by Fox Doucette
Carmen Basilio was born on this day in 1927, and what better way to celebrate April 2 here in San Dimas than to put him into the ring with a worthy opponent? It’s a birthday celebration in fisticuffs for the Upstate Onion Farmer, who takes on Pernell Whitaker in the main event.
Yes, Whitaker, that fighter whose defensive wizardry never quite ran into such a talent for swarming and shortening up of shots as Basilio at any point in his prime. Carmen’s people have prepared him for a mastermind, which in turn leaves open the question of whether this will turn into a very uncomfortable brawl for Sweet Pea or whether this will be twelve rounds of a man running around like he’s traded the sweet science for track and field. Styles make fights, after all…
…and speaking of birthdays, Ray Mercer turns 55 on Monday, April 4, and if one birthday boy in a boxing ring is good, two must be all the better. Mercer, who comes in from his win over Tommy Morrison in which he was getting knocked around seven ways from Sunday until he landed some huge shots to close the fight in the fifth against the then-unbeaten Duke, takes on Jerry Quarry, who promises to give him the same sort of fight. We’ve pulled Quarry from his first-round knockout of Earnie Shavers, so he’s going to be bringing the pain on the Olympic gold medalist from the Seoul Games.
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.
Ray Mercer (10/18/1991, 18-0, 13 KOs) vs. Jerry Quarry (12/14/1973, 48-6-4, 29 KOs)
Take a brawling Canadian with plenty of aggression and debatable skill, throw him in against a guy with a decent chin and plenty of guts and not much else to recommend him, and what do you get? You get this fight. Strap in, folks. Jerry Quarry’s coming into this from a fight when he applied the pressure early, often, and decisively. Can he do to Mercer what he did to one of the hardest pure punchers the sport has ever known, namely Earnie Shavers?
One thing was for sure; Quarry was damn well going to try. Mercer’s defense was never anyone’s idea of fundamentally sound. He held his elbows too wide when he covered up. He telegraphed his punches just enough for even a lousy counter puncher like Tommy Morrison to beat him to the punch. He was a guy who, if he didn’t catch you with something along the way, you could out-work.
Quarry went right to it. He landed several left hooks. He brought the right uppercut right down Broadway like Mercer was letting him in. He dominated the action, peppering Mercer with a barrage of punches, trying to end the show in a single round and damn near looking like he was going to succeed at the task before three minutes elapsed and the round came to an end.
Quarry continued, admittedly at a slower pace, less concerned with getting a knockout and more concerned with applying sustained pressure without punching himself out.
Mercer, for his part, had as his best defensive element the Homer Simpson-like nature of his head. He could absorb a few shots, even a few good, solid shots, and come right back with an attack of his own.
Point remained, though, that Quarry had figured Mercer’s defense out almost from the word go. Compared to the guys Jerry Quarry fought in the 58 pro contests he had leading up to being put in the time machine, including two against Muhammad Ali, one (a win) against Ron Lyle, the 1969 Fight of the Year where his eye had betrayed him against Joe Frazier, to say nothing of wins over the likes of Buster Mathis and Floyd Patterson, Mercer was a chump, a palooka, exactly the sort of B-level fighter by 1960s and ’70s standards that Quarry tended to eat for lunch. He’d just beaten Earnie Shavers, after all.
And so it continued. Much like Morrison had, Quarry poured it on for a third straight round, and Mercer could do nothing but stand there and take it, fighting back in the barest of spots and hardly landing shots with any manner of consistency. This was turning into an ass-kicking, the fans beginning to clamor for referee Waldemar Schmidt to stop the fight.
Schmidt let it continue, but Mercer was certainly going to have to show him something.
And it came in the fourth round. Mercer landed a furious right hand over the top of Quarry’s guard, catching him flush on the chin. Behind it came a left hook that landed with equal force, staggering Quarry. Mercer was finally able to pursue.
But Jerry Quarry was not Tommy Morrison. Rather than being knocked helpless into the ropes, out on his feet, Quarry got his hands up, blocked or rolled with the ensuing flurry of shots intended to beat him into submission, then jackhammered Mercer with a double jab followed by a chase into the corner where he laid the right hand on like a piston, thumping it repeatedly against the skull of the now beaten man.
That was enough for Schmidt. He stepped in and waved a halt to the contest at 1:31 of the fourth round. Mercer had a chance to make his case, and all he landed were two lousy punches. It was time to protect him from himself.
Some (not least of whom was Ray Mercer himself) howled that it was an early stoppage, but they don’t make journeyman fringe titlists like they used to. This one belonged to Jerry Quarry.
RESULT: QUARRY TKO4 MERCER.
Carmen Basilio (9/12/1956, 49-12-7, 23 KOs) vs. Pernell Whitaker (3/6/1993, 32-1, 15 KOs)
It is one of those points of order on boxing forums that the way to beat Whitaker was to swarm him, to take away the tremendous reflexes and head movement and hand speed that made Whitaker one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time, the equal of the likes of Pep and Greb and Mayweather, crafty as hell and damn hard to hit.
It is also a point of order on boxing forums that judges don’t understand defense the way they understand volume punching and appearing to if not actually controlling the pace of a fight, with Oscar De La Hoya’s contested decision over Sweet Pea so often pointed to as an example of that very concept.
Enter Basilio, who did plenty of good damage to Johnny Saxton in their second fight, the 1956 Fight of the Year, a fight the Upstate Onion Farmer won on the inside when he closed range and let loose with a flurry of tight, powerful punches, one of the more powerful displays of punching brutality Basilio ever loosed on anyone.
Irresistible force? Pretty Damn Movable But Unhittable Object? Who wins?
Early on, Whitaker’s strategy was clear. When he wasn’t on his bicycle, he was potshotting with the jab and keeping Basilio off him, well aware of what he would need to do in order to win this fight. Plus, as has so often been the case on this show with the really old-time guys from the very dawn of the television area, the idea of using looping shots rather than getting leverage on tighter ones hadn’t really become the real order of the championship day. Watch those old fights from the 1950s and even the very best fighters, the Sugar Ray Robinsons of the world, tend to get wide more often than even an average fighter today.
For Whitaker, it was going to be a cakewalk if he could keep it up. Ring generalship? He was Napoleon at Austerlitz in the first round.
On instruction from his corner, Basilio looked to mix it up inside more in the second round, but he ran smack into an issue that plagued plenty of Whitaker’s opponents. It is easy to decide to swarm someone in the ring. It is a whole lot more difficult to swarm someone who is utterly resistant to having the ring cut down on him. Whitaker’s movement continued to frustrate the New Yorker, as once again it was Sweet Pea on the outside, peppering Basilio with shot after shot, none of them hitting terribly hard, all of them scoring in a remarkably visible fashion for the judges to see because of the distance thrown and the clear reaction of Basilio slowing to shake the effect when they landed.
Basilio had a better round here. All it took was a bit of mauling and perhaps a bit of what could be seen as dirty tactics, reaching out first with a jab purely to hold Whitaker in place for a second before pouncing on him—and indeed, on him, as in grabbing him and throwing him back to get him off balance—and forcing him into a corner where Basilio could unleash a bunch of punches to the body and to a lesser extent onto the arms and elbows of Whitaker, trying to wear him down with brute force.
Whitaker never seemed to get the benefit of the doubt from a referee, and he wasn’t getting anything from Arthur Mercante in this fight either.
Basilio continued with the mauling. When he couldn’t catch Whitaker the old-fashioned way, he’d be all but utterly flagrant in using the wrestling tactics. Onward this went into the middle rounds, and there was some controversy even on press row as to whether what Basilio was doing was dirty and worthy of scorn or else whether it was effective and exactly the recipe for taking Whitaker out of a fight.
One thing is sure; Mercante was growing increasingly irritated at the strategy employed, the beauty of the sweet science replaced by glorified mixed martial arts, and after issuing what had been the second warning since the fifth round, Mercante took a point away from Basilio for excessive grappling.
That changed things. For one thing, it seemed to light a fire under the feet of Pernell Whitaker, who got some dance back in his step. The rest of the seventh round was a clear 10-8 performance as Sweet Pea danced circles around the angry and feeling-slighted Basilio, who could not resort to the tactic he had used to, in the eyes of many an observer, swing the fight to his favor.
The other thing to remember here is that Basilio was naturally a bigger man. Not in height (both men stand five-foot-six) but in bulk, where Basilio carried himself quite well as a middleweight, even seizing a title at that weight from no less than Sugar Ray Robinson and falling short only against the might of a true 160-pounder in Gene Fullmer.
Whitaker was a lightweight and junior welterweight who lost something when he moved up, more Mayweather than Alvarez in this telling of the tale of the tape. Lithe and agile like a cat rather than brutish like a miniature gorilla, Whitaker did bear the fatigue inflicted upon him by the physicality of the bout, and Basilio’s punches slowly but surely began to find their mark without needing to be guided to the target by dirty tactics.
For three more rounds, the back-and-forth made it a question of what the viewer liked more, the ring generalship of Whitaker or the insistent work rate and greater force on the punches applied by Basilio.
Both men seemed gassed by this point in the fight. Basilio had expended the bulk of his energy on chasing down Whitaker and forcing him to fight on his terms of engagement. Whitaker had been gassed by the force of the punches sapping the will of his muscles in his arms to hold his fists up and by the power applied to the body, leaving him with the dull ache common to fighters who take punishment to the midsection.
It was his Achilles heel at welterweight, that absorption of punishment, and Basilio seemed to have gained the upper hand. But no final decisive blow would come to send a man to his knees or onto his face. Basilio won the eleventh; the twelfth, in which Whitaker danced and ran and tried only to put more jabs onto the face of Basilio than there were power punches coming back at him was yet another nearly impossible round to score insofar as you have to ask yourself if you want to reward a man for running no matter how many pot shots he lands in the process. The appearance of fear hardly counts as that ever-elusive concept of ring generalship.
When the decision was handed down, it was a split. Judge Chuck Giampa saw the bout 115-112, Whitaker. Judge Dave Moretti saw it 114-113, Basilio. And judge Julie Lederman saw the bout 115-112, for your winner, by split decision…
RESULT: WHITAKER SD12 BASILIO.
Hey, how about an old-fashioned clobberin’ contest? After all, subtlety is nice and all, but sometimes you just want to get two guys in there who are all about putting a hurt on each other and to hell with the consequence.
That’s right…it’s Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Arturo “Thunder” Gatti in the main event.
Your co-feature? Let’s move up a notch to junior welterweight and take Livingstone Bramble, from right before his career fell off a cliff (namely the Harold Brazier fight), and then throw him in there against Lucas Matthysse. Sound like fun?
(well, if it doesn’t sound like fun…see you April 16th. For the rest of you, it’s a date, next Saturday, right here on Historical Fight Night! Thanks for reading!)