Just an olympiad ago, in 1952, which was the year Archie Moore won the light heavyweight championship of the world with style and grace, Floyd Patterson stepped down the ramp from the Helsinki Flyer, a proud and happy boy of 17. He had just won the Olympic middleweight boxing championship for the United States. Now, only four years and 31 professional fights later, Patterson is to fight Moore for the world's heavyweight championship. Floyd's rise has been swift.
Against its swiftness, Moore's has been a slow and painful drag, now uphill, now down. Archie has had something like 160 fights. "So many," he says wearily, "I just stopped counting." He has lost some by decision and some by knockout. He has won most by power and guile. A year ago last September he lost the biggest of them all to Champion Rocky Marciano, since retired. Now Moore's chance has come again. It may be too late.
For if Patterson beats Moore at the Chicago Stadium on the night of November 30, Patterson will be, at 21, the youngest ever to win the heavyweight championship. But it is ominous that if Moore beats Patterson he will be the oldest, even at his official age of 39, to take the title. Young or old, young is better, as Joe E. Lewis might say.
No heavyweight title bout ever has seen such extremes. They are not merely extremes of age and youth. One must go well back into heavyweight history to find packed into one mind and body the polished skills and ripe ring wisdom of Archie Moore. He has developed them over a score or more of years in fighting around the world, in Tasmania, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Milwaukee and all such exotic places, wherever a matchmaker could find an opponent willing to meet him. Patterson admits that by comparison he is an unlettered tyro, though a studious one. "I still have a lot to learn," he said after his Hurricane Jackson fight.
November 26, 1956
Now the modest tyro, a fellow of few words, and the publicly boastful veteran, a man of many, are training in Chicago for what could spell the final defeat of Moore's career-long campaign for a championship worthy of his talents, the beginning of a reign of youth in the heavyweight division.
Moore will make a sturdy effort to keep obstreperous youth in its place. He began training gently, almost creakily, a few weeks back at his mountain ranch in southern California but stepped up the pace once he reached Chicago's Midwest Gym and sniffed blood in the air—from the stockyards, perhaps, or from IBC's stadium. He had treated sparring partners tenderly in California. In Chicago he blasted them to the canvas, even such sturdy fellows as Crowe Peele, an LSU heavy recently turned promising pro. He took off girth which in California split trunks and sweat pants one afternoon when he bent his haunches in that old familiar crouch. He curbed his passion for homemade vanilla ice cream, until after the fight. There's blood in his eye, these recent days, and protein in his diet.
Patterson, paying slight obeisance to Maestro Moore as a "patient fighter," trained at Sportsman's Park, a race track, under the eye of his shrewd manager, Cus D'Amato, who reads Freud and wears a Homburg. D'Amato's psychologically oriented upbringing of Patterson has followed the Pavlov principle, long honored in the training of dog acts. Every time Floyd fights well Cus rewards him with a gift, thus setting up a conditioned reflex. One recent day, after watching his fighter ride a palomino lead pony around the race track, Cus decided to present him with a saddle horse should he win the championship. Since Patterson is fond of horses and rides well, this promise presumably will set him to drooling like a Pavlov puppy when the timekeeper sounds the opening bell.
Patterson does his road work on the race track, boxes in a ring set up in the track's grandstand penthouse and sleeps in a jockey's room. Each night as he goes to bed D'Amato pulls his own bed across the entrance to Floyd's room and remains there until morning.
"I know I sound crazy guarding him like that," D'Amato explains, with a precautionary look over his shoulder at the menace of Chicago, "but I hear all these stories and you never know."
Patterson, like Moore, batted his sparring partners around as he always does and had no problems of weight or condition. His broken right hand gave no trouble.
But Patterson does have a basic trouble that could cost him dear. It is The Gazelle Punch, a Patterson original. (See drawings on page 35.) He has used it in just about all of his fights and still uses it in training, despite the agonies of D'Amato and Trainer Dan Florio, who are embarrassed by it. They have pleaded with him, but Patterson is a rackle lad. The punch, if that is the word for a blow delivered in mid-flight, is something on the order of a flying jab, though he may throw it as a right-hand lead too. It starts from a giveaway crouch, in which one of Patterson's feet is drawn far back and thus signals what is to come, and ends, when it misses, with Patterson scrambling his feet in an effort to recover balance. When it lands, no particular harm is done except to orthodoxy. The Gazelle has proved to be safe, though inane, against nonpunchers like Hurricane Jackson, but against Moore it could be suicidal. During his airborne period Floyd is wide open for a devastating counter which could slam him to the canvas stone-cold dead.
No opponent has yet countered it properly, and fighters, Pavlov-trained or not, learn mostly from experience. Patterson, thus far safe in using it, believes in the punch. But in his brief career he has been exposed to few who knew enough to counter it, save for Joey Maxim; and Maxim, though he outpointed Floyd by official judgment, never had any more punch than a house cat. Patterson has yet to meet a boxer-puncher like Moore, who will be laying for The Gazelle and knows what to do about it.
The unguided missile assault is not Patterson's only weakness. It is only his most obvious weakness. He can be countered also in other ways, as when, throwing a left hook, his right glove paws an area a yard from his unprotected head, high or low. There is no question that Moore will have opportunity to connect with a good punch.
Can Patterson take a good punch? Even he does not know. He has not been tested.
Patterson has his weaknesses then, but mostly he has strong points. He has, most obviously, youth. A faithful trainee between his infrequent bouts, Floyd should be in superb condition for this one. Youth and condition are sound assets, especially in a 15-round fight. Taken alone they would not be enough to dispose of Moore if Patterson were not, additionally, an excellent fighter. His hands are so fast that even Moore's magnificent ability to duck and slip punches, even Archie's fine blocking, cannot always prevail against them. Patterson does not, like Marciano, punch wildly. He has a specific target in mind at every moment, basing his attack on the "steady roll" principle-assault without surcease on the vital areas of the sides, the belly and the jaws. His combinations are calculated to punish an opponent in these sensitive spots.
But Archie is confident that he can avoid them. Wherever he goes he takes with him a film of the Marciano fight, and one night, after a stirring game of bagatelle in which he won 70¢ (he is perhaps our finest pinball machine player), Archie ran off the film. In the accompanying lecture he contended that in one round he caused Marciano to miss 29 straight punches. The badly cut film actually did show 12 straight misses in one prolonged assault, but its editing (it is an official IBC version) so favored Marciano that it seemed to have been prepared for screening by Al Weill. Archie's count could be accurate.
Moore is naturally proud of his defensive showing against the ring's most relentless punch thrower, but he makes a foolish virtue of the fact that in the ninth round he succumbed to Marciano's onslaught and was counted out.
"I was not knocked out," Archie insists. "I never lost consciousness. I just went down from exhaustion."
That is quite true, but not necessarily advantageous to Archie in his present situation. It provides a clue to the likely pattern of the coming fight. Patterson's corner anticipates that Archie will do his old act—an imitation of the chambered nautilus, in which he peers coyly out of his protective shell while awaiting the precise instant to change magically into a ravening tiger and explode a lethal punch or two. The Patterson corner is aware that no heavyweight of today, except perhaps the newcomer Eddie Machen, can launch a finishing punch so suddenly and unexpectedly. But while Archie is crouching low, using arms, elbows and gloves to block in his own peculiarly effective style, ducking and weaving away from head blows with unwavering eyes ever on what's coming at him, Patterson will almost certainly be applying the precious lesson of the Marciano fight. It is, very simply, that a strong young fighter can lick an older man by using the unrelenting pressure that Rocky vented to take the last ounce of strength from his aging opponent. It is a dangerous strategy, as Marciano discovered when he was suddenly floored and knocked stupid in the second round, but it worked.
TWO FIGHTS AND AN ARGUMENT
Moore believes that more serious training than he undertook for the Marciano fight ("I was overconfident, as you know") will prevent a recurrence.
He could be right, but recent events speak against him. He has had only two meaningful fights since he just missed taking Rocky's crown, and neither of them supports optimism. One was against Yolande Pompey in London, where Archie defended his light heavyweight title. Archie's admirers were gravely disappointed then, even though in the end he retained his championship. He just didn't look good. The other important fight, if importance can be attached to a ballyhooed mismatch, was against James J. Parker in Toronto; and there Archie's punching was less than satisfactory. He looked better against Parker than against Pompey, pounded him at will and cut him badly, but the fight lasted nine rounds and was stopped only by the referee's pity, and Archie's, for a defenseless opponent. Surely a sound Archie Moore would have taken out a James J. Parker in two or three rounds with a clean knockout. Archie grants the point and says he was not sound.
"After the Pompey fight," he says, "my hands were soft as mush. In England they don't let a fighter protect his hands properly. There is no protection for the fighter whatsoever. London rules state that you can use only eight feet of gauze and only six feet of adhesive on each hand. In the States we can use 10 and 10 each—but it's 10 yards, not feet, if we want that much. So when I was training for the Parker fight I had to use rubber sponges on my hands every day. When I fought Parker my hands were soft."
Archie argues almost as well as he fights.
Chances are that at ringside he will be favored (current odds pick him at 8 to 5), and it does, indeed, seem disrespectful, an act of lese majesty, to pick against him. Those of us who revere the high arts of boxing will feel pain if downfall comes to Archie, kingly upholder of the ancient traditions, but poetic justice is rare in the sport. It seems that Archie must at last be forced to admit his age, that Patterson's youth and all that goes with it must win.
There is a memory here of the gallant, exhausted Moore, sagging in his corner, telling the referee that he would come out for the next round against Marciano, gasping: "I want to be knocked out." It could be like that again.
WATCH FOR The Gazelle Punch, a heretical Patterson assault that does little or no damage and is Floyd's greatest flaw. Sometimes thrown with the right hand, sometimes with the left, it is telegraphed by a low crouch, with one foot drawn far back.
GAZELLELIKE, Patterson leaps, aiming a right at Moore's head, but Archie avoids it easily by bobbing beneath the glove in a move that will permit him to bring his right hand into position for a quick counter. Patterson, being airborne, is defenseless.
FLOYD'S DESCENDING arm prevents a blow to his head, and so Moore's body swings to the left. Archie's right hand is now cocked, and his eye has picked out the target—Floyd's heart. Patterson's two feet are still well off the canvas, his body open.
MOORE'S POWERFUL right hand has found its mark, and Floyd's feet, characteristically, leave him momentarily off balance. He could go down for a count or, failing that, Moore could then employ a right-left to the head, among other possibilities.