Floyd Patterson has died at age 71.
The two-time heavyweight champion was overtaken first by Sonny Liston, then by Muhammad Ali, as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s. But he was a big part of boxing history, and a link from the black and white to the colour TV era in a ring career that lasted 20 years. Patterson was a little guy, even in an age where heavyweights looked like normal people, who took some licks but punched back with style and skill.
By the time he fought Ali, in 1965, boxing and American were changing. Ali christened him "the Rabbit" and taunted him, this after Johansson had knocked him down seven times, and the mobbed-up Liston had beat him up mercilessly - Patterson kept going: "They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most."
|TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO|
|Ali lands a left hook on Patterson.|
One of his first big fights was against Yvon Durelle, a unanimous decision in 1954, then a rematch in New Brunswick a year later in which he stopped the Canadian middleweight champ.
In 1961, he fought at Maple Leaf Gardens against Tom McNeeley, who he knocked down 11 times, his last bout before facing Liston and losing the title he'd lost then retaken from Swede Ingemar Johansson. Here's a taste of Milt Dunnell's Star column out of that one (and for a PDF file of the lead sports page from that day via Pages of the Past, go here):
Maybe the most revealing sidelight to the drama was that Toreador Patterson displayed a distaste for the kill. Twice during the fierceness and the frenzy of the encounter, he made as if to assist the fallen foe to regain his feet.
Floyd attempted to explain the seeming reluctance to leave his victim for the toll of 10 after turning the hornets loose in his tortured brain. Sometimes, in a fight, Patterson said, he tended to forget it was a fight. After all, boxing was a sport. The expression on Patterson's face had been seldom something you see in the prize ring. It was a mixture of concern for his foe and disgust for the job which had to be done.
AP FILE PHOTO Patterson KO's Johansson to take back the title.
Patterson also fought George Chuvalo in 1965 at Madison Square Garden, winning a narrow decision in a contest that Ring Magazine called the Fight of the Year, as boxing historian Mike Dunn notes beautifully here:
In the latter rounds of the bout, there were fewer exchanges but the action remained intense as the drama slowly built with each bell that sounded. Would Chuvalo's aggression be enough to offset Patterson's sharper punches in the minds of the judges? Would Chuvalo be able to trap Patterson in a corner and finally do to the former champ what Liston had done? Would Patterson be able to withstand the continued assault of the bigger man? In the final rounds of the fight, Patterson became more aggressive and accomplished what he had set out to do: he proved himself to the public. He proved that he could take the hard punches of a genuine heavyweight. He proved that he still had the heart of a lion and the hunger to reach down inside of himself and find the resolve to finish strong.