Carmen Basilio vs. Tony DeMarco
November 30, 1955 - Boston Garden, Boston, MA
Just 173 days earlier, DeMarco had lost his crown to Carmen Basilio, the ex-Marine with the craglike features that bore more than a slight resemblance to the Nantucket shoreline, in a 12-round throwback to the old barge fights. But now their local hero -- called the "Miniature Marciano" -- was fighting on his own turf, where he had lost just once in 33 outings. And, the local betting gentry was so sure that DeMarco would regain his crown that they had put their money where their faith was, bringing the prefight odds down to 6-5, pick 'em.
For, wasn't DeMarco the harder puncher with 30 of his 47 wins coming by KO -- including his most recent win, a one-round knockout of tough Chico Vejar -- as opposed to Basilio's record, with only 21 of his 47 wins by KO? And hadn't DeMarco taken the first fight to Basilio? Hadn't he battered him from proverbial pillar-to-post for the first seven rounds, only to run out of gas and lose the championship he had won just 70 days before from Johnny Saxton? And weren't they told that this time it would be a different DeMarco in there against Basilio; one who would stick and move and yet be able to take him out with one shot?
And damned if it didn't look like DeMarco would do it, as the boy from Boston's North End went after Basilio almost from the opening bell, jolting the champ with two hard left hooks to the head and a tremendous right to Basilio's well-worn features just before the bell. Round 2 saw both fighters banging away -- Basilio to the body and Demarco to the head. Basilio switched to the head just before the end of the round, cutting Tony's left eye, but also breaking his own left hand in the process.
Deprived of his best weapon, his left hook, Basilio went back out to do battle in the third, landing with his right to both the body and the head while DeMarco missed with wild lefts and rights to the head of the bobbing Basilio, only once reaching him with a solid four-punch barrage that shook the champ. The rest of the round belonged to Basilio.
That was to be Basilio's "last hurrah" in the land of last hurrahs for many a round, as DeMarco began landing his heavy artillery to the head of the champion in round 4, one of his rights driving Basilio back three feet into the ropes, another right stinging Basilio, who had to hold on.
Round 5 saw DeMarco stagger Basilio with a leftright combination and nail the champ with several hard rights. But the steel-chinned Basilio stayed upright, and answered with several good shots of his own. The torrid pace continued in round 5 as the challenger, totally without guile or deceit, aimed for and reached Carmen's head with a thunderous right-left combination, again staggering Basilio. The champion fought back, afterward saying, "I knew I had him in the fifth round. There wasn't any sting left in his punches."
But, looking back, Carmen may well have been whistling past the graveyard, for DeMarco continued to land his haymakers on the unprotected chin of the champion in the sixth and seventh rounds. Immobile and unable to arrange his blows in combinations, DeMarco stood his ground and bombed away. And, with some 30 seconds left in the seventh, Basilio started a well-telegraphed right, but was caught with an equally well-timed left hook. Suddenly the man who had been down only once in his previous 65 fights was doing a bandy-legged impression of Leon Errol, wobbling all over the ring as he literally took a standing knockdown. DeMarco was all over him. But even with a helpless victim half-standing and half-staggering in front of him, tottering on the brink of extinction, Tony couldn't land another, as he flailed away in animalistic style, throwing -- and missing -- more than 15 lethal punches in the last 20 seconds of the round.
Round 8 was more of the same, with a now-confident DeMarco hammering away at Basilio with savage hooks, overhand rights, and jolting right leads. He disdained any subtleties -- no left jab, no movement, no anything, but bombs, bombs, and more bombs.
By the end of the eighth the three scorecards reflected the tide of the fight: 79-74, 78-67, and 79-73, all DeMarco. Basilio had to knock DeMarco out to win. And his corner echoed what everyone else in the Garden knew, hollering, "Carmen, that guy's got your title unless you go to the belly." And go to the belly he did, pounding DeMarco's unprotected middle with both hands from close quarters throughout most of the three minutes of round 9.
Suddenly DeMarco looked like he was fighting in slow motion as Basilio continued to work on his body in the tenth. Arm-weary and looking to land the one big blow, he was beaten time and again to the punch as the champion hit him where he lived, the belly.
By round 11 the tide had turned dramatically and the outcome was no longer in doubt. Basilio himself knew it when he hit him with a left and then a right cross to the body. "I could tell he was really groggy then. I didn't go for any knockouts -- just wanted to work his body till then. Then I knew I could get him ..."
The end came in the same round as before -- the twelfth -- as Basilio, by then a tired puncher himself, landed a tired right, followed by an equally tired left and another right. DeMarco, silly with fatigue, his fire out, fell under the ropes, his head on the apron. At the count of eight he somehow managed to stand up, and tottered forward to catch more of the same.
As Basilio caught DeMarco in a four-punch fusillade -- left, right to the head, a left to the body, and a crushing right to the head -- referee Mel Manning rushed in to grab the now-unconscious DeMarco by his right arm, ending the fight in a grotesque tableau, with DeMarco hanging straight down, arm suspended, in a modern-day crucifixion.
The time of the second "Boston Massacre?" It happened at 1:54 of the twelfth round, only two seconds more than it had taken Basilio to win their first brawl. Who says lightning never strikes twice in the same place?
Boxing historian Bert Sugar is host of ESPN Classic's "Ringside" and a contributor to ESPN.com.