by Fox Doucette
It’s Social Media Week here at Historical Fight Night—your columnist has had the pleasure of interacting with two of the four combatants in this week’s edition. James “Quick” Tillis, fighting the late Scott LeDoux in the co-feature, is a longtime Facebook friend, and Carlos Palomino, who takes on the Upstate Onion Farmer Carmen Basilio in the main event, is a member of the Mythical Boxing group—speaking of which, gotta love the Internet, there’s a group for every interest, including the very ground this show covers as its stock in trade.
Don’t think that this means Tillis and Palomino are in for walkovers, though; their opponents have been selected as a good matchup both for the fighters and the fans. For Tillis, he steps into the time machine fresh off a win from Earnie Shavers in which he tasted the right hand of one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, a guy about whom Muhammad Ali said “Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk back in Africa” and Ron Lyle said “Hey man, that’s the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life. And George Foreman could punch, but none of them could hit like Earnie Shavers did. When he hit you, the lights went out. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t funny.”
Shavers put Tillis down in the ninth round and nearly knocked him out. Scott LeDoux, who comes into this fight off a win over Marty Monroe that led to a title shot against Larry Holmes, throws a pretty mean right hand himself. Will it be enough to give him the upper hand, or will Tillis just laugh it off like “you’re no Earnie Shavers”?
Meanwhile, for Carlos Palomino, this is the chance to make a case that he belongs among the all-time greats at welterweight. His title reign was sandwiched in between the reign of Jose Napoles and the second-greatest stretch of talent-rich boxing in welterweight division history, as Leonard and Duran and Hearns plied their craft at 147 pounds after Palomino lost his title belt.
The greatest stretch? Do names like Robinson and Gavilan and Basilio ring a bell? That last, Palomino’s opponent tonight, was involved in five (!) consecutive Ring Magazine Fights of the Year between 1955 and 1959. Only Muhammad Ali shares the distinction of having been in at least five such fights, total (Ali was in six)—and Ali was never in more than two in a row. Micky Ward, Rocky Graziano, Rocky Marciano, and Tony Zale have the second-longest streaks in history, all with three straight (and Ward became the first to do it since the 1950s when he was in three straight from 2001-03). Nobody put on an old-fashioned barn-burner scrap for the ages like Carmen Basilio, and he also made a damn fine case for being a top-ten all time fighter in two different Old School Eight weight classes.
Can Palomino beat him given twelve rounds and a sympathetic writer? Or will Basilio’s greatness prove decisive?
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
James “Quick” Tillis (6/11/1982, 22-1, 17 KOs) vs. Scott LeDoux (3/9/1980, 26-8-4, 17 KOs)
It’s interesting to note that James Tillis fought only once in his career for a world title, even though he fought—and usually lost to—guys who were or would become world champions at different points in their careers. Mike Weaver beat him for the WBA title in 1981, the only loss he had coming into the Shavers fight, but Tillis also fought Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon, Gerrie Coetzee, Tyrell Biggs, Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno, Evander Holyfield, and Tommy Morrison, for a grand total of no wins and ten losses against world champions. Indeed, if we include Shavers along with Ron Stander, Carl Williams, Joe Bugner, Johnny DuPlooy, and Alexander Zolkin, we’re left with a guy who went 2-14, Shavers and Stander being the two victories, against guys who fought for world titles (and, in the case of those last two, fine proof that the WBO was a joke for a good while before the Klitschko brothers showed up.)
Scott LeDoux fought for a world title one time, getting absolutely humiliated by Larry Holmes and becoming a historical footnote in that the fight tied Joe Louis’s record of winning seven consecutive heavyweight title defenses by knockout; Holmes would break that record against none other than Muhammad Ali in the only stoppage loss the GOAT ever suffered, the utterly tragic and farcical “Last Hurrah” in 1980.
Would once be enough to join 14 guys who beat Tillis? Or would LeDoux join Earnie Shavers and Ron Stander with the ignoble distinction of being the only world title challengers to fall victim to the Fighting Cowboy?
Quick was never renowned for his stamina at this point in his career, but in the course of a 2015 training camp in San Dimas, nutritionists knew something that Tillis didn’t in 1982. Specifically, Tillis was allergic to milk and eggs, and it was sapping his strength late in fights, something that may have contributed to Shavers’ rally and Howard Cosell’s infamous grumbling that Tillis couldn’t take a punch. He is under no such constraint here, and feeling like king of the world, Tillis moved, boxed on the outside, and utterly flummoxed LeDoux with a constant pinpoint jab to the face, looking almost like Muhammad Ali himself in the white trunks with black trim.
LeDoux tried to fight back, but he simply didn’t have the hand speed, and one other thing the Temporal Commission noticed when setting up this bout was Cosell’s complaint that a referee should be able to break heavyweight-sized fighters; they brought in Arthur Mercante Senior from 1971 and the first Ali-Frazier fight as if to say “you want a ref who can handle heavyweights? Well, here you go.” When LeDoux tried to take the fight inside, Tillis would grab on and try to land a few shots in the clinch, but Mercante was well able to separate the men and resume the action.
For three rounds this continued, Tillis putting rounds in the bank and establishing an early lead.
LeDoux landed a big right hand 20 seconds into the fourth round that rocked Tillis, but as the experience in the Shavers fight showed, it would take a bigger shot than that to drop the durable man who had not only taken Shavers the full ten but also had been the first man to hear the final bell against Mike Tyson in a fight that some believe Tillis even won.
This did not change the fact that the Fighting Frenchman from Crosby-Ironton, Minnesota had gained the advantage, and rather than trying to headhunt, LeDoux brought his punches downstairs, trying to work the body of Tillis in order to try and take some of the spring out of the step of the man who had been willingly landing the jab through the first three.
Dazed, the Oklahoman was unable to grab on nearly well enough to keep LeDoux off him, and LeDoux continued to land at will to the body of Quick Tillis. As the round ended, it fell to the natural “recuperative powers” (to steal a phrase from Howard Cosell) of a man who was still only 24 years old when he stepped into the time machine.
LeDoux kept up the attack, but Tillis was able to regain some measure of control of the fight, tying up effectively when LeDoux got too close, using his jab more often than that in order to keep the man from Minnesota off him in the first place. Mercante did not have too much to do, but nor was he simply able to act as an observer; the crowd appreciated the solid refereeing work that marked the difference between taking away the inside and allowing the fight to turn into a cuddle-fest.
Nonetheless, some of the work LeDoux did in that fourth round had an effect on the quickness of the Quick man, and a few more of those big right hands snuck in to the head and body as before. Most of the stuff didn’t land…but the fight had changed ever so subtly as the men prepared to conclude the first half of the fight in the following stanza.
LeDoux wasn’t the only one with the potential to land a big shot. Angelo Dundee, brought forward in the time machine with Tillis, instructed his fighter to use his superior quickness and look to take away that right hand with a left hook counter, and Tillis took the advice to heart.
Scott LeDoux was never the sort who could stand up to the biggest shots from even the lesser punchers in the sport; it is one thing to be dropped by Larry Holmes and George Foreman, and one could even see a big Greg Page being a threat to any man foolish enough to stand too close to one of his fully-extended punches, but even Duane Bobick was able to utterly annihilate LeDoux with a couple of knockdowns causing an eighth-round stoppage; indeed, of LeDoux’s 13 pro losses, 7 were by knockout, which may well have cut short his life at the hands of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
All this is by way of saying when Quick Tillis landed a huge counter left hand two minutes into the round, LeDoux was left to try to gather himself on the way up off the floor as Mercante reached the count of eight.
Tillis had his man hurt, and poured on the punches trying to close the show, but the bell rang to bail out LeDoux and ensure the fight would head into the latter half of the scheduled twelve.
Tillis won the seventh and eighth rounds the way he had the first three, and as round nine continued, Tillis saw no value in taking any manner of needless risk. Switching from the hook to the jab on the counter, every time Tillis saw the right hand coming at him, he neutralized it and snapped LeDoux’s head back with that quick, stiff shot. Tillis may not have been Muhammad Ali, but he shared a trainer and a natural inclination with his punches, and against a plodding guy who’d been knocked loopy and never allowed to get back into his rhythm, it was enough. With three rounds to go, Quick Tillis was well ahead on the scorecards, seven to two in the view of most of those scoring from press row.
It was all but official—Scott LeDoux needed a knockout.
There’s a certain negligence on the defensive when a man knows he needs to land one big shot and will stop at nothing to do it. When you’re loading up, your opponent can both see what you’re doing and have more time to prepare, and it was with that in mind that Tillis sat down on his shots, throwing not just the jab but returning to the hook. What he was not doing was putting punches together, and Dundee seized upon exactly that in the corner after the ninth. Throwing combinations would get rid of this guy, Dundee barked, and it was in round 10 where that advice bore fruit.
Tillis countered with the jab, but this time he put a straight right hand behind it, and when the right landed flush on the face of LeDoux, the Minnesotan’s corner threw in the towel; they’d seen enough, and it was time to go back to 1980 and get ready for a real fight, namely the only title shot of Scott LeDoux’s career: Larry Holmes.
Meanwhile, Quick Tillis could get back in the time machine to 1982 and get ready for his battle with Pinklon Thomas. Years later, a 58-year-old Tillis could consider his younger self’s victory over a tough fighter who was never quite in the same place at the same time to fight him back in those earlier days.
RESULT: TILLIS TKO10 LEDOUX.
Carlos Palomino (6/22/1976, 20-1-3, 10 KOs) vs. Carmen Basilio (9/12/1956, 49-12-7, 23 KOs)
You gotta wonder about the records of some of the all-time greats from boxing’s ancient age. Unlike today, where an “O” on a record is guarded like it’s the Crown Jewels once a fighter shows he’s money in the bank (Wilder, Golovkin, Mayweather, every guy you’ve ever seen knocked out the first time he fought for a world title…), in the old days, a guy like Sugar Ray Robinson could end his career with 19 losses, Basilio with 16, Tony Zale with 18, Fritzie Zivic (who had beaten all-time great Henry Armstrong, rated by a lot of the sorts of people who talk about this stuff as one of the top ten pound-for-pound of all time) with 65 (SIXTY-FIVE?!), including for Zivic a stretch in 1945-46 where he lost an are-you-kidding-me 12 out of 13.
We see a 49-12-7 fighter today, we think “what a bum”, but that’s one word nobody ever seriously used to describe the Upstate Onion Farmer from Canastota, New York.
When the guys working on the time machine talked among themselves about where they were going to go this time, they watched a few fights and said “it’s gotta be the John H. Stracey fight for Palomino and the second fight with Johnny Saxton for Basilio, right? I mean, one was a Fight of the Year and the other was just Palomino beating a guy from pillar to post for four rounds before the stoppage in the twelfth. Let’s go with those.”
Oh well, subtlety is for suckers…
The only piers in San Dimas, 30 miles from the ocean and 25 from Los Angeles, are the long surfboards (c’mon, someone besides your columnist saw Back to the Beach, right?) owned by some of the residents, but cheap 1980s movie references not related to this show’s core premise didn’t stop this fight from degenerating into a Surfboard Six Brawl from the word go. Basilio had just learned firsthand in his own time what letting a skilled opponent stay on the outside and box would do to him, and Palomino had scored a rare-for-him knockout by demolishing the body of the British guy in front of him over a dozen rounds.
And oh, what ugly, unsubtle boxing it was. Palomino started immediately to dig to the body of Basilio, and the man from the Hall of Fame’s hometown gave back as good as he got. Each man working in close, it was impossible to gauge the timbre of the fight, but Palomino seemed to be connecting more effectively with the uppercut when Basilio leaned in, while the Upstate Onion Farmer got the better of the exchanges when he brought his punches up top, throwing combinations over the body shots coming at him and tagging Palomino in the face. The first three rounds went like this, neither man gaining the decisive upper hand, the scoring coming down to a how-do-you-like-it between the uppercuts inside and the looping hooks and crosses outside the guard of the guy getting hit.
Referee Mills Lane had a bit of other unfortunate judgment work cut out for him; get two guys right up close and personal and heads are going to come together, and both guys had a habit in their careers of getting busted up; Basilio in particular had what seemed like more scar tissue on his face than Teddy Atlas, while Palomino had been cut around the left eye in the course of his career. The question for Lane was going to be whether the inevitable slicing and dicing was due to a punch or whether the head clash was itself the causative agent.
Not that this mattered in the fourth round. Palomino, perhaps tiring and perhaps learning the lesson Johnny Saxton learned, got to the outside and tried to box a little bit. The results were, as the results had been in close, mixed; on the one hand, he was able to score with the jab and outbox Basilio; on the other hand, he was at range for full extension of the punches coming at him, and when he had a delicious leather-and-knuckle sandwich served as the blue plate special, it was less Breakfast of Champions and more The Palooka Who Came to Dinner for the Mexican-American as he staggered back into the corner and survived the last fifteen seconds of the round getting smacked around like a piñata before the bell bailed him out.
Palomino, establishing that there would be no more of that sort of nonsense, came out trying to work his way inside, while Basilio came out with no intention of forcing Palomino to work for anything, as he would happily meet him right in the center area of the otherwise twenty-feet-on-a-side phone booth that covered the big we-wish-we-had-a-beer-sponsor-for-this-line logo. They may as well have come out with swords, because heads collided with the sort of sickening crunch usually reserved for a well-applied cracking tool to a stubborn lobster claw in Maine. Blood spurting everywhere was the least disturbing part of the scene to anyone who witnessed it.
Palomino’s left eye started bleeding like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Basilio’s face above the bridge of his nose bled like that little snot-nosed Biblical kid Dave had been screwing with the slingshot Dennis the Menace-style again. Mills Lane cringed, said “one of you looks like you got one eye socket, the other one’s got three. I’m stopping this”, and called the fight off.
With the fight cut short, we go to the judges’ scorecards, as the accidental foul occurred after four rounds completed, and judge Harold Lederman scores the bout 39-37, Palomino. Judge Steve Weisfeld scores the bout 39-37, Basilio. And judge Tony Castellano scores the bout 38-38. We have a draw.
RESULT: DRAW (TD5-CUTS).
We leave the ancient history behind and bring things closer to the present…but not too close. Your main event is Wilfred Benitez taking on Mike McCallum at junior middleweight, while the middleweight co-feature matches Iran Barkley up against John “The Beast” Mugabi, and just for fun, that one’s being fought under Here’s To The Losers rules, as Mugabi gets in the time machine after losing to Marvin Hagler and Barkley embarks upon a temporal magic carpet ride fresh from his loss to Roberto Duran. Each man gave an all-time great all he could handle before bowing out in defeat; we will see which man receives the greater reward for his suffering in the ring.
As always, we’re on at 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific, every Friday, right here on The Boxing Tribune, and a few hours after the conclusion of the fight, you can check out Let’s Make History, our behind-the-scenes column and impromptu pledge drive, over at Patreon—just click on “Creator Posts”, it’s now a free feature for all, not just for donors, but it gives you a chance to help support the show.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!