Stolen History: Zale and Basilio

By Dennis Taylor on December 1, 2015
Stolen History: Zale and Basilio
Tony Zale and Georgie Abrams hammered each other for 15 brutal rounds at the Garden.

“They’re stealing from my family, and from Carmen’s widow and their family, and they’re stealing from boxing…”

On November 28, 1941, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Tony Zale and Georgie Abrams hammered each other for 15 brutal rounds in a fight that unified Abrams’ New York State Athletic Commission world middleweight title with the National Boxing Association crown held by Zale.

Zale, “The Man of Steel,” came off the deck that night to win a unanimous decision.

Six years later, at Chicago Stadium, Zale became the second man in history to regain the middleweight title, battering Rocky Graziano — the fighter who had taken his crown the previous year — with 30 unanswered punches to bring on a sixth-round TKO.

The world championship belts Zale was awarded for those two victories were among six that were stolen November 5th from the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, where one or more burglars entered by breaking a window, then smashed two glass display cases that held the belts. The theft happened at 2:45 a.m.

“It took them roughly 60 seconds to do it. The police were there in five minutes, but, unfortunately, the burglars weren’t caught,” said Ted Zale, Tony’s nephew, who is on a crusade to help recover the straps from the perpetrators.

In addition to the two belts that were on loan from the Zale family were four that belonged to the widow of Carmen Basilio, who reportedly was too distraught to talk to the media after she received the news.

“I’ve spoken to Josie Basilio at least five or six times now,” Ted Zale said. “The belts that were stolen from Carmen were from fights he had from 1953-57 against Billy Graham, Sugar Ray Robinson, Johnny Saxton and Tony DeMarco.

“These items that they’re stealing from us represent the Golden Age of Boxing,” he added. “They’re not only stealing from my family, and from Carmen’s widow and their family, they’re stealing from all of boxing. This is our history.”

Zale said his uncle’s title belts are composed of plates made of copper, brass, and gold plating, bound together with decorative silk. They were appraised at $2,500 when they were originally loaned to the Hall of Fame 17 years ago.

“I mean, come on… they’re not worth anything to anybody, other than to the boxing public,” he said. “My uncle put those belts out there for one reason: He wanted them on display for the rest of eternity so people could appreciate them, and so they could understand how much he appreciated the fans who supported him. He didn’t want them sitting on some shelf, or tucked under a bed. They belong in the Hall of Fame.”

Zale says this is the first recorded theft in the 25-year history of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which has vowed to install a state-of-the-art security system to prevent a recurrence.

Local and state police, and the FBI, are collaborating on the investigation, which they suspect might be connected to five other museum burglaries that have occurred in New York and New Jersey over the past two years.

Meanwhile, a $15,000 reward ($5,000 from a Syracuse radio station, $2,500 from the Zale family, and $7,500 from the World Boxing Council) is waiting for anybody who provides information that leads to the recovery of the stolen items.

“There’s no question in my mind that we’ll get them back, but we need the eyes and ears of all of boxing paying attention to this,” Zale said. “It may not happen tomorrow, or in the next day or two, but somewhere along the line these belts are going to show up. Eventually, somebody will try to get some cash out of them.”

To hear an in-depth interview with Ted Zale about the burglary at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, visit

More details about the reward, the investigation, and contact information for the appropriate law-enforcement agencies, can be found at

Dennis Taylor is editor/publisher of and host of The Ringside Boxing Show every Sunday at 4 p.m. Pacific, 5 Mountain 6 Central, 7 Eastern at

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  1. Jim Crue 12:40pm, 12/01/2015

    This is a very sad situation. I’m sorry of both families.
    To set the record straight Tony Zale do NOT win the title from Rocky is Chicago Stadium by 6th round KO as you have written. Rocky pounded Tony with 30 unanswered punches to win the title. Tony won it back the next year, 1948, in New Jersey

  2. Eric 09:19am, 12/01/2015

    Sad to read about this, hopefully those involved will be apprehended. You can’t place a value on what these items mean to the Basilio and Zale families. I have a baseball that Brooks Robinson hit that I would never sell. Probably not worth much to anyone but me, but it brings back some fond memories. Basilio vs Graziano or Zale, now that would have been quite a fantasy matchup.

  3. Mike Casey 05:23am, 12/01/2015

    A while after Nat Fleischer died in 1972, his prized Ring Museum was ransacked and many cherished items were never seen again. Opinions differ as to who did it.

  4. Clarence George 04:59am, 12/01/2015

    I’m glad you addressed this, Dennis.  I thought of doing it myself, but just never got around to it. 

    What I don’t understand is how the Zale belts were appraised at $2,500.  Appraised by whom?  Not a boxing historian or a dealer in boxing memorabilia.  While not an expert, I’m sure they would sell for considerably more if they could be made available on the open market.  They can’t, of course, but my guess is that they already sold for more to an unscrupulous collector.  All respect, but Ted Zale is mistaken when he says, “I mean, come on…they’re not worth anything to anybody, other than to the boxing public.”  Equally mistaken, I suspect, when he says, “There’s no question in my mind that we’ll get them back.”

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