TAMPA — On April 4, 1965, aging boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, who was attempting a comeback, took on relative unknown Earl "the Blaster" Basting, 28, at the Savannah Sports Center.
The fight lasted less than a round. For fans of devastating knockouts, the video is still available on YouTube.
Unfortunately for Mr. Basting, it was Sugar Ray's highlight — a right hand to Mr. Basting's chin and a finishing blow to the back of the head as he fell.
A steelworker's son, he grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, with something to prove. "He was one of the guys, if you saw him coming toward you on the sidewalk, you walk to the other side to get out of his way," said Rick Basting, his son.
Mr. Basting started boxing at 17. He fought in several states, mostly as a welterweight, working as a mechanic between fights.
He took out his considerable anger on his opponents, daring them to take a shot to his head.
"One of his goals was to break the other guy's hand with his head," said Rick Basting, 46, a major in the Air Force Reserve.
At home, he was easily irked. "Unless you wanted to get your head torn off, you just didn't confront him," his son said.
Three marriages came and went. He moved to Tampa in 1961.
At one point or another he was ranked ninth in California, first in Florida. He lost a decision to Japan's national champion and always claimed the judges robbed him.
Worse were the fights he couldn't remember. In one, the last thing he remembers was being knocked down, his son said. "He got up," his son said. "The next thing he knew he was putting on his shirt. He found out he won the fight."
Exact records are hard to come by, but his son estimates an overall record of 32 wins, six losses and four draws. He enjoyed some of the perks of boxing, such as posing with Muhammad Ali or playing a part for one episode of Miami Undercover, a television show in the early 1960s starring boxer Rocky Graziano.
The Robinson fight in 1965 was originally scheduled for the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel in Clearwater (now the Fort Harrison Hotel), but moved to Savannah after a money dispute.
Robinson's scheduled opponent had also dropped out, and Mr. Basting was moved in as the replacement. "I watched him fight in Florida, and he's a pretty rough kid," Robinson said of Mr. Basting before the fight.
Robinson, then 43 and in the last year of his career, knocked Mr. Basting down midway through the first round. Mr. Basting got back up but was put away for good at 2:34 of the same round.
He retired due to an elbow injury. In the late 1970s when a fiancee suffered terminal cancer, "He made a commitment to pray and read the Bible even though he didn't know what it was saying," his son said.
He stopped drinking. His fourth marriage, to Donna in 1978, endured. He drove a truck for Goodwill Industries and befriended recovering alcoholics and drug addicts going through rehabilitation there.
The eighth-grade dropout also went back to school for a high school equivalency degree. He still worked out with a heavy bag and a speed bag in the carport, and his old boxing gloves always hung by the closet door.
He carried more sobering reminders, too. Sometimes he searched for simple words that eluded him. "You had to be patient with him," his son said.
The changes he made since embracing Christianity also proved permanent. "He was a good role model for caring for people," his son said. "Generally respecting other people. Returning a favor with more than they gave you."
Mr. Basting died Tuesday, two years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 75.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.