FBI Join the Search for Championship Belts Stolen From Boxing Hall of Fame

The Bureau's 16 special agents who deal in international art theft are now helping the International Boxing Hall of Fame's search for six championship belts that were stolen from their museum last week.

by Sarah Kurchak
Nov 12 2015, 7:25pm

Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA

Last Thursday, November 5 in the early hours of the morning, at least one suspect broke into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, and broke three trophy cases containing six title belts held by Carmen Basilio and Tony Zale. The local police force was alerted to the burglary when the museum's security alarm was set off at 2:45 am, but by the time they arrived on the scene, the thief and all six belts were gone.

"It's terribly upsetting to think that someone would do this, Edward Brophy, Executive Director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame said in a statement released to the press after the incident. "It's devastating to the Boxing Hall of Fame, and we are confident that the items will be recovered."

According to the Oneida Dispatch, Canastota Chief of Police James Zophy said that the investigation of the burglary is ongoing. There is no video of photographic evidence from the scene, as the IBHoF's security system does not include a camera, but anyone who knows anything is encouraged to contact the police at 315-697-2240.

The FBI's Antiquities Division, a collection of 16 special agents who deal in "art and cultural property crime – which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines," has also joined the search for the belts. The Oneida Dispatch also reports that there is a $7500 reward being offered for their return, $5000 of that fund coming from a local classic rock radio hosts Gomez and Lisa, and $2500 from Tony Zale's nephew, Thad Zale.

The IBHoF's insurance company cannot assign a dollar value to the stolen property, and considered them "priceless." All six belts are of great historical and sentimental value for the IBHoF and its community.

As Boxing Junkie's Leo Roth pointed out: "For boxing fans, stealing Carmen's belts is an especially low blow. It was him and his nephew, 1970 world welterweight champ Billy Backus, who inspired the townsfolk of Canastota to raise money and build the Hall of Fame in the first place. Basilio was a member of the 1990 inaugural class with Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake Lamotta.

"Zale was inducted a year later. Hundreds of boxing figures have been honored since.

"Ted Zale, Tony's nephew, told Syracuse's WSYR-TV that his uncle's dying wish was to display his belts at the Hall as his way of saying thanks to his fans for eternity. Ted Zale said news of the burglary turned from disbelief and sadness into anger "and we'll be relentless until we get those belts back. They are our heritage.''

Tony Zale, who passed away in 1997, was World War II veteran, and a two time middleweight champion who achieved fame for a series of three bouts against the legendary Rocky Graziano (he won the first and third). Reports are that he was originally cast to play himself in the 1956 Graziano biopic Somebody Up There Likes Me, but was fired when a pre-filming sparring session between him and star Paul Newman turned serious and he knocked the actor out. Zale's 1941 World Middleweight Championship and 1948 World Middleweight Championship belts were among those lost in the burglary.

Canastota's own Carmen Basilio, who died in 2012, was a welterweight and middleweight boxing champ who gained prominence for fights like his pair of epic battles against Sugar Ray Robinson. He won the middleweight title in the first fight and lost it to Robinson in the rematch. The World Middleweight Championship belt that he won for defeating Robinson in 1957 is among those lost. The other three missing belts are his 1956 World Welterweight Championship, his 1953 New York State Welterweight Championship, and his 1955 World Welterweight Championship.

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