout was stopped in the 14th round, with Basilio saying afterwards “he beat the hell out of me” and saying that he was seriously considering the retirement advice of his corner, family and friends. What is most interesting about this bout is the question of whether this should have been a title fight in the first place, with Sugar Ray Robinson having been stripped of the very title these two were fighting for.
It all started at the beginning of 1959 when Robinson was refusing to defend his National Boxing Association (NBA) title via the demand of the all-powerful International Boxing Club. (Just to clarify here, because the sanctioning bodies of yesteryear can be just as confusing as today, the NBA was the original name of the World Boxing Association (WBA), the name change coming in 1962. And note that the old International Boxing Club that was trying to push Robinson to fight Carmen Basilio for a rubber match was a promotional outfit – not a belt organization/sanctioning body of any sort.)
At this time the International Boxing Club had just lost a Supreme Court hearing that stemmed from a “monopoly suit” claiming the IBC held a monopoly on boxing, with it’s interests extending into arena ownership. The ruling effectively said that the IBC was impeding upon free trade as they locked up the world champions under not just their own banner but under their roof as well. Some thought the IBC was squeezing the smaller guys so far out of the picture that it was part of the reason boxing gyms were on the decline. The Supreme Court ruled that the IBC had to relinquish its financial interest in Madison Square Garden and prohibited the organization from holding more than two title matches per year in New York and Chicago, diluting their biggest arms of the fight game as those were the biggest fight towns.
Now that we have that info squared away we are back to Robinson being forced to defend his NBA title against Basilio in a third match by the IBC. Robinson had other plans though, as he wanted to fight Archie Moore for the light heavyweight title. Moore was coming off of his fight of the year against Yvon Durelle and Robinson likely figured him just as tough (or easy) a fight as Basilio, seeing as how Moore was now 43 years old and was tagged with the “Methuselah” moniker previously applied to Mike McTigue. Robinson aspired to be the first middleweight champion in ring history to also hold the light heavyweight championship. Others had held one title or the other at times, but not both at once.
As it would unfold, Moore would decide to have a rematch against Durelle and the middleweight crown would get muddled with the NBA declaring the title vacant and to go to the winner of Basilio vs Fullmer while the New York State Athletic Commission would still claim Robinson was champion. The sanctioning body itself (NBA) would essentially “win,” as the general consensus was that Robinson had gotten greedy in his demands for a Basilio rubber match, asking for $700k instead of the half million offered and not agreeing to a $150k increase in Basilio’s purse from the second fight, which was $225k. This is, not to mention, that the NBA was in control of their title and could simply hold the fight outside of New York – which is exactly what happened. Robinson thought he could strong arm the promoters into acquiescing to his demands but the plan backfired and the NBA stripped him of his title
The Robinson- Basilio rubber match would never come to fruition. Aside from Basilio being over the hill and getting stopped twice consecutively by Fullmer, Basilio was a man of his word as he left the negotiating table with Robinson for the final time saying that he would never again negotiate with Robinson and let him waste his time.
Moral of the story? Fans not getting the fights they want is not a new phenomenon. Fighters pricing themselves out of fights the fans want to see is not a new phenomenon. Sanctioning bodies and promoters muddling the mix is not a new phenomenon.
57 Years Ago Today Carmen Basilio vs Gene Fullmer / Check out more news and videos at The Boxing Channel.