Those who were lucky enough to see the uncrowned Joe Louis in the prechampionship days of his tawny youth, a fighter whose every move bespoke coming greatness, were privileged to enjoy one of the great satisfactions of sport: following along a budding champion's trail.
Floyd Patterson—perhaps as good as, perhaps better than the young Joe Louis—now stands at the door the Brown Bomber fisted down 20 years ago. Your chance to see him fight any time soon, however, is dimmer than a discarded TV tube unless you happen to live in one of the way stations of boxing—in, say, Kansas City, Missouri or New Britain, Connecticut. It is nine months since Patterson appeared on television and it may be as long before he appears again.
Patterson (SI, Jan. 30) has now grown out of the light heavyweight division and into the bulk and contours and punching power of a formidable heavyweight. The other day at Long Pond Inn, on the fog-shrouded shores of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., Patterson weighed 185½ pounds—2½ pounds over what he feels is his best weight—as he fought three unrestricted training rounds with Julio Mederos, the Cuban champion, who is recognized as a great "gymnasium fighter." Mederos had been instructed to knock out Patterson if he could and, though he took these instructions with a twisted grin of great knowingness, he fought hard and well, better than in many of his ring appearances. With headgear protection and facing Patterson's big training gloves, Julio showed no reluctance to mix.
As a result, Patterson drew gasps from the small audience, and grunts from Mederos, with a thunderous array of punches that boomed off the Cuban's belly, sides and head in flurries of a speed and power that few heavyweights have ever been able to deliver. Patterson's moves were not those of a 21-year-old tyro but of a seasoned professional, skilled and aggressive. He exercised a bull-like strength, easily pushing the heavier Mederos away when he wanted a more advantageous position. There were none of his old, overeager, amateurish leaps. Instead, he advanced at a fast, insistent shuffle to bring himself into close quarters. Once there, he blocked well with arms and elbows and disclosed the special ability to block a punch and, in the same instant, respond with a crashing right or left of his own. His combinations were fast, timed to a T and ended with the proper finishing snap.
April 16, 1956
(He has been observing the master, Sugar Ray Robinson, also training at the Inn for his Bobo Olson rematch, in the hope of picking up additional moves. "I just watch him when he's sharp, though," says Patterson, apparently fearful of studying anything less than perfection. He has been raised in a hard school. Until recently he was not permitted to train with the protection of headgear because to do so might establish careless habits that would leave him open to severe punishment in actual fighting.)
At the end of the third fast round the bell rang and Trainer Dan Florio yelled "Whoa!" There was a long sigh of admiration and then people began to say, "You should have been here last week. He was a little sharper then." If he was, the razor blade people have desperate competition.
What Floyd Patterson was training for was a Kansas City bout with Alvin (Athos) Williams, a fading musketeer of a light heavyweight who has been little seen outside of Wichita, Topeka and Hays, all of which are in Kansas. Patterson had beaten Williams twice before. And a few weeks ago, in New Britain, Patterson fought an old sparring partner, Jimmy Walls, after which Walls, who had not won a fight since October 1954, was suspended for a lack of aptitude.
These fights have done the reputation of Floyd Patterson no whit of good. He has become a kind of young Archie Moore, fighting in the wilderness, with only an occasional wire service paragraph to let the people know that he is still around, still winning, though against very inferior competition. His growth and development as a fighter in recent months are unknown except to a few who have been privileged to see him work out in private.
It is a situation in which fight fans may well feel deprived of their right to see for themselves.
Why haven't they been able to see him?
Well, early in the year Patterson's manager, Cus D'Amato, sat down in a Gramercy Park Hotel room, hard by the gym where Patterson trains when he is in the city. Sitting with him was Billy Brown, match-maker for Madison Square Garden, to discuss the possibility of a TV match in which Patterson would fight, for all to see, the current No. 2 contender, Hurricane Jackson. It is agreed by D'Amato and the Garden (which is to say the International Boxing Club, James D. Norris, President) that Brown offered D'Amato $4,000, the standard minimum for TV fights, and a percentage of the gate. It is agreed that D'Amato rejected this. (D'Amato argues that such a fight could only be construed as an elimination bout to select an opponent for Champion Rocky Marciano, thus warrants appropriately higher money.) It is agreed that D'Amato demanded $50,000. It is agreed that Billy Brown shrugged and said he could offer no more than $4,000.
Normally, these might be considered first-round bargaining gestures. (D'Amato says they were not, that it was the second or third time he had received such a demeaning offer from Brown.) A huffiness developed, and since then D'Amato and the IBC are not speaking to each other, though the IBC insists that if D'Amato wants to drop around it will be happy to discuss more favorable terms with him. And D'Amato, on his side, concedes that he might scale his $50,000 demand down a bit. But instead of telling each other these things they speak only to the press, and if it were not that D'Amato's vehement sincerity is obvious one might think that oldtime ballyhoo was at work. D'Amato speaks harshly of Billy Brown and, encountering Managing Director Harry Markson of the IBC on the street, turns his back.
Markson, a quiet, sensible-sounding man who bends an ear to fight managers by day and to Beethoven by night, deposes:
"We consider that Patterson is one of the best fighters in the world and we would like to use him. He's a great young fighter and we would like to make a match or matches for him. But Cus just won't discuss it. He talks about it everywhere but where the match can be made, which is with us."
Furthermore, Markson says, Brown is authorized to bargain only for $4,000 matches.
"When it comes to bigger matches," Markson explains, "Mr. Norris has to do the negotiating. In order to offer more money we often have to go to the sponsor to get it, and only Mr. Norris can do that. On those occasions he presents the situation and if they [the sponsors] agree that the match is big enough to pay so much more money, then it is done."
He contends, however, that Norris cannot go to the sponsors about a Patterson-Jackson fight until he knows D'Amato's actual terms.
To which Cus, his craw filled with what he regards as old injustices at the hands of the IBC, replies that the IBC must now come to him. He declares bitterly that on three occasions in 1954-55 when Patterson fought under IBC auspices it was because Manager Al Weill, not the IBC, selected Patterson as an opponent for members of the Weill stable. Fight managers are often privileged to do this and, D'Amato says, Weill thought his fighters, Joe Gannon and Willie Troy, could handle the inexperienced Patterson because of expected weight difficulties. Gannon lost. Troy was injured, and Jimmy Slade (The Spoiler) was substituted by the Garden. Patterson won a decision. Later, at Weill's insistence, the Troy date was fulfilled. Patterson knocked out Troy in five rounds. When the Garden did give him a date it was against Archie McBride, D'Amato says, and only after six months of almost daily requests. Patterson knocked out McBride in seven rounds. That was last July, and since then there have been no IBC appearances for Patterson.
Now, D'Amato says, the IBC must make the next move if it wants Patterson. He believes the situation would be resolved if independent promoters would bid for a Patterson-Jackson fight, but thus far only Jack Hurley of Seattle has expressed interest publicly. Says Hurley: "If they want a good independent promoter not connected with the IBC—and I'm the only one who has been independent of them—I'll match Patterson against anyone, all over the country. I won't have any trouble getting fights for Patterson. Marciano? Why, listen, if I have Patterson I'll have Marciano coming around begging for him. You wait and see."
"Patterson," says D'Amato, "is available to the highest bidder—but such is the power of the IBC that other promoters, other than Hurley, do not dare compete.
"People ask me how I can lick $200 million [a reference to the fortune Norris supposedly enjoys]. I say Floyd Patterson has to be licked in the ring and there's nobody in the world who can do that. I'll lick $200 million with Patterson. The public will demand him. If Marciano retires no one will recognize a champion unless he fights Patterson first. [Markson agrees that this is so.] As for Marciano, I knew six months ago that Patterson was ready for him, and he's better now than he was then."
At which Markson looks depressed and observes that the IBC, as a business organization, would like nothing better than to get Patterson into a ring with Jackson. The IBC would be glad, he says, to pay D'Amato's fare to Miami to discuss better terms with Norris. To which D'Amato replies that the only word he has received on this score was from a person not connected with the IBC.
"I have had no official offer," he repeats, "except the $4,000 that Billy Brown offered me."
"Where a principle is involved," he adds, "I am very stubborn."
"You can say that again," says Harry Markson.
There the matter rests—in a morbid, feverish sort of way. It appears to be of little concern to Floyd Patterson, the solemn, soft-spoken cause of it all. He is as serene as a man can be who knows he can lick any other man in the world.
A DISTANT DRUM
"I'm ready to fight anybody my manager says I'm ready to fight," he says. "I'll do whatever he thinks best."
Perhaps Floyd hears the throbbing of a distant drum—not a ballyhoo drum in this case but a facsimile. Sooner or later he will have his chance. Payday is coming, as sure as Friday. All that needs to happen now is that Harry Markson pick up a telephone and dial GR 5-9203 (D'Amato's Gramercy Gymnasium & Health Club) or that Cus D'Amato pick up a telephone and dial CI 5-8100 (the International Boxing Club). Will Cus do it first? Will Harry? The suspense is almost unbearable.