May 12, 2006

THE "GENTLE GLADIATOR":

Floyd Patterson, 71, Good-Guy Heavyweight Champion, Dies (FRANK LITSKY, 5/12/06, NY Times)

Floyd Patterson, a gentleman boxer who emerged from a troubled boyhood to become the world heavyweight champion, died yesterday at his home in New Paltz, N.Y. He was 71.

The cause was prostate cancer and Alzheimer's disease, said a grandson, Kevin McIlwaine.

In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Patterson won the middleweight gold medal with five knockouts in five bouts. Then, in a 20-year professional career, he won 55 bouts, lost 8 and fought 1 draw. His total purses reached $8 million, a record then.

He won the heavyweight title twice, knocking out Archie Moore and Ingemar Johansson. In the first instance he became the youngest heavyweight champion up until that time; in the second, he became the first fighter to regain the title. He also lost the title twice, defended it successfully seven times and failed to regain it three times. He generally weighed little more than 180 pounds, light for a heavyweight, but he made the most of mobility, fast hands and fast reflexes.

He was a good guy in the bad world of boxing. He was sweet-tempered and reclusive. He spoke softly and never lost his boyhood shyness. Cus D'Amato, who trained him throughout his professional career, called Patterson "a kind of a stranger." Red Smith, the New York Times sports columnist, called him "the man of peace who loves to fight." [...]

Patterson was voted into the United States Olympic Committee Hall of Fame in 1987 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. The public loved him. As Dave Anderson wrote in 1972 in The Times:

"He projects the incongruous image of a gentle gladiator, a martyr persecuted by the demons of his profession. But his mystique also contains a morbid curiosity. Any boxing fan worth his weight in The Ring record books wants to be there for Floyd's last stand. Until then, Floyd Patterson keeps boxing, the windmills of his mind turned by his own breezes."


No challenge was too big for boxing giant (LACY J. BANKS, 5/12/06, Chicago Sun-Times)
''I loved Floyd Patterson because he was a champion of the little guys when he won the heavyweight title as a 6-foot, 185- pounder,'' promoter Don King told the Sun-Times. ''A guy that size had no business fighting heavyweight. But he had the heart of a lion and was one of the stalwarts of boxing. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame.''

Chicago's Ernie Terrell, also a former heavyweight champion, called Patterson ''one of the most efficient fighters of all time, when you realize how much he was able to get out of his size and limited strength. But he was lightning quick, a classy boxer and was always in top shape. He'd box out of that peek-a-boo style, leap out of nowhere and knock out some opponents with one punch.''

A native of Waco, N.C., Patterson won the Olympic gold medal as a middleweight in 1952. When he knocked out Archie Moore at Chicago Stadium for the world heavyweight title that had been vacated by the retiring Rocky Marciano, he weighed just 182-1/4 pounds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2006 8:55 AM
Comments

... "the windmills of his mind turned by his own breezes."

What a wonderful epitaph.


Posted by: erp at May 12, 2006 9:46 AM

Good bits about him in Remnick's "King of the World". He was buddies with Sinatra I think.

Posted by: Matt C at May 12, 2006 11:32 AM

Gerald Early has fantastic essays about him and boxing in general in his Tuxedo Junction and .

In my mind, Patterson was the personification of OJ's Third Way in boxing. The awe inspiring courage of Ali without the silly pro wrestling schtick and the intelligence and individuality of Liston without the vicious criminality.

All he needed was 30 pounds of beef.

Posted by: Pepys at May 12, 2006 12:57 PM

Early's other book was Culture of Bruising.

Posted by: Pepys at May 12, 2006 12:58 PM

As I recall, one of the reasons I never much liked Ali was the scornful way he treated Patterson.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 12, 2006 6:09 PM
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