Last Updated on Monday, 06 September 2010 07:14
Written by Alexander Zammit
Monday, 06 September 2010 07:00
Boxing has often been the salvation of many youths offering them an alternative way of life away from gang culture and crime. A shining example of this must surely be Floyd Patterson who from being a truant and petty thief, rose above himself not only to achieve legendary status as a boxer but also a reputation as a gentleman who showed great sportsmanship through out his carrier and life - both in and out of the ring.
Born into a poor family in Waco, North Carolina, Patterson was the youngest of eleven children and experienced an insular and troubled childhood. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Floyd was a truant and petty thief. At age ten, he was sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York were he was introduced to boxing.
At age fourteen he started to train under Cus D'Amato at his Gramercy Gym. Aged just 17, Patterson won the Gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a middleweight. 1952 turned out to be a good year for the young Patterson; in addition to Olympic gold Patterson won the National Amateur Middleweight Championship and New York Golden Gloves Middleweight championship.
Patterson had a particular boxing style he carried his hands higher than most boxers, in front of his face. Sportswriters called Patterson's style a "peek-a-boo" stance.
Although Patterson fought around the light heavyweight limit for much of his early career, he and manager Cus D'Amato always had plans to fight for the heavyweight championship. In fact, D'Amato made these plans clear as early as 1954, when he told the press that Patterson was aiming for the heavyweight title. However, after Rocky Marciano announced his retirement as heavyweight champion of the world on April 27, 1956, Patterson was ranked by Ring magazine as the top light heavyweight contender. After Marciano's announcement, Jim Norris of the International Boxing Club stated that Patterson was one of the six fighters who would take part in an elimination tournament to crown Marciano's successor. Ring then moved Patterson into the heavyweight rankings, at number five.
After beating Tommy "Hurricane" Jackson in an elimination fight, Patterson faced light heavyweight champion Archie Moore on November 30, 1956, for the world heavyweight championship. He beat Moore by a knockout in five rounds, and became the youngest world heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 21 years and 10 months. He was the first Olympic gold medalist to win a professional heavyweight title.
(On the 22 November 1996 – Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion at 20 years, 4 months and 22 days old.)
After a series of defenses (Hurricane Jackson, Pete Rademacher, Roy Harris and Brian London), Patterson met Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, the number one contender, in the first of three fights. Johansson triumphed over Patterson on June 26, 1959, with the referee Ruby Goldstein stopping the fight in the third round after the Swede had knocked Patterson down seven times. Johansson became Sweden's first world heavyweight champion, thus becoming a national hero as the first European to defeat an American for the title since 1933.
Regaining the belt -- Patterson knocked out Johansson in the fifth round of their rematch on June 20, 1960, to become the first man to regain the undisputed world heavyweight title. Johansson hit the canvas hard, seemingly out before he landed flat on his back. With glazed eyes, blood trickling from his mouth, and his left foot quivering, he was counted out and Patterson in a show of true sportsmanship when he saw that his opponent was unconscious, instead of celebrating, he got down on the canvas and held Johansson's head. Johansson lay unconscious for five minutes before he started to recover and was helped onto a stool.
Patterson became the first boxer to regain the heavyweight title until Muhammad Ali shocked George Foreman and the world in Zaire in 1974.
Patterson lost his title to Liston on September 25, 1962 in Chicago, by a first-round knockout in front of 18,894 fans. The two fighters were a marked contrast. In the ring, Liston's size and power proved too much for Patterson's guile and agility. However Patterson did not use his speed to his benefit. According to Sports Illustrated writer Gilbert Rogin, Patterson didn't punch enough and frequently tried to clinch with Liston. Liston battered Patterson with body shots and then shortened up and connected with two double hooks high on the head. The result at the time was the third-fastest knockout in boxing history. After being knocked out, Patterson left Comiskey Park in Chicago wearing dark glasses and a fake beard for the drive back to New York. After the fight questions were raised on whether or not the fight was fixed to set up a more lucrative rematch. Overnight Patterson seemed to lose his public support as a result of his swift knockout.
The rematch was set for April 1963, however Liston injured his knee swinging a golf club and the fight was delayed to July 22, 1963. In Las Vegas that night Patterson attempted to become the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times, but Liston once again knocked him out in the first round. Patterson lasted four seconds longer than in the first bout.
Following these defeats, Patterson went through a depression. However, he eventually recovered and began winning fights again, including victories over Eddie Machen and George Chuvalo. Patterson became the number one challenger for the title then held by Muhammad Ali. On November 22, 1965, in yet another attempt to be the first to win the world's heavyweight title three times, Patterson lost by technical knockout at the end of the 12th round, in a bout in which Ali was clearly dominant. Ali called Patterson an "Uncle Tom" for refusing to call him Muhammad Ali, (Patterson continued to call him Cassius Clay) and for this outspokenness against Black Muslims. Instead of scoring a quick knockout, Ali mocked, humiliated and punished Patterson throughout the fight.
Despite this loss, Patterson was still a legitimate contender. In 1966 he traveled to England and knocked out British boxer Henry Cooper in just four rounds at Wembley Stadium. In comparison, Ali never scored a knockdown against Cooper in their two bouts.
In September 1969 he divorced his first wife, Sandra Hicks Patterson, who wanted him to quit boxing while he still had hopes for another title shot. When Ali was stripped of his title for refusing induction into the military, the World Boxing Association staged an eight-man tournament to determine his successor. Patterson lost a controversial 12-round decision to Jerry Quarry in 1967. Subsequently, in a third and final attempt at winning the title a third time, Patterson lost a controversial 15-round referee's decision to Jimmy Ellis in Sweden despite breaking Ellis' nose and scoring a disputed knockdown.
Patterson continued on, however, defeating Oscar Bonavena in a close fight over ten rounds in early 1972. However, a final defeat by Muhammad Ali in a rematch for the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title on September 20, 1972, convinced Patterson to retire at the age of 37.
In retirement, he and Johansson became good friends who flew across the Atlantic to visit each other every year. In 1982 he ran in the New York Marathon, paired with Ingemar Johansson. This time each went the distance.
Floyd was a true ambassador of the sport and represented boxing well outside the ring, and after his retirement he devoted much time to youth with amateur boxing programs.
From 1977 to 1984, Floyd was a member of the New York State Athletic Commission and from 1995 to 1998, he was the Chairman; Patterson was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1976, the United States Olympic Committee Hall of Fame in 1987 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. Floyd was also a member of the order ‘Knights of Columbus’.
After leaving the athletic commission, Patterson counseled troubled children for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
He also adopted Tracy Harris two years after the 11-year-old boy began hanging around the gym at Patterson's home. In 1992, Tracy Harris Patterson, with his father's help, won the WBC super bantamweight championship.
Floyd also trained Canadian heavyweight Donovan "Razor" Ruddock in 1992 for this fight with Greg Page.
Floyd Patterson suffered from Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer and had been hospitalized for a week prior to his death. He died at home in New Paltz in 2006 at age 71. He is buried at New Paltz Rural Cemetery in New Paltz, Ulster County, New York.
"They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most."