Carmen Basilio, 85, a genial onion farmer's son who wrested the world middleweight boxing crown from Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957 and lost an equally epic, razor-edge rematch six months later, died Wednesday at a Rochester, N.Y., hospital following treatment for pneumonia, said Edward Brophy, executive director of the Boxing Hall of Fame.
The boxer was among the Hall of Fame's first class of inductees, in 1990.
With his crouching style, Basilio bored relentlessly into opponents, wearing them down with body blows. He had a straight-up, knuckle-rimmed uppercut, a vicious hook and an ability to withstand terrible punishment.
"I gave them action; they loved to see action. I moved on fighters all the time," Basilio told the Associated Press in 2007.
Basilio twice won the world welterweight title, from Tony DeMarco in 1955 and Johnny Saxton in 1956.
Two savage, seesaw 15-rounders against Robinson formed the capstone of Basilio's fame. In the first, he defeated Robinson for the world middleweight championship in a match at Yankee Stadium.
"You're talking about the finest boxer of all time, and Carmen outboxed the guy," legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, who worked with Basilio, once told the Associated Press. Dundee died in February.
But in a 1958 rematch against Robinson, Basilio lost the middleweight title in a split decision. The photograph of his swollen left eye, damaged during the match, is considered a boxing classic.
After 13 years in the ring, he retired with a career professional record of 56 wins in 79 professional fights, with 27 knockouts.
One of 10 children of Italian immigrants, Basilio was born April 2, 1927, in Canastota, N.Y. After serving in the Marines, he became a professional boxer in 1948.
Following his retirement from boxing, he taught physical education at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and worked in public relations for Rochester's Genesee Brewing Co.
— Times staff and wire reportsCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times