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Patterson, Floyd

Floyd Patterson

1935–2006

Boxer

Floyd Patterson rose to the highest level of professional boxing, becoming the youngest world heavyweight champion and then the first man to ever regain a world heavyweight championship. "Along with [President Dwight] Eisenhower, Mickey Mantle and Elvis [Presley], Floyd Patterson was one of the recognizable faces of the '50s," boxing historian Bert Sugar told the Chicago Tribune. But boxing was much more than a chance at fame to Patterson. "Without boxing, I'd probably be dead or in jail," Patterson had once remarked about his career as a professional boxer, according to Newsday. Paterson credited boxing for giving him "the opportunity to lift myself from the mean streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant." Indeed, Patterson overcame many obstacles to become a boxing legend. Yet, his legacy rests not on those obstacles, but on his athleticism and his kindness to his opponents. "He ennobled the sport," Sugar told the Chicago Tribune.

Born into Poverty

Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935, in Waco, North Carolina, the third of 11 children. He grew up in abject poverty and would become the youngest heavyweight champion until Mike Tyson came along. The family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1936 so that Patterson's father Thomas could look for work. He worked in construction, as a longshoreman, in sanitation, and in a fish market. Thomas Patterson worked every day, but to Floyd's young eyes there never seemed to be enough. The Patterson's constantly moved around Brooklyn trying to accommodate the ever-growing family. As a child, Patterson felt ashamed of not having clothes that fit and a sense of helplessness for not being able to help his parents provide for the family.

As a result of his self-perception, Patterson did not go to school, but avoided the truant officer by staying in the dark all day—in neighborhood cellars, alleys, subway stations, or in the movies. Patterson was not like the other kids; he could not (or would not) read or write, he did not bring friends home, and he would not look people in the eye. Besides skipping school he began to steal to pass the time away. Because his mother could not control him, Patterson was sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys in 1945, which was an alternative to jail for boys aged eight to 12. It was at this correctional institution that Patterson blossomed. At Wiltwyck he received individual attention and found that white and black kids were treated exactly the same.

It was also at Wiltwyck that Patterson put on boxing gloves for the first time. He was a natural, winning all three bouts in which he participated. At the age of twelve Patterson returned home a new person. He was still shy, but he had overcome the feeling of shame that was so deep-seeded within him as a small child. Patterson went to P.S. 614—a vocational elementary school where he got the idea that he could use boxing to earn money for his family.

Boxing Career Took Off Quickly

In 1949 Patterson entered Gramercy Gym, which was run by Cus D'Amato, who would later train and manage Tyson. D'Amato gave Patterson boxing equipment and taught him the rudiments of the ring, but his first experience at boxing was almost his last. Patterson's first fight was against his brother Frank, who was then the 160-pound New York Golden Gloves Champion. He was pummeled by his big brother, but overcame his fear and stuck with the sport. Six months later he had his first amateur fight.

In January of 1950 Patterson entered and won his first AAU tournament bout in the 147-pound weight class. The next year as a 160-pound fighter, Patterson won his weight class and traveled to Chicago to participate in the national AAU Boxing Championships. 1951 was a significant year for Patterson personally because he met his future wife Sandra Hicks. Patterson wanted to turn pro that year as a sixteen-year-old, but D'Amato would not let him. In the back of his mind D'Amato was saving Patterson for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. In 1952 Patterson won the Golden Gloves Championship at Madison Square Garden and the National AAU Championship in Boston. After Patterson won the Eastern Olympic tryouts and was named to the team, he left school for good for a chance at history. Patterson became a member of perhaps the finest United States Olympic boxing team ever assembled as the squad won five gold medals including Patterson's.

On September 12, 1952, Patterson had his first professional bout at the age of 17. He won it with a knockout in the first round to receive the eye-popping sum of three hundred dollars-half of which immediately went to his mother. Soon the family had a telephone, a television, and appliances in the home where Patterson still shared a bed with his little brother Larry. In his first month as a professional he won three fights and $1,000. Patterson was named "Ring Rookie of the Year" in 1953 by the New York Boxing Writers.

There was talk of matching the 19-year-old prodigy up against a ranked opponent, but D'Amato wanted to take it slower. After fighting four light heavyweights, D'Amato signed Patterson for his first big professional fight against veteran Joey Maxim. Patterson returned to Wiltwyck to train for the fight for which he would be paid $5,000. In his debut as a big-time contender, the kid lost to the experience of Maxim. Though Patterson did not believe he had lost in his heart, he was devastated. Later Patterson realized that he had been outsmarted by the ex-champion and developed a respect for Maxim. Patterson soon recovered from his loss and went on a tear of 11 straight knockouts including his first official heavyweight fight against Archie McBride. By the end of 1955 Patterson was fighting in Los Angeles and rubbing elbows with such Hollywood stars as Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. Despite his new success and notoriety, he was miserable. He missed Sandra who was still in high school back in Brooklyn. When Patterson returned home, he asked Sandra to be is wife and the two were married on February 11, 1956, in a civil ceremony. After Patterson converted to Catholicism later that year the two were married again in a religious ceremony on July 13. Patterson bought a home for his family in Mt. Vernon, New York and he and his new wife moved in with them.

Won Heavyweight Championships

On April 12, 1956, Rocky Marciano retired, leaving the heavyweight division without a champion. On June 8 the 21-year-old Patterson fought Tommy 'Hurricane' Jackson at Madison Square Garden for a purse of $50,000. Despite a broken hand that he had injured two weeks before the fight, Patterson won the bout in a split decision. The path was open to fight for the newly vacated heavyweight championship. In September of 1956, Patterson was signed to fight Archie Moore for the heavyweight championship. As he drove to Chicago Stadium on November 30 he had more than the title belt and its $114,257 purse on his mind. At Queens Memorial Hospital back in New York, Sandra was going into labor with their first child. Patterson was able to keep his composure and knocked out Moore in the fifth round. In his dressing room a reporter informed him that he was a father and showed him a picture of his new daughter Seneca. One and a half hours after winning the heavyweight championship Patterson was in a car on his way back to New York. It was actions like this that would help shape his legacy as a man with his priorities in order.

At a Glance …

Born on January 4, 1935, in Waco, North Carolina; died on May 11, 2006, in New Paltz, NY; son of Thomas Patterson; married Sandra; children: Seneca, Jennifer, Tracy (adopted son).

Career : Boxer, 1952–1972; New York State Athletic Commission, commissioner, 1977–84; New York City Sports Commission, commissioner, 1985; New York State Athletic Commission, chairman, 1995–98.

Awards : Olympics, Helsinki, Gold Medal, 1952; President John F. Kennedy, Setting a Good Example Award, 1961; World Heavyweight Champion 1956–59, 1960–62; World Institute of Black Communications and CBS Records, Pioneer of Excellence Award, 1986; United States Olympic Hall of Fame, inductee, 1987; International Boxing Hall of Fame, inductee, 1991.

Patterson ruled the boxing world at age 21—as the youngest world heavyweight champion—but he learned in reality that his accomplishment meant little to a black man in 1957 America. He was not able to get a meal in a truck stop in Baltimore or eat in a restaurant in Kansas City during a five-city exhibition tour. In Wichita he was greeted by 50 people blocking his path from the station. A Catholic priest intervened and allowed Patterson and his entourage to stay with him at his Parish. After continuing on with his exhibition before a hushed all-white crowd, Patterson vowed that he would never box in front of a segregated crowd again. He insisted that promoters desegregate seating and avoid scheduling him to train in segregated towns. Patterson also became part of an anti-discrimination suit against a beauty parlor that would not take his wife's appointment. Becoming heavyweight champ was a rude awakening in other ways as well. The withdrawn Patterson was constantly stared at, and was criticized by the boxing media both for his youth and for not fighting real challengers to his heavyweight title. Because of D'Amato's dispute with the boxing powers-that-be, the best contenders would not fight Patterson. He fought Jackson again and also two lightly-regarded fighters Roy Harris and Brian London in 1958 before signing to take on the number one contender, Ingemar Johansson from Sweden.

Johansson was undefeated in 21 fights and had knocked out 13 previous opponents. During his training Johansson played up the fact that he had injured his right hand. He never threw it while sparring. During the championship fight, he also made Patterson a believer. Johansson did not even come close to throwing the right for the first two rounds. After setting up the young fighter to leave his left side open, Johansson delivered a crushing right hand to the side of Patterson's head that punctured his left eardrum and left him dazed for the rest of the bout. Johansson punched Patterson down seven times, but each time the bewildered champ struggled back to his feet. Finally the referee had to stop the fight.

After recovering from the physical beating, Patterson found that the mental anguish was worse to deal with. He had weeks of sleepless nights and even his children began to question if their father was sick. Finally the feelings of self-doubt and self-pity began to evolve into something like a hatred for Johansson. Patterson was also having his troubles with D'Amato after an investigation of the way the first Johansson fight was promoted. D'Amato would eventually have his license revoked on November 24, 1959, and be suspended from boxing. Despite not having his manager, Patterson had developed a burning desire for a rematch and for redemption. He decided not to wait for D'Amato's suspension to end and signed to fight the heavyweight champion again on June 20, 1960 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Patterson overcame another hand injury and his own demons of doubt in the second fight. He started out as the aggressor cutting Johansson's eye in the first round. Patterson worked him over for four more rounds and then at 1:51 of the fifth the ex-champ literally knocked Johansson senseless. Patterson was heavyweight champ again—the first person to regain a world heavyweight championship in boxing. But in characteristic fashion, Patterson helped up his opponent before beginning his victory celebration.

Patterson's kind gesture was noted by all who saw it. In his long climb back to the top of the boxing world he had learned something about himself. He would rather give up boxing than to develop a hatred for an opponent. Years after the fight he told Sports Illustrated: "I was so filled with hate. I would not ever want to be like that again." Patterson made a point of never doing so again and the boxing industry noticed. Indeed upon hearing of his death in 2006, Sean Curtin, Illinois' former chief of boxing, told the Chicago Tribune that "Floyd Patterson's character was his greatest contribution to boxing."

Champion Years Came to a Close

Patterson continued on with his career. He would fight Johansson a third time and though he struggled, Patterson found a way to win. He was knocked down twice in the first round, but then switched his focus to pounding Johansson's body. Patterson won the fight in the sixth round knocking Johansson out with a right. In late 1961 Patterson knocked out Tom McNealey in the fourth round after knocking him down eight times. After the McNealey fight Patterson again heard from the critics claiming that he would not fight any real challengers, but that would change all too soon.

The most obvious choice for a title bout was Charles "Sonny" Liston; he had been demolishing all the boxers who critics claimed Patterson should have been fighting. D'Amato was cautious as ever and did not want Patterson to fight Liston citing the ex-con's ties to organized crime. Even the NAACP did not want Patterson to give Liston a shot at the title because of his unsavory reputation. But Patterson fought Liston anyway on September 25, 1962, in Chicago. Liston outweighed Patterson by 25 pounds and was a nine-to-five favorite. Liston batted Patterson around like an amateur knocking him out in two minutes and six seconds of the first round. He lost the championship, but sought a rematch. According to the New York Times, Patterson had said, "If I stopped now, that would be running away. I did that when I was a kid. I've grown out of that." In the rematch a year later Liston knocked Patterson down three times before again knocking him out in the first round. Patterson never regained his title.

Many thought that Patterson's career was over, but he was only 29 years old and he decided to continue his boxing career. He won two bouts in Stockholm, Sweden and earned another shot at the title against Muhammad Ali. Patterson thought he matched up well with the brash young Ali, but he had no luck in the fight. He injured his back in the first round, but continued even though he was severely hampered. Patterson lasted into the twelfth round when the ref-eree gave the bout to Ali on a technical knock out. Despite the terrible punishment he was receiving in the ring Patterson was not ready to retire. He defeated Henry Cooper in 1966 and fought four times in 1967.

Patterson lost to WBA Champion Jimmy Ellis in a title fight in Sweden despite breaking Ellis's nose and cutting his eye. He then left the ring for two years. He resumed boxing in 1970 mostly fighting washed-up journeymen through 1971. But he would get one last chance at the big-time in 1972. Muhammad Ali was looking to stay sharp while waiting for his rematch with Joe Frazier. He signed to fight the 37-year-old Patterson on September 20 in 1972. Patterson stayed even with Ali for the first four rounds, but Ali cut Patterson badly over his right eye and the ring doctor stopped the fight in the eighth round. Patterson called for a third fight with Ali, but it never happened. The brutal beating by Ali would be his last fight. Patterson's final record was 55-8-1 with 40 knockouts. For his stellar career in boxing, Patterson was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1987 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

Remained Active in Boxing

Though he would never fight again, Patterson remained active in boxing from outside the ring. Patterson opened a gym in New Paltz, New York to bring along young fighters the way D'Amato brought him to boxing prominence. In 1976 Patterson took particular interest in an 11-year-old kid named Tracy Harris, who reminded him of himself as a boy. Patterson took the young boxer under his wing both personally and professionally. He eventually adopted Tracy Juan Harris Patterson as well as becoming his trainer and manager. Patterson guided his new son to two Golden Gloves titles as an amateur and to 97 victories. Patterson seemed to work well with his son as Tracy compiled an excellent professional record and won the World Boxing Council junior featherweight championship. But the newest Patterson wanted a change. In late 1994 he told his adopted father that he wanted a different manager and the bond between father and son was broken.

Though Patterson suffered pain in his personal life, his tireless work in the boxing community brought him to the attention of New York Governor George Pataki. He was named the athletic commissioner of the State of New York in June of 1995. Patterson hoped to use casino gambling as a way to bring the marquee fights from Las Vegas back to New York. He also wanted to establish a pension fund for older fighters in the state. In late December of 1995 Patterson presided over the biggest bout in New York in decades pitting Oscar De La Hoya against Jesse James Leiha. What should have been his greatest professional triumph was spoiled by the results of one of the undercard fights. Patterson sat slumped in his chair as he watched his estranged adopted son lose his title.

At 61 years old Patterson appeared to be the picture of health. He still worked out at his gym and remained active running the athletic commission and serving as a Eucharistic minister, administering Communion to residents of a nearby nursing home. But all was not well with the former champion. There were rumors that Patterson's memory was slipping. The truth came out after a New York Post report on a deposition that Patterson gave in March of 1998 in regards to "ultimate fighting." During the deposition Patterson could not remember his secretary's name, the name of the man he replaced as athletic commissioner, or the name of Archie Moore, the man he defeated for the heavyweight championship. Patterson's friend and former boxer Jose Torres told The Sporting News: "I felt that he was having a little trouble with his memory, and people were talking about it all around boxing …" The fallout from the revelation led to Patterson's resignation from the athletic commission on April 1, 1998.

Patterson then retired to his 17-acre farm in New Paltz, New York, having left a legacy as an honest and loyal gentleman in a world of boxing con-men, back-stabbers, and charlatans. He remained as legendary sportswriter Red Smith said, as quoted in Sports Illustrated: "A man of peace whose life has been devoted to beating men with his fists." Patterson, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer, died at his home on May 11, 2006. He was 71 years old.

Sources

Books

Patterson, Floyd, and Milton Gross, Victory Over Myself, Bernard Geis Associates, 1962.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2006, p. 1.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), May 12, 2006, p. A80.

New York Times, May 12, 2006, p. 31.

Sports Illustrated, March 22, 1993, p. 70; November 18, 1996, p. 4.

Sporting News, April 1, 1998.

Other

Cyber Boxing Zone, www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/floyd.htm (May 11, 2006).

Heavyweight Boxing Championship History, www.geocities.com/Colosseum/1008/hwb3.html#Patterson (May 12, 2006).

Official Site of Floyd Patterson, www.cmgww.com/sports/patterso/index.php (May 11, 2006).

World Boxing Association, www.wbaonline.com (May 12, 2006).

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Patterson, Floyd 1935–

Floyd Patterson 1935

Professional boxer

A Fighter is Born

A Champion Dethroned

Patterson vs. Liston

Success After Boxing

Sources

Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935 in Waco, North Carolinathe third of 11 children. He grew up in abject poverty and would become the youngest heavyweight champion until Mike Tyson came along. The family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1936 so that Pattersons father Thomas could look for work. He worked in construction, as a longshoreman, in sanitation, and in a fish market. Thomas Patterson worked every day, but to Floyds young eyes there never seemed to be enough. The Pattersons constantly moved around Brooklyn trying to accommodate the ever-growing family. As a child, Patterson felt ashame of not having clothes that fit and a sense of helplessness for not being able to help his parents provide for the family.

As a result of his own self-perception, Patterson did not go to school, but avoided the truant officer by staying in the dark all dayin neighborhood cellars, alleys, subway stations, or in the movies. Patterson was not like the other kids; he could not (or would not) read or write, he did not bring friends home, and he would not look people in the eye. Besides skipping school he began to steal to pass the time away. Because his mother could not control him, Patterson was sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys in 1945, which was an alternative to jail for boys aged eight to 12. It was at this correctional institution that Patterson blossomed. At Wiltwyck he received individual attention and found that white and black kids were treated exactly the same.

It was also at Wiltwyck that Patterson put on boxing gloves for the first time. He was a natural, winning all three bouts in which he participated. At the age of twelve Patterson returned home a new person. He was still shy, but he had overcome the feeling of shame that was so deep-seeded within him as a small child. Patterson went to P.S. 614a vocational elementary school where he got the idea that he could use boxing to earn money for his family.

A Fighter is Born

In 1949 Patterson entered Gramercy Gym, which was run by Cus DAmato, who would later train and manage Tyson. DAmato gave Patterson boxing equipment and taught him the rudiments of the ring, but his first experience at boxing was almost his last. Pattersons

At a Glance

Born Floyd Patterson, January 4, 1935 in Waco, North Carolina; Son of Thomas Patterson; wife Sandra; children: Seneca, Jennifer.

Career: Won a gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics; World Heavyweight Champion 1956-59, 1960-62; Last fight in 1972 against Muhammed Ali; Commissioner, New York State Athletic Commission, 1977-84; Commissioner, New York City Sports Commission, 1985; Chairman, New York State Athletic Commission, 1995-98.

Awards: Received Setting a Good Example Award from President John F. Kennedy, 1961; Elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame, 1976; Received the Pioneer of Excellence Award from the World Institute of Black Communications and CBS Records, 1986.

first fight was against his brother Frank, who was then the 160-pound New York Golden Gloves Champion. He was pummeled by his big brother, but overcame his fear and stuck with the sport. Six months later he had his first amateur fight.

In January of 1950 Patterson entered and won his first AAU tournament bout in the 147-pound weight class. The next year as a 160-pound fighter, Patterson won his weight class and traveled to Chicago to participate in the national AAU Boxing Championships. 1951 was a significant year for Patterson personally because he met his future wife Sandra Hicks. Patterson wanted to turn pro that year as a sixteen-year-old, but DAmato would not let him. In the back of his mind DAmato was saving Patterson for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. In 1952 Patterson won the Golden Gloves Championship at Madison Square Garden and the National AAU Championship in Boston. After Patterson won the Eastern Olympic tryouts and was named to the team, he left school for good for a chance at history. Patterson became a member of perhaps the finest United States Olympic boxing team ever assembled as the squad won five gold medals including Pattersons.

On September 12, 1952 Patterson had his first professional bout at the age of 17. He won it with a knockout in the first round to receive the eye-popping sum of three hundred dollarshalf of which immediately went to his mother. Soon the family had a telephone, a television, and appliances in the home where Patterson still shared a bed with his little brother Larry. In his first month as a professional he won three fights and $1,000. Patterson was named Ring Rookie of the Year in 1953 by the New York Boxing Writers.

There was talk of matching the 19-year-old prodigy up against a ranked opponent, but DAmato wanted to take it slower. After fighting four light heavyweights, DAmato signed Patterson for his first big professional fight against veteran Joey Maxim. Patterson returned to Wiltwyck to train for the fight for which he would be paid $5,000. In his debut as a big-time contender, the kid lost to the experience of Maxim. Though Patterson did not believe he had lost in his heart, he was devastated. Later Patterson realized that he had been outsmarted by the ex-champion and developed a respect for Maxim. Patterson soon recovered from his loss and went on a tear of 11 straight knockouts including his first official heavyweight fight against Archie McBride. By the end of 1955 Patterson was fighting in Los Angeles and rubbing elbows with such Hollywood stars as Frank Sinatra and Kim Novack. Despite his new success and notoriety, he was miserable. He missed Sandra who was still in high school back in Brooklyn. When Patterson returned home, he asked Sandra to be is wife and the two were married on February 11, 1956 in a civil ceremony. After Patterson converted to Catholicism later that year the two were married again in a religious ceremony on July 13. Patterson bought a home for his family in Mt. Vernon, New York and he and his new wife moved in with them.

On April 12, 1956 Rocky Marciano retired, leaving the heavyweight division without a champion. On June 8 the 21-year-old Patterson fought Tommy Hurricane Jackson at Madison Square Garden for a purse of $50,000. Despite a broken hand that he had injured two weeks before the fight, Patterson won the bout in a split decision. The path was open to fight for the newly vacated heavyweight championship. In September of 1956, Patterson was signed to fight Archie Moore for the heavyweight championship. As he drove to Chicago Stadium on November 30 he had more than the title belt and its $114,257 purse on his mind. At Queens Memorial Hospital back in New York Sandra was going into labor with their first child. Patterson was able to keep his composure and knocked out Moore in the fifth round. In his dressing room a reporter informed him that he was a father and showed him a picture of his new daughter Seneca. One and a half hours after winning the heavyweight championship Patterson was in a car on his way back to New York.

Patterson ruled the boxing world at the age of 21, but he learned in reality that his accomplishment meant little to a black man in 1957 America. He was not able to get a meal in a truck stop in Baltimore or eat in a restaurant in Kansas City during a five-city exhibition tour. In Wichita he was greeted by 50 people blocking his path from the station. A Catholic priest intervened and allowed Patterson and his entourage to stay with him at his Parish. After continuing on with his exhibition before a hushed all-white crowd, Patterson vowed that he would never box in front of a segregated crowd again. He insisted that promoters desegregate seating and avoid scheduling him to train in segregated towns. Patterson also became part of an anti-discrimination suit against a beauty parlor which would not take his wifes appointment. Becoming heavyweight champ was a rude awakening in other ways as well. The withdrawn Patterson was constantly stared at, and was criticized by the boxing media both for his youth and for not fighting real challengers to his heavyweight title. Because of DAmatos dispute with the boxing powers-that-be, the best contenders would not fight Patterson. He fought Jackson again and also two lightly-regarded fighters Roy Harris and Brian London in 1958 before signing to take on the number one contender, Ingemar Johansson from Sweden.

A Champion Dethroned

Johansson was undefeated in 21 fights and had knocked out 13 previous opponents. During his training Johansson played up the fact that he had injured his right hand. He never threw it while sparring. During the championship fight, he also made Patterson a believer. Johansson did not even come close to throwing the right for the first two rounds. After setting up the young fighter to leave his left side open, Johansson delivered a crushing right hand to the side of Pattersons head which punctured his left ear drum and left him dazed for the rest of the bout. Johansson punched Patterson down seven times, but each time the bewildered champ struggled back to his feet. Finally the referee had to stop the fight.

After recovering from the physical beating, Patterson found that the mental anguish was worse to deal with. He had weeks of sleepless nights and even his children began to question if their father was sick. Finally the feelings of self-doubt and self-pity began to evolve into something like a hatred for Johansson. Patterson was also having his troubles with DAmato after an investigation of the way the first Johansson fight was promoted. DAmato would eventually have his license revoked on November 24, 1959 and be suspended from boxing. Despite not having his manager, Patterson had developed a burning desire for a rematch and for redemption. He decided not to wait for DAmatos suspension to end and signed to fight the heavyweight champion again on June 20, 1960 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Patterson overcame another hand injury and his own demons of doubt in the second fight. He started out as the aggressor cutting Johanssons eye in the first round. Patterson worked him over for four more rounds and then at 1:51 of the fifth the ex-champ literally knocked Johansson senseless. Patterson was heavyweight champ again, but in his long climb back to the top of the boxing world he learned something about himself. For Patterson he would rather give up boxing than to develop a hatred for an opponent.

Years after the fight he told Sports Illustrated: I was so filled with hate. I would not ever want to be like that again. He would fight Johansson a third time and though he struggled, Patterson found a way to win. He was knocked down twice in the first round, but then switched his focus to pounding Johanssons body. Patterson won the fight in the sixth round knocking Johansson out with a right. In late 1961 Patterson knocked out Tom McNealey in the fourth round after knocking him down eight times. After the McNealey fight Patterson again heard from the critics claiming that he would not fight any real challengers, but that would change all too soon.

Patterson vs. Liston

The most obvious choice for a title bout was Charles Sonny Liston who had been demolishing all the boxers critics claimed Patterson should have been fighting. DAmato was cautious as ever and did not want Patterson to fight Liston citing the ex-cons ties to organized crime. Even the NAACP did not want Patterson to give Liston a shot at the title because of his unsavory reputation. But Patterson fought Liston anyway on September 25, 1962 in Chicago. Liston outweighed Patterson by 25 pounds and was a nine-to-five favorite. Liston batted Patterson around like an amateur knocking him out in two minutes and six seconds of the first round. In the rematch a year later Liston knocked Patterson down three times before again knocking him out in the first round.

Many thought that Pattersons career was over, but he was only 29 years old and he decided to continue his boxing career. He won two bouts in Stockholm, Sweden and earned another shot at the title against Muhammad Ali. Patterson thought he matched up well with the brash young Ali, but he had no luck in the fight. He injured his back in the first round, but continued even though he was severely hampered. Patterson lasted into the twelfth round when the referee gave the bout to Ali on a technical knock out. Despite the terrible punishment he was receiving in the ring Patterson was not ready to retire. He defeated Henry Cooper in 1966 and fought four times in 1967.

Patterson lost to WBA Champion Jimmy Ellis in a title fight in Sweden despite breaking Elliss nose and cutting his eye. He then left the ring for two years. He resumed boxing in 1970 mostly fighting washed-up journeymen through 1971. But he would get one last chance at the big-time in 1972. Muhammad Ali was looking to stay sharp while waiting for his rematch with Joe Frazier. He signed to fight the 37-year-old Patterson on September 20 in 1972. Patterson stayed even with Ali for the first four rounds, but Ali cut Patterson badly over his right eye and the ring doctor stopped the fight in the eighth round. Patterson called for a third fight with Ali, but it never happened. The brutal beating by Ali would be his last fight. Pattersons final record was 55-8-1 with 40 knockouts.

Success After Boxing

Though he would never fight again, Patterson remained active in boxing. Patterson opened a gym in New Paltz, New York to bring along young fighters the way DAmato brought him to boxing prominence. In 1976 Patterson took particular interest in an 11-year-old kid named Tracy Harris, who reminded him of himself as a boy. Patterson took the young boxer under his wing both personally and professionally. He eventually adopted Tracy Juan Harris Patterson as well as becoming his trainer and manager. Patterson guided his new son to two Golden Gloves titles as an amateur and to 97 victories. Patterson seemed to work well with his son as Tracy compiled an excellent professional record and won the World Boxing Council junior featherweight championship. But the newest Patterson wanted a change. In late 1994 he told his adopted father that he wanted a different manager and the bond between father and son was broken. Though Patterson suffered pain in his personal life, his tireless work in the boxing community brought him to the attention of New York Governor George Pataki. He was named the athletic commissioner of the State of New York in June of 1995. Patterson hoped to use casino gambling as a way to bring the marquee fights from Las Vegas back to New York. He also wanted to establish a pension fund for older fighters in the state. In late December of 1995 Patterson presided over the biggest bout in New York in decades pitting Oscar De La Hoya against Jesse James Leiha. What should have been his greatest professional triumph was spoiled by the results of one of the undercard fights. Patterson sat slumped in his chair as he watched his estranged adopted son lose his title.

At 61 years old Patterson appeared to be the picture of health. He still worked out at his gym and remained active running the athletic commission and serving as a Eucharistic minister administering Communion to residents of a nearby nursing home. But all was not well with the former champion. There were rumors that Pattersons memory was slipping. The truth came out after a New York Post report on a deposition that Patterson gave in March of 1998 in regards to ultimate fighting. During the deposition Patterson could not remember his secretarys name, the name of the man he replaced as athletic commissioner, or the name of Archie Moore, the man he defeated for the heavyweight championship. Pattersons friend and former boxer Jose Torres told The Sporting News: I felt that he was having a little trouble with his memory, and people were talking about it all around boxing The fallout from the revelation led to Pattersons resignation from the athletic commission on April 1, 1998. Since then Patterson has retired to his 17-acre farm in New Paltz having left a legacy as an honest and loyal gentleman in a world of boxing conmen, back-stabbers, and charlatans. He remained as legendary sportswriter Red Smith said, as quoted in Sports Illustrated: A man of peace whose life has been devoted to beating men with his fists.

Sources

Books

Patterson, Floyd and Gross, Milton. Victory Over Myself. Bernard Geis Associates; New York, 1962.

Periodicals

Sports Illustrated, March 22, 1993, p. 70; November 18, 1996, p. 4.

The Sporting News, April 1, 1998.

Other

World Boxing Association website: http:www.wbaonline.com/insidewba/history/legends_fpater.htm.

The Cyber Boxing Zone website: http:www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/box4_97.htm.

Heavyweight Boxing Championship History website: http://www.nashville.com/wws604/hwbs.htm#Patterson.

Michael J. Watkins

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Patterson, Floyd

Floyd Patterson

1935-

American boxer

Floyd Patterson became the youngest heavyweight champion, a record he held onto until a young fighter by the name of Mike Tyson entered the ring almost four decades later. A fast-moving and clever heavyweight with a snappy punch, Patterson was by no means the strongest of fighters, but he had resilience and heart, and he called upon his determination to overcome severe psychological handicaps and remain a contender in the ring for over two decades.

Growing Up

Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935, in Waco, North Carolina, the third of nine sons in a family of thirteen. He would grow up in poverty, a condition that was the catalyst for the chain of events that made him a heavyweight fighter.

In 1936, Patterson's family moved to Brooklyn so that his father could look for better paying work. Though he would find employment, he still had a difficult time making ends meet for such a large family. Construction, long-shoreman, sanitation, fish marketevery day Patterson's father worked any number of jobs. But every day Floyd saw the conditions in which he lived, saw his father coming home virtually empty-handed. He saw that no matter how hard his father worked, it was never enough.

The family was always on the move, so young Patterson had a difficult time keeping friends. With the lack of any money for extras, Patterson was given the hand-me-down clothes from his brothers. He grew to feel ashamed of his appearance, and he felt helpless.

Not wanting to encounter people, as a young boy Patterson skipped school often, preferring instead to remain in the dark for most of the day. He would hide out in cellars, alleyways, or the corners of subway stations; or, if he could sneak in or round up the few cents it took, hide out at the movies. He cultivated the life of a loner. Eventually he started stealing, maybe to pass the time, but also because he saw that by taking what he wanted, he could get the things his family needed, such as milk, or dresses for his mother.

A Needed Change

The conditions of his poverty, and then his stealing to try to do something about it, led to Patterson's being sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys in 1945. This was an alternative to jail for boys aged eight to twelve. It was located north of the city in a pastoral setting, and it is while he was at the Wiltwyck School that Patterson came into his own. He relished the attention he was given from his teachers, attention that his parents, with eleven children, could rarely give him. He also noticed that he was treated as an equal with the white children.

Patterson fell in love with the countryside. He studied nature, rode horses, and acquired a fondness for snakes. His teacher, Vivian Costen, would help him overcome shyness and lack of self-confidence. Coach Walter Johnson, the school's sports director, introduced Patterson to boxing.

Under Johnson's tutelage, Patterson slipped into boxing gloves like a second skin. He won all three matches he fought while at the school, and then it was time for him to return home.

Back in the City

When he returned home, Patterson was twelve and still shy. But he had overcome his shame, and he had discovered that boxing, not stealing, was a way to earn the money his family needed.

Cus D'Amato, who would later manage Mike Tyson, ran the Gramercy Gym in Brooklyn. He would build on the fundamentals that Patterson was taught at Wiltwyck and begin to shape Patterson into a contender. But Patterson's first fight was against his brother Frank, who had been boxing for years, and he beat the heck out of Floyd. Showing early the resilience he would demonstrate throughout his career, Patterson came back in a few months for his first amateur fight.

In January of 1950, Floyd Patterson won his first Amateur Athletic Union fight in the 147 lb. weight class. The next year he moved up to the 160 lb. class. Still very young (he was sixteen), Floyd was impatient and wanted badly to turn professional. But D'Amato forbade it. He saw something in the young fighter and wanted him to maintain his amateur status so he would be viable for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

After the Gold

Patterson made the Olympic team and left school to fight as a representative of the United States. He had become a member of one of greatest U.S. Olympic boxing teams ever put together, a group that won five gold medals, including the one Patterson took home. When he came back from the Olympics and turned professional, he would win three fights in his first month alone. In 1952, Patterson won the Gold Gloves Championship at Madison Square Garden and the National Amateur Athletic Union Championship in Boston. He earned the honor of "Ring Rookie of the Year," given by Ring magazine.

Chronology

1935 Born January 4 in Waco, North Carolina, and grows up in poverty
1936 Family moves to Brooklyn, New York
1945 Sent to Wiltwyck School for Boys for stealing
1945-49 Discovers boxing while at Wiltwyck, overcomes some of his shyness and self-esteem problems
1949 Begins association with Cus D'Amato at Gramercy Gym. D'Amato becomes his trainer
1950 Enters and wins first Amateur Athletic Union tournament bout
1951 Meets future wife Sandra Hicks
1952 Wins Golden Gloves Championship at Madison Square Garden as well as the AAU Championship in Boston
1952 Wins gold medal at the Olympics in Helsinki
1952 Turns professional and wins pro debut at age of 17
1956 Marries Sandra Hicks for the first time (would remarry her later that year after his conversion to Catholicism)
1959 Knocked down seven times in three rounds by Ingemar Johansson, Floyd's career appears to be over
1960 Returns to ring and defeats Johannson, knocking the Swede out with vicious left hook
1965 Loses to Muhammad Ali in a twelve round bid to retain the heavyweight championship
1968 Leaves the ring for two years after losing to WBA Champion Jimmy Ellis
1972 Fights Muhammad Ali in what would be his last professional fight
1972 Announces his retirement
1976 Takes an interest in 11-year old boxer named Tracy Harris, whom he'd eventually adopt
1994 Informed by Harris that he no longer wants Patterson to manage him
1995 Named athletic commissioner of the State of New York by Governor George Pataki
1998 Steps down from athletic commission, citing memory loss as reason for no longer being able to fulfill duties
1998 Moves permanently to his 17-acre farm in New Paltz, NY

Awards and Accomplishments

1950 New York City Golden Gloves Champion
1952 National Amateur Athletic Union middleweight champion
1952 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist
1956, 1960 Ring Magazine Merit Award Neil Trophy
1976 Inducted in to Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame
1987 Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame
1991 Inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame

Patterson still wanted to move forward fast, but D'Amato was always there to slow him down. In his first big fight against Joey Maxim, Patterson had lost due to lack of experience. He was devastated. Later he would realize that "he had been outsmarted by the exchampion." He learned to appreciate experience over youth, and he would develop a respect for Maxim.

When he came back to the ring, as was often the case after he took time off, he won his next eleven fights with straight knockouts. Among these fights was his first official heavyweight bout against Archie McBride. With his rising celebrity in the world of boxing, Patterson would merit fights on the West Coast, where he'd hobnob with stars. Yet he missed Sandra, his girlfriend back in Brooklyn. He proposed to her in 1956 and they married. Then, following his conversion to Catholicism, Patterson remarried her two years later. They moved to Mt. Vernon, New York.

The Heavyweight Title is Open

On April 12, 1956, Rocky Marciano retired, which left the heavyweight division wide open. Patterson, who wanted badly to have the belt, fought Tommy "Hurricane" Jackson at Madison Square Garden for a purse of $50,000 on his road to a title fight. In spite of a broken hand that gave Patterson trouble throughout the match, he won the fight in a split decision.

He was now free and clear to fight for the heavyweight championship. D'Amato signed him to fight Archie Moore , whom he knocked out in the fifth round. The fight took place on the same night Patterson's wife was in labor with their first child, and after the fight, in the dressing room, Patterson was shown a picture of his daughter, Seneca.

In 1960, in a bout to defend his Heavyweight Title, Patterson took on Ingemar Johannson, from Sweden, who was undefeated in twenty-one fights, with thirteen knockouts of his opponents. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Patterson was duped by Johannson's claim of a bad right hand, and lulled into believing it was true. During the fight, however, Patterson began leaving his left side open. Johannson took advantage of it, puncturing Patterson's left ear drum, which left him dazed. The referee finally stopped the fight. Patterson fell to the mat an amazing seven times, but each time he always got back up.

After the loss to Johannson, and losing the World Heavyweight title, Patterson fell on hard times. He endured sleepless nights full of self doubt and pity. This in turn became a fierce, burning desire to rematch Johannson, which he did later that same year at the Polo Grounds in New York. Patterson literally knocked Johannson senseless during the match. Yet after the fight, Patterson realized that his motivation for winning wasn't something he liked. In fact, he hated his motivation. He later told Sports Illustrated, "I was so filled with hate. I would not ever want to be like that again." Patterson fought Johannson one more time, and though he struggled, he eventually won.

As long as Patterson fought, he would hear from critics. They claimed he wasn't fighting true contenders for the crown. Then Sonny Liston , an ex-convict who was dominating opponents came along. D'Amato didn't believe Patterson should fight Liston, and his feelings were backed up when the NAACP expressed their desires that Patterson avoid Liston because of his ties to organized crime. In 1962, in Chicago, Patterson and Liston fought. Liston, twenty-five pounds heavier, bludgeoned Patterson, knocking him out in the first round.

Patterson, as had been his style with Johansson, wanted a rematch. Again, the results were similar. Liston knocked down Patterson three times, and then KO'd him in round one. Many thought Patterson's career was over after his first two formidable defeats by Liston. He was twenty-nine, and though not old by boxing standards, he'd taken a beating. He kept coming back, returning to fight Muhammad Ali in 1965. Then, in 1968, after losing to Jimmy Ellis in a title fight in Sweden, he left the ring for two years.

Patterson made one last go of it in 1970, lending credence to his critics' harassment that he was fighting mostly has-beens. He had one last chance to prove them wrong, against Ali in 1972. Ali, who wanted to stay in shape for his rematch with Joe Frazier , agreed to fight Patterson on Sept. 20, 1972. A cut over Patterson's right eye prompted the ring doctor to stop the fight in the 8th round. It was his last fight, and he would finish his career at 55-8-1 with forty knockouts. The defeats, however, when they came, were often to formidable opponents and gained him more publicity than his wins.

Tough Time As A Black Fighter

Though he was firmly in control of his own destiny in the world of boxing, and at twenty-one should have felt that the sky was the limit, his impressive status didn't matter at all when he'd visit the segregated south. America was still functioning under heavily racist tendencies, and Patterson encountered many hardships while he traveled on his fighting circuit. He was unable to get meals in Baltimore, or eat inside a restaurant in Kansas City. Fed up with the racism, Patterson, "vowed that he would never box in front of a segregated crowd again. He insisted that promoters desegregate seating and avoid scheduling him to train in segregated towns."

Patterson became a proponent of desegregation. He fought for his rights both inside and outside of the ring. He even fought for those of his wife, whom he joined to become part of an anti-discrimination lawsuit filed against a beauty parlor that refused service to her.

Where Is He Now?

Since his resignation from the commission, Patterson has spent his days on his 17-acre farm in New Paltz, where he takes care of his animals and lives without the interruption of modern life, choosing not to even own a television.

Archie Moore, the man he'd defeated for the heavyweight championship. He resigned from the commission the following month.

"Boxing has given me everything," Patterson said in 1994, in an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Without it I'd be nothing."

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Floyd Patterson, c/o CMG Worldwide, 8560 Sunset Boulevard 10th Floor Penthouse, West Hollywood, CA 90069.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY PATTERSON:

(With Milton Gross) Victory Over Myself, Bernard Geis Associates, 1962.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Brooke-Ball, Peter. The Great Fights: 80 Epic Encounters from the History of Boxing. Southwater Publishers, 2001.

Fleischer, Nat, and Sam Andre. An Illustrated History of Boxing, 6th ed. New York: Citadel Press, 2002.

"Floyd Patterson." Great Athletes, vol. 6. Farrell-Holdsclaw. Hackensack, NJ: Salem Press, Inc.

Levinson, David, and Karen Christenson, eds. Encyclopedia of World Sport: From Ancient Times to Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Mullan, Harry. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Boxing: The Definitive Illustrated Guide to World Boxing. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1996.

Newcombe, Jack. Floyd Patterson, Heavyweight King. New York: Bartholomew House, 1961.

Patterson, Floyd, and Milton Gross. Victory Over Myself. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1962.

Schulman, Arlene. The Prize Fighters: An Intimate Look at Champions and Contenders. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1994.

Periodicals

D'Amato, Constantine "Cus," and Murry Olderman.

"Everybody Wants a Piece of Patterson." True (October 1956): 34.

"Floyd Patterson resigns as NY State Athletic Commission chairman citing memory loss. Jet (April 20, 1998): 46.

Graham, Frank Jr. "Prizefight Prodigy." Sport (April 1954): 20.

Gross, Milton. "The Floyd Patterson Story." New York Post (September 9-11, 1957).

Licis, Karl. "Patterson happiest teaching young boxers." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. (February 4, 1994).

Sports Illustrated (March 22, 1993): 70.

Sports Illustrated (November 18, 1996): 4.

The Sporting News (April 1, 1988).

Other

"Floyd Patterson Biography." http://www.cmgw.com/sports/patterso/bio.html/ (November 10, 2002).

"Floyd Patterson." http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/ (November 10, 2002).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

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Patterson, Floyd

Floyd Patterson, 1935–2006, American boxer, b. Waco, N.C. He was brought up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was sent to the Wiltwyck School at Esopus, N.Y., an institution for emotionally disturbed boys, where he first began to box. As an amateur he won 40 of 44 fights, climaxing his career by winning (1952) the Olympic middleweight championship. As a professional, he lost only one fight before knocking out Archie Moore (1956) to become, at 21, the youngest man to win the heavyweight title. He successfully defended his title four times before losing it to Ingemar Johansson, of Sweden, in 1959. Patterson knocked out Johansson a year later to become the first man ever to regain the heavyweight title. In Sept., 1962, Patterson lost the championship to Sonny Liston by a first-round knockout. Despite the defeat, Patterson continued to box, finally retiring in 1972. Once director of New York state's off-track betting, he became a trainer in the 1990s.

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