by Kid Hersh
On Sept. 18, 1953, Kid Gavilán successfully defended his world welterweight title with a 15-round split decision over Carmen Basilio at War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, the first world title fight ever in New York’s fourth largest city. The crowd was squarely behind Basilio, the son of an onion farmer from nearby Canastota, and the verdict was greeted with a shower of boos. However, virtually all of the ringside reporters had Gavilan winning by a shade.
Early in the second round Basilio landed a left hook that appeared to hurt Gavilán. Later in the round, a rapid succession of left hooks dropped the champion for only the second time in his lengthy career (fellow Hall of Famer Ike Williams was the first to accomplish the feat). Gavilán, competing in his 112th professional fight, would clinch and recover to make it through the round.
In the coming rounds Gavilán was content to backpedal and stab away at the shorter-armed challenger. But Basilio was earning points with the judges based on his aggression and punch output. Heading into the ninth round the cards favored Basilio by scores of 5-2-1, 4-3-1 and 5-2-1. But the Cuban Hawk, famed for his “bolo punches,” picked up the pace and the momentum swung in his favor.
The gritty Basilio, hampered by a broken nose and damaged left eye that would be completely shut by the end of the fight, mounted a furious rally in the final round, but it was too little, too late in the eyes of two of the judges, one of whom was the referee, George Walsh, who required a police detail to escort him safely out of the building.
Gavilan was expected to move up to middleweight after this fight but he made one more successful defense at welterweight before an unsuccessful bid to wrest the middleweight title from Carl “Bobo” Olson. Basilio went on to win the world welterweight title, lifting the crown from Tony DeMarco, and would subsequently win and lose the middleweight title in back-to-back thrillers with Sugar Ray Robinson.
In 1990, Kid Gavilan and Carmen Basilio were among 20 boxers inducted into the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.