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Floyd Patterson

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.

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Famous Sports StarsBoxingFloyd Patterson Biography - Growing Up, A Needed Change, Back In The City, After The Gold, Chronology - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY PATTERSON: