Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup
Search Collections

Carmen Basilio
10/26/57

Carmen Basilio, middle weight boxing champion of the world, had recently won his crown after a savage fight with Sugar Ray Robinson. Basilio talks to Wallace about Robinson, whether boxing should be outlawed due to its brutality, and organized crime's influence on boxing.

Watch Video



Transcript
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW
Guest: Carmen Basilio
10/26/57

WALLACE: Good evening. What you are about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.

(OPENING CREDITS)

WALLACE: Tonight we go after the story of the middle-weight champion of the world, Carmen Basilio, who won his crown only last month in a savage fight with Sugar Ray Robinson. If you are curious to know whether Carmen Basilio really likes to fight, if you want to hear his answer to reports that he dislikes Ray Robinson as a man, and if you'd liked to get Carmen Basilio's reaction to the charge that boxing should be outlawed because of it's brutality, we'll go after those stories in just a moment.

My guest's opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's or my sponsor's, Philip Morris Incorporated; but whether you agree or disagree, we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: And now to our story. Carmen Basilio was born thirty years ago, the son of a poor onion farmer in upstate New York. In 1948 he became a professional fighter, a career that was climaxed in Yankee Stadium on September 23rd, when he took the middle-weight crown away from the brilliant Sugar Ray Robinson.

Carmen, first of all let me ask you this: we interviewed Tony Galento, a few months -- seven or eight months back --. Tony Galento, ... Tony Galento told us he enjoyed fighting. He admitted that he got a kind of a satisfaction out of hitting and hurting a man. Now, what I'd like to find out from you, frankly, is do you like to fight, do you like to get into a ring and try to beat another man unconscious?

BASILIO: Well, I don't know if I enjoy beating a man into unconsciousness, but, ... I do enjoy winning. I like to fight. The boxing world has given me everything that I've got. I can't say that I dislike boxing.

WALLACE: Now, when you... when you get into a ring, er... you know that you're gonna have to hit a fellow and hurt him, possibly knock him unconscious. I got from Galento the feeling that he rather enjoyed the process; he enjoyed the fighting, not just the winning, but the fighting. What about it with you?

BASILIO: Well, I never did anything that I don't like to do. So, I come to the conclusion that I like to box, I like to fight. I don't know if, to say that, there's any person in the world that likes to get hurt. Maybe Galento meant that he likes to win; everybody likes to win by a knockout, which means they shorten the route that they have to go.

WALLACE: Sure. Your wife, Kay, has been quoted... she was quoted in the Saturday Evening Post, December 10th, two years ago, saying, "Every time he's booked to fight he's overjoyed. He tells people he's only in boxing for the money, but" she says, "I know it's really in his heart."

BASILIO: Well, I... I'm always happy when I sign for a fight. I know that I'm going to go into training, and I like to train. It means that I am going to get away from all of the banquet circuit, and I get a little bit of peace when I am in training.

WALLACE: You get a little bit of peace?

BASILIO: Yes. I am away from everybody, the phone doesn't ring, and ... I can relax. Actually I have to go into training to get some rest.

WALLACE: Uh-hum... Have you ever been afraid before going into a fight or in the ring?

BASILIO: I can't say that I've been really afraid; I will say that I have always held respect for my opponent, and I've gone into the ring a little bit leery. I always thought that if I went into the ring overconfident that I would get licked because I wasn't having respect for my opponent's ability.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... but the fear of getting hit, for instance, sport writers wrote the second time that Max Schmeling fought Joe Louis, and the time that Baer, Max Baer went into the ring against Louis, that there was real fear, that you could feel that fear in both those men. That you've never felt?

BASILIO: No, I've never felt that fear. I take it for granted that when I do go in the ring with any opponent that I am going to get hit, and some of those punches are going to hurt.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

BASILIO: Right...

WALLACE: Tell me this: have you ever felt at all, Carmen, that it's the least bit degrading to earn a living by trying to beat another man unconscious or by getting beaten up yourself?

BASILIO: No, I don't think so. I know there's a lot of people that look upon the boxing game with dislike. But, I have met a lot of honorable men in the boxing game, and ... I don't feel as though that I am dishonorable.

WALLACE: Let's see, if we can more specifically get into the mind of a prize fighter, the way it works during the fight itself. I quote to you from Rocky Graziano's autobiography “Somebody Up There Likes Me”; here's how Rocky describes his feeling during a fight: he says, "I felt my blood get hot and my breath come faster, and this funny feeling rise up in my throat that I always got when a guy stood helpless there, and I begun to kill him off."

And then in another place he writes, "The bell rings and my blood boils and there's fire in my guts that got to bust out through my fists. He hits me in the ribs, on the head. I don't feel a thing. I feel like roaring like a bull and ramming my fist down his throat" Now, I saw films a couple of days ago of your fight against Robinson, and there was as much action, I guess, in that fight as in any fight I've ever seen. Is that the way you feel, is that the way you felt against Robinson?

BASILIO: Well, ... I... I didn't feel that way; but I felt that I was in a battle, that I had to win, and I wanted to win, and that, if he was hitting me, I had to get back and hit him twice to make up for the one time that he hit me.

WALLACE: Uh-hum... The New York Times, the day after the fight, said, "The eleventh round was the single most thrilling session of the night, Basilio shook Robinson with the left to the head, then they closed and whaled at each other in a savage exchange." You've been asked this before; I don't know that you can recollect the way that you felt. Can you tell us how you felt? Do you remember the eleventh round, do you remember what went on, or is it all kind of a blur of just getting in there and...?

BASILIO: Everything happened so fast that you just don't remember a lot of things. I know that I threw a lot of punches and he threw a lot of punches, and we... I could hear the crowd roaring, but, by that we know that it was a great round; to go back and try to pin¬-point things, that's kind of tough.

WALLACE: And, in the fourteenth round, when he buckled your knees with a right to the body, do you remember that blow? Do you, do you...?

BASILIO: Yes, I do.

WALLACE: You do!

BASILIO: He hit me, and he buckled me, but ... more than buckling me, I... it looked like I was being buckled more than I actually was because I went down and doubled up and started bobbing and weaving to avoid any more of his punches.

WALLACE: Before that fight with Sugar Ray, boxing writer Jessie Abramson, of the New York Herald Tribune, reported that you, quote, "...respect Robinson as a fighter but dislike him as a person" end quote. Why do you dislike Ray Robinson as a person?

BASILIO: Well, I think that was misinterpreted by a number of sportswriters. I don't dislike Ray Robinson as a person; I don't know whether I dislike anybody. But I'll say that I dislike a lot of his tactics, and the... business of the signing of the contracts for the fight.

WALLACE: Well, in a sense, didn't he have a perfect right to... After all, we talked to Ray about it and he said, "A fellow has very few pay-days during his lifetime," and he said "Face it, I was... I was the fellow who was really making the gate, er... don't I have a right, in as much as I'm giving away, not giving away... but signing away my services to get all that they are worth, to me."

BASILIO: He had the attitude that he was going in the Yankee Stadium alone, that he was drawing the crowd; it takes two to make a fight, especially a battle like the one that was seen in Yankee Stadium.

WALLACE: As he found out.

BASILIO: And, I felt that I was justified in getting as much possible as I could. Of course, it's his business to get as much as he can.

WALLACE: Up until now, Sugar Ray is... has not agreed to a rematch. Do you think he's ducking you?

BASILIO: No, I doubt that. We have a ninety-day return match contract with the IBC, and we haven't even discussed it yet.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... You are perfectly willing to fight him again?

BASILIO: Oh yes!

WALLACE: And you hope...?

BASILIO: I hope that er... he is willing to meet me in a return match.

WALLACE: Or if for no better reason than it, probably would be one of the biggest gates in history.

BASILIO: Probably one of the biggest gates in history, and probably my biggest pay-day in my fight career.

WALLACE: ... Of Course I gather that Robinson doesn't need the money. I understand Ray Robinson hasn't yet picked up his check of almost half a million dollars at the IBC for the fight that he had with you back in September. Do you know why?

BASILIO: Well, I gather that he's having a little trouble with the Internal Revenue.

WALLACE: And, so for that reason he doesn't want to pick it up because they'll pick it up from him right away, and he hopes he can work things out. Is that what you think?

BASILIO: Well, I don't know anything about that. I haven't been informed and ... of any of that.

WALLACE: Recently, when we interviewed Ray Robinson for our newspaper column... for our newspaper column, he told us that in the past he had been, quote, "...offered quite a few large sums of money," end quote, to take a dive, through a fight. Has that ever happened to you?

BASILIO: No, it hasn't. And if it did, I would have the man arrested that ever approached me on anything like that.

WALLACE: To your knowledge, does it happen frequently to fighters?

BASILIO: I have only read about it, such as this case with Ray Robinson, and I saw the movie, or, er... read about the trouble Rocky Grazziano had a few years ago. But that's the only thing that I know about.

WALLACE: That's a fact.

BASILIO: Yes.

WALLACE: You don't, ... in your talks with other fighters and managers and so forth...?

BASILIO: Never heard of it.

WALLACE: How does Ray rate with other men you've fought, Carmen?

BASILIO: He's a great fighter. Probably the hardest puncher that I ever fought, and undoubtedly gave me the toughest fight that I ever had.

WALLACE: ... Do you feel, in a sense, now that you've got his number, that you're... you're perfectly confident that next time around it's going to be as easy or...?

BASILIO: No. ... It wasn't easy...

WALLACE: (CHUCKLES)

BASILIO: ...and it won't be easy a second time. So, I'll always have to have respect for Ray Robinson as a fighter.

WALLACE: Of course we were talking about taxes a little while ago, fighters, and all athletes for that matter, pay taxes under the same percentage system as any other wage earner, but the athlete frequently has only about ten years of top-earning power and the champion may have considerably less than that. Do you think that it's unfair that the government doesn't give people like yourself a special tax break?

BASILIO: Well, it took me five years to get in to make pretty good money, and then your years are cut short, and, in the athletic field, I think that maybe someday the government will work out a deal where the... have the athletes big earnings spread over a period of years.

WALLACE: ... I quote from an article about you in the Saturday Evening Post. A couple of years ago, a sportswriter asked you, "When you have an opponent bleeding and reeling, don't you ever feel sorry for him?" And your answer was, "Sorry, are you kidding? Fighters aren't sorry, you have to cut the other guy down before he cuts you down. That's all."

Now, Carmen, suppose you cut a man down so hard that you killed him. That's happened before in boxing. Don't you ever worry about that?

BASILIO: Well, it's happened and I always pray before a fight that the fight is a good fight, and that both fighters come out uninjured.

WALLACE: Is that what you... I've seen on television that you frequently go down on your knees either before or after a fight, is that what you are praying about? Or is that just part of what you are praying about?

BASILIO: Well, I pray that, ... I am protected and the other fighter is protected from permanent injury, that it's a good fight, and I always ask for that extra power to win.

WALLACE: And you see nothing the least bit incongruous about asking God to help you beat up another man. A man who is probably just as good, just as religious a person, as you are. Do you think that you can enlist God's help in that way?

BASILIO: It's my belief that if you ask God for help, He'll give it to you. That's the way I believe in God.

WALLACE: Carmen, what do you think of proposals that boxing should be banned because of brutality. For instance, back in 1951, in Pageant Magazine, Jimmy Cannon, the sportswriter, wrote, "It should be declared unlawful; it is the garbage pile of sports; it damages more young men than it helps." Dan Parker the boxing writer of the New York Daily Mirror calls boxing, 'legalized murder.' Now, these are fellows who are sportswriters and have spent a good deal of time watching and thinking about boxing, and that's their opinion.

BASILIO: That's their opinion. Did they ever take an census to see how many young high school boys are killed in high school football every year? And how about these hockey players, that's a rough sport. I'd rather get hit by a post than get belted with a hockey stick.

WALLACE: Well, of course, in football, let's say, or in hockey the object of the game is to get the puck or the ball over the other... into the other opponent's goal, over the goal line. Whereas in boxing, the object of the game is to disable, if possible really, actually not to disable, but to beat up... to beat down your opponent. In a sense, it is 'legalized murder' because a good many men have been killed that way, not a good many men, but er...

BASILIO: If that's the case, then football is 'legalized murder' too, or any other sport that is rough like that... that they get killed, has got to be 'legalized murder.' Er... naturally they're trying for a touchdown but on the way through they are hitting their men as hard... their opponents as hard as they can.

How many men get knocked out two or three times during one single game. That doesn't happen in a fight, if he gets knocked out once, the fight's over with, and he is suspended for er... sixty days.

WALLACE: Until they are sure that he's not...?

BASILIO: That he's recuperated from any possible injuries.

WALLACE: Of course studies have been made on this issue, Carmen. According to Nat Fleischer's Ring Record Book, 142 amateur and professional fighters have been killed since 1945. A hundred forty-two Statistics show that boxing is fifty-nine times more deadly than college football. Now isn't this damning enough to have boxing banned?

BASILIO: I doubt it. I don't think so. I don't think we have that many deaths now; since that time, they've had a lot of new rules for protection of fighters, to prevent injuries. Er... a brain examination every so many months, especially if they're knocked out, they have to have this brain examination to pass this and then they are able to fight.

WALLACE: Carmen, somehow you don't seem to follow the pattern of the poor boy, who gets rich from fighting. You don't have the hangers-on, the entourage of jesters and so-called assistants that champions like... well like Ray Robinson have had. You live in a six-room house rather than a luxurious mansion; why the difference in pattern between you and some other champions?

BASILIO: Well, every personality is different. I was brought up in a small town, with small things, and I stick to small things, that's what I like.

WALLACE: We hear some about gangsters, Carmen, the underworld investing the fight game, controlling bouts. What do you know about that kind of thing?

BASILIO: I've never met any of them. All I've done is, I've read about them, never met them, I just think that, er... these people are ghosts because all I ever do is read about them.

WALLACE: You've never met any underworld figures, never sat down and broken bread with any underworld figures at all?

BASILIO: None of them. All I do is read about them, and I doubt that the people writing about them know them, that's just what they hear.

WALLACE: You fight frequently under the auspices of the International Boxing Club headed by Jim Norris, who has been widely criticized in the press, I think you'll agree, for associating with underworld figures?

BASILIO: Well, I don't know anything about that, but I do know, that Mr. Norris, in my opinion, what business I've had to do with him, is a gentleman and a man of his word. And if it wasn't for Mr. Norris, I wouldn't be middleweight champion of the world today; he's given me the opportunity to put me where I am today.

WALLACE: So, as far as...?

BASILIO: As far as I'm concerned, anything said about the associates of Mr. Norris aren't true. As far as that I know.

WALLACE: ... Carmen, you're obviously and justly proud of your ability as a fighter, therefore I'd like to get your reaction to the kind of charge that old-timers constantly make about the current... the new champions.

For instance, in sportswriter Jimmy Powers' column, September 16th, the former feather-weight champion of the world, Abe Attell, said this, he said"Frankly, I would not class Basilio with the all-time welters, fellows like Kid McCoy, Jack Broughton, Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong; he's a little rough around the edges for that" end of the quote. And in a moment, I'd like to get your answer to that. We'll get the answer to that question in just sixty seconds.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: Now then, Carmen, Abe Atell, former feather-weight champion of the world, said "Frankly, I would not class Basilio with the all-time welters, fellows like Kid McCoy, Jack Britton, Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong; he is a little rough around the edges for that." How do you feel about that?

BASILIO: I feel that Mr. Attell is living back in the ages when he was fighting, and the old-time fighters always stick to their era. I don't agree with him. I would wish that Mr. Attell, not to throw any disrespect on him, because from what I read he was a great fighter in his day, I wish that he was around today and be my weight, so I could fight him and see how rough around the edges I am.

WALLACE: What makes a fighter? What makes a fighter, Carmen? What do you have to have in your heart in order to be a fighter?

BASILIO: Well, you've got to have determination, a will to win.

WALLACE: Well, of course, but doesn't it take more than just...?

BASILIO: It takes more than that. The determination isn't only in the ring, the determination is in training, how hard a man trains to get himself in the best condition possible; and when a man really works hard in training, he's... seems to be really determined to win.

WALLACE: Of course, Abe Atell isn't the only one who doesn't think that you rate like the old-timers. Barney Ross once wrote, this was in Parade Magazine, November 4th, 1956, he said Jimmy McLarnin, the welterweight champ of twenty years ago, could knock you out in four rounds.

BASILIO: Well, this isn't twenty years ago. This is today, and if Jimmy McLarnin was around I'd willingly let him take a chance at it. Not to throw disrespect on Jimmy because I always thought he was a great fighter, but they have their opinions and I have mine, and I think that anybody I walk in the ring with, I could lick, and that goes for McLarnin, Barney Ross or any of them.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... This talk about a fellow having to be hungry in order to be a fighter. You think that that's probably true?

BASILIO: Possibly yes, because a fighter starts off with nothing, and he knows that by winning more fights he's going to get up to the top, and he'll have more, he'll fight harder, and naturally he's hungry so he's going to fight harder, so I think that er... that's what makes a hungry fighter and that's what makes him get to the top.

WALLACE: Do you consider yourself a top hard fellow outside of the ring?

BASILIO: In... what respect?

WALLACE: Well, are you hard in your personal relationships? Do you ever get into a fight outside of the ring?

BASILIO: No, I don't look for them. I try to be as gentle as possible with everybody I meet.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... And what about in your...? You're not just a fighter now, you're a business, a lot of people... you employ a lot of people, a lot of people depend upon you for their livelihood. The thing that impressed me about Sugar Ray Robinson when I talked to him was that he wanted to know where every penny was coming from and was going to. Are you a hard man with a buck, too?

BASILIO: Well, I... I had a business, I had a gas station here a couple of years ago, a year ago, right up until the early part of this year, and I gave a lot of credit out to my friends, and it eventually put me out of business. So, since then, I've learned to be a little bit tough on my creditors.

WALLACE: Boxing has taken a toll on your face, Carmen. Are you at all sensitive about your appearance, about looking like a prize fighter?

BASILIO: Well, the only thing that I can see is my eyebrows; naturally, when I went into the fight game I expected to get banged up a little bit, and, er... I don't think that for all the fights that I've been through, that I'm so badly banged up.

WALLACE: No, matter of fact. Er... This is the first time I've seen you up close; with the exception of your eyebrows, er... you're pretty well unmarked. What interests you when you are not fighting? What I mean by that is, you make your living with your body, and in your spare time I'm told you're a hunter, a fisher man. Do you ever feel that you might be neglecting something more important? The... the thinking part of your personality.

BASILIO: Well, you mean looking forward into the future?

WALLACE: Well, not only that, er... do you read much?

BASILIO: Well, I read.

WALLACE: What interests you besides sports?

BASILIO: Well, I ... as far as any business or anything into the future I haven't really decided on what I want to do. I do work for an insurance company; I have an agent's license. I don't have a lot of time to work at it, but I do that; and, I think that maybe when I do quit fighting I may go into insurance business.

WALLACE: Why don't you quit now? You've been fighting for ten years, you've taken a good deal of punishment, your wife, Kay, has developed an ulcer, I understand, from watching you...

BASILIO: That's right.

WALLACE: Why don't you quit?

BASILIO: Well, I've just got to the point where I can make enough money, so maybe I'll have something to retire with.

WALLACE: In other words, give you half a dozen good pay-days and maybe you will.

BASILIO: I might step out of the picture. That's right.

WALLACE: Carmen, I thank you very much for coming and taking this time with us tonight.

BASILIO: Thank you.

WALLACE: Continued good luck to you, Champion of the world, Carmen Basilio.

BASILIO: Thank you.

WALLACE: Old-timers who complain that easy living is ruining the fight game, studiously avoid mentioning Carmen Basilio -- rough, tough, and apparently indestructible, he comes as close as anybody in the ring today, to the great hungry fighters of the past. We'll bring you a rundown on next week's interview with one of Hollywood's biggest stars in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of one of the leading film stars in America, a dynamic, outspoken actor, at the height of his career. You see him behind me, he's Kirk Douglas, whose latest film 'The Vikings' has just been completed in Europe.

If you are curious to hear Kirk Douglas answer to the charge that Hollywood is riddled with false values and the fear of failure, if you want to know why he feels that success in films can become, as he puts it, a monster, and if you'd like to get his candid opinions on such controversial issues as Zionism, Communism, post-war Germany, and the US State Department, we'll go after those stories next week. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace. Good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the quality house.

Digitization credits