A couple of weeks before his fight with Floyd Patterson, Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, the boy who rose out of the sticker bushes of Far Rockaway to within jabbing distance of the world's heavyweight championship, greeted the sunny morning with a white-toothed smile, slipped into training pants and sweatshirt and set out over the green New Jersey hills for his customary eight-mile run. His was a mood that matched the morning, which was the kind that makes the birds to sing. He set off, then, not on a jog or lope but with a merry, shuffling time-step, very like one of those curious maneuvers he uses in the ring. It was the start of what looked like a wonderful day.
By midafternoon he was a sulky hermit, hiding in the woods. The mood had changed. One of Hurricane's sparring partners had knocked him down.
There was, in fact, no sound reason for the morning's joyful feeling. On the night of Friday, June 8, at Madison Square Garden, Hurricane fights Floyd Patterson in a nationally televised 12-round heavyweight elimination match, and Patterson may well knock him out in the first three rounds, very likely will finish him off before the fifth has ended. Patterson will then be taking his first long step on the road to the championship of the world. (There are, of course, roadblocks—like Archie Moore.)
A knockout by Patterson is the way it must seem to anyone who has observed these two men in the ring and in training and has tried to follow the flashing fury of Patterson's big hands, which can throw a bewildering series of punches in the time it takes to wink twice (see illustration, above). They are nothing less than the fastest hands in the heavyweight division and, moreover, to quote one who has felt their power, "Floyd punches hard."
June 3, 1956
That was Hurricane himself speaking. He and Floyd sparred together in the days when neither could afford to hire first-rate sparring partners. There is that about Patterson's swift hands to remind one of Sugar Ray Robinson, and that about his punching power, not yet fully developed, to make one look forward to the time when a latter-day Joe Louis will come upon the scene.
As for Hurricane, he is a mysteriously successful fighter who has pushed himself into the No. 2 contender's position (right behind Moore, no less) with a weird assortment of pawings and slappings. Those who fight him and lose say he punches hard. Those who can only watch and wonder don't see how this is possible because Hurricane is eternally off balance, and there is, therefore, no place for punching power to come from. Besides, much of the time he forgets to close his fists. But he has defeated men who, by all the laws of prizefighting, should have defeated him. He beat, for instance, Bob Baker, who is a slouch but nonetheless ranked No. 3. He beat Ezzard Charles who, though long gone over the hill, is still an ex-champion. These are the accomplishments of a fighter who, in any other era, would be a semifinalist in order to give the fans comedy relief.
There is a theory that Hurricane has been able to climb the ratings ladder because of his matchless stamina, a gift of both nature and his devotion to training.
"What do you do for relaxation?" is a favorite question at the training camp, the famous Ehsan's.
"Work," Hurricane always answers. It is a joke that almost kills him with simulated laughter, a piece of repartee he pretends to find delightful. He slaps his knee and rocks back and forth. He almost chokes. Then he recovers abruptly and his eyes glint darkly around the audience. If anyone is not amused, Hurricane is likely to rise in offended dignity and stalk away, looking very like a sullen cassowary. His fighting style may be compared to the table manners of a child who has been to progressive school. His shifts in mood are equally startling. There is no appropriateness in anything he does.
He is, indeed, the utter opposite of Patterson, a shy, even-tempered fellow who trains hard, too, but not out of whatever inner compulsion drives Jackson.
Patterson has been a smoldering threat to the big championship from the day he won the 165-pound title in the 1952 Olympics. But, brought along cautiously by his manager, Cus D'Amato, who is known, in fact, as Cautious Cus, Floyd's rise has been timed with slow precision. Not too slow, at that, because he is only 21. But interest in him has been so great that many fans have built up a backpressure of impatience to see this truly exciting fighter matched in the upper brackets. Knowing that these days a fighter of even meager promise runs the danger of being hustled before the TV cameras much too soon, D'Amato waited for Patterson to mature, both physically and in skill. This situation was further prolonged by a quarrel between Cus and the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president), but that has now been resolved and IBC will promote the fight.
Patterson has shifted from his Greenwood Lake, New York training camp to the more elegant Kutsher's in the Catskills. He runs three or four miles a day, as against Jackson's eight, spars three to six rounds, as against Jackson's seven or eight, eats two meals as against Jackson's three. In sparring he works on the combinations he intends to use against Jackson. One favorite consists of three rapid lefts to the body followed by a right to the head. Even more favored is a fabulously fast series of two jabs, two straight rights, a right uppercut and a left hook to the head.
These miracles of coordination bring a gleam to the eye of Dan Florio, his trainer, but Florio is disturbed by the reappearance of an old Patterson flaw which, in Floyd's early days, came to be known as "the gazelle punch." It is a straight right or left delivered on top of a leap that brings him close to his opponent. Florio has been trying to eliminate it and, for a while, succeeded. Lately, this crack in an otherwise firm foundation has begun to show again. Florio argues that Floyd is off balance when the punch lands but Floyd insists he is not.
Patterson will present Jackson with a bobbing, weaving target in perpetual motion and, since Jackson does best against a straight-up fighter, there is trouble ahead for Hurricane.
His manager, Lippy Breidbart, and trainer, Whitey Bimstein, feel their big card is Hurricane's stamina. They agree eagerly that "the longer it goes the better it will be for Jackson." His faithfulness in training has given him an endurance comparable to Rocky Marciano's. Bimstein, who once suffered through the impossible task of training Tony Galento, is grateful for this, though there are other aspects of his charge which, when mentioned, leave Whitey tight-lipped and grim.
Breidbart, an old Arthur Brisbane reader, expressed his pride in Hurricane's prowess with a philosopher's observation: "You take any man against an animal. I'll bet on the animal."
Jackson is known to his close associates as The Animal. It is, in a way, a tribute, but it tells something, too, of the way he looks when, wearing a straggly inch and a half of black beard, he shambles up to a sparring partner and cuffs him about with open gloves. None of his punches are delivered correctly. He is off balance most of the time. He hasn't even a notion of a planned combination in his repertoire and is not likely to acquire any.
"He don't fight according to the book," is the way Breidbart puts it. "He fights according to himself."
How would he fight Patterson? The reply was noncommittal but revealing.
"He don't prepare one style or another against anybody. He follows instructions more or less but he's the originator."
He will, as a matter of fact, fight Patterson the way he has fought everyone he ever met—with a strange assortment of double uppercuts (a Hurricane original), open-glove slaps on the flanks, downward chopping rights and upward flailing lefts, all delivered in nonsensical sequence. That is what his handlers mean by his "style."
A good deal may depend on the mood in which Hurricane enters the ring. After that fine happy morning on which he was at once so dutiful and so jovial, Hurricane rose from his midday nap in still another humor. He glowered as he dressed to take on three partners in seven rounds of fighting.
First he faced Chubby Wright, a stocky veteran, for two rounds. Chubby scored several times with a right cross delivered over Hurricane's flapping jab. In the second round Hurricane, tagged by a hard right, chased Chubby around the ring and, catching him, scored with five left jabs followed by three rights to the body.
His next opponent was Howie Turner, a formidable youngster of 205 pounds against Jackson's 193. (Hurricane should outweigh Patterson by about 10 pounds.) Howie knocked Hurricane down in the first round with a hard right high on the side of the head behind the ear. Hurricane got up immediately and there was a furious exchange in which Hurricane got much the worst of it. He got the worst of it in the second round, too, when he went into an awkward, swaying stomp, perhaps intended to portray a bobbing, weaving style, and thereby got hit with hard rights and lefts.
Turner's clear superiority intensified Hurricane's sulky mood. While Bimstein wiped the sweat-beaded Vaseline from his head, Hurricane scowled at his knees. Coming out of the gymnasium he saw a group waiting for him and turned abruptly away.
Up the hill past Ehsan's sheep pens climbed Hurricane, a tall, ungainly figure with the strong body of a man and the murky emotions of a wayward child. Bimstein, a man of considerable years, tried to follow him but gave up. Hurricane disappeared into the woods and that was the last anyone saw of him for the afternoon.
The mood of Floyd Patterson is very different. He is serene, poised, at ease and confident. He has shown so far no sign of prefight nerves. There is, after all, little reason for him to be nervous, he contends.
Favorite combination used by Floyd Patterson is this series of punches which he delivers in the incredible time of 1.2 seconds. The series begins with Patterson in the fighter's "natural position" (left), from which he throws two rapid-fire jabs. Once the jabs are delivered, Patterson moves his feet to face the opponent head on and gain proper balance for the coming rights. These are short straight punches which, if the other fighter's left is extended, become right crosses. Without pause, they are followed by a jolting right uppercut and this, in turn, by a left hook. If the blows are delivered with proper sharpness the hook should end it all with a clean knockout. To appreciate the skill and speed this requires, try the combination before a mirror.