Until 9:15 P.M. (Chicago time) on Friday night, the majority opinion of Floyd Patterson among the professional wise guys of boxing held that he was a brash upstart of a fighter who, though promising, had been brought along much too fast for his own good; that he was scarcely even a proper heavyweight, let alone a true contender, and, sadly, that his manager Cus D'Amato, one of the more independent minds of our time, was about to get his well-deserved comeuppance. A small, left-of-center group gave Patterson a pretty good chance to beat Archie Moore for the world's heavyweight title. A minuscule hard core of extremists picked Patterson to win.
The hard-core extremists had a wonderful good time celebrating until sunup on Saturday morning. Floyd Patterson, facing only his 32nd professional opponent, knocked out the wily Archie Moore of the power-packed punch in two minutes 27 seconds of the fifth round and thereby became the youngest world's heavyweight champion ever.
Among the celebrating radicals was SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which, on January 30, 1956 (exactly 10 months before), reported that "it is now as clear as anything can be in the future books of boxing that a lithe young Brooklyn Negro named Floyd Patterson—who celebrated his 21st birthday this month by challenging Rocky Marciano—will be the next Heavyweight Champion of the World." At that time Champion Marciano was three months from unsuspected and undefeated retirement and Patterson was not even listed among the heavyweights in The Ring magazine's authoritative rankings. He had not put on quite enough weight to be considered seriously.
There was another handicap. Manager D'Amato was beyond the pale of the ring's ruling powers. Patterson had been unable to get fights in the big time because D'Amato would not yield to demands that he give up 50% of his interest in the fighter in order, as the boxing saying goes, to "move him." But D'Amato had a few staunch friends and, in the end, was able to beat the system. They included Emil Lence, a pleasant, soft-spoken man who earned a living in the dress business and, mostly for sport, promoted fights at one of New York's lesser arenas, Eastern Parkway. Lence and his matchmaker, Vinnie Cerola, gave Patterson the fights he needed to create localized but intensive public interest in his career. It became apparent from these early fights that Patterson deserved far better recognition than he was getting. It became apparent also that he would have trouble getting it.
December 10, 1956
But on Patterson's 21st birthday, D'Amato raised a shout. He demanded a shot at Marciano. He harried the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) and, finally, was admitted to the presence of the president. He had been offered $4,000 for an IBC television shot at Hurricane Jackson. He got $40,000. Floyd Patterson was on his way. The hard-core extremists began to wear grins.
But even these hardy fundamentalists were astounded by the high quality of Patterson's victory. They had expected him to win, but not so beautifully. This youth, an Olympic amateur champion only four years ago, performed with the poise of a skilled veteran, at ease and in charge at all times. In one poisoned punch he displayed a power that would not have shamed a Louis or a Dempsey. In somewhat less than five rounds he showed the defensive skill and tactical assault genius of a Tunney. He did not fight in the style of any of these three—he fought like a Patterson—but he stepped grandly into their illustrious company.
To the extremists who favored him this was the real surprise of the fight. For Patterson, performing against a seasoned opportunist, did not once indulge himself in an all-out version of the almost suicidal Gazelle Punch (SI, Nov. 26) that he has employed with Dionysian rapture against lesser opponents. ("I get a kind of elation out of it," says Patterson.) It was as though, in a single night, he had abandoned all the little raw pleasures of amateurism and had grown suddenly into a mature professional. He protected himself at all times. He made no false moves. He exposed himself to danger only to gain a calculated advantage.
Trainer Dan Florio takes a bow here. He has been at Patterson's side ever since Floyd returned from Helsinki four years ago with the Olympic 165-pound title. In the final two weeks of training at Sportsman's Park, Chicago's Cicero race track, Florio gave Floyd an intensive course in self-defense. In the minds of Florio and D'Amato there was only one fear: that Moore, a coiled spring, would lash out with one of his deadly sneak punches at a moment when the often-impetuous Patterson had his guard down. It was, indeed, just about Moore's only chance. But he never quite got it.
Self-defense did not mean that Patterson was to stay away from Moore. On the contrary, he was to engage Moore at close quarters, force him into incessant, evasive action and wear him down with the speed and fury of the famous Patterson combinations. In short, he was to keep Moore so busy that Archie would be unable to retaliate—except, of course, when Patterson would necessarily withdraw from these engagements in order to gather himself for a new attack. At such moments a fighter is in deadly danger of the misnamed sneak punch, a perfectly legitimate weapon with the virtue of catching an opponent by surprise as he is concentrating on his next maneuver and has momentarily forgotten his defenses.
Patterson was instructed to come away from each assault with his hands protecting each side of his chin and his upper arms and elbows guarding his flanks. He was drilled in this daily and ordered as well to maintain a half crouch that would leave Moore little more target than the top of Patterson's head.
If he followed this pattern, it was felt, Patterson could expect to deprive Moore of his major weapon, sudden power, and pave the way for a knockout punch. It was a great deal to expect that a youngster with Floyd Patterson's eager soul could so restrain himself in the excitement of a championship fight, stick to the outlined strategy and never deviate from it, even when stung.
In the Moore camp, the light heavyweight champion's strategy was apparent immediately to those who watched his workouts. It was foreordained that Archie, a supreme stylist of a very special mold, would conserve energy for the ultimate moment when he could take advantage of inexperienced youth and crash fist against jaw with knockout force. Meanwhile, Archie would be hidden behind that strange crisscross of arms and elbows, waiting like a tensed panther for the moment to lunge. He would thus be secure, and all he needed was to seize the moment when it came.
These were the plans. As the day of the fight neared, it became evident that, of the two, Patterson was in better shape to carry them out. He was in superb condition; but Moore, though he slammed sparring partners about, was far less fit. Archie went through one workout—two rounds of boxing, shadowboxing, light-and heavy-bag punching—and emerged so puffed that he could hardly talk. But at other times he talked beautifully in roguish prose.
As he had twitted Marciano, so he teased Patterson. D'Amato was mere "comic relief." Advised that Patterson was so relaxed he was sleeping "like a baby," Archie promised to "put him to sleep." He spoke mysteriously of his diet, learned from an Australian aborigine, no less, and of a wonderful Tasmanian salve, imported at great expense to bring his weight down in selected areas. He challenged Patterson to make the weight and fight for both the light heavyweight and heavyweight championships.
Patterson was amused, up to a point. He announced finally that Archie must be talking for a triple purpose—to build up the gate, to intimidate Patterson and, above all, to reassure Archie. In the end Floyd had the retort perfect—a left hook to the jaw.
But at fight time Archie was favored, though the odds swung through an arc from 12-5 to 6-5 and back to 8-5. Many favored Moore on the basis of Patterson's showing against Hurricane Jackson, whom he defeated in 12 rounds, on a split decision, with a broken right hand.
It had been believed that Patterson broke his hand in the sixth round of the Jackson fight. Actually he broke it in training two weeks before the fight. At that time, puzzled by a desultory workout in which Patterson punched poorly, this reporter went up to talk to him and shook hands. Patterson winced. He said nothing then, however, and, in fact, said not a word until almost an hour after he beat Jackson. D'Amato and Florio had sent their man into the ring believing him fully sound.
"I didn't want to miss the chance," Patterson explained to them when, horrified, they asked why he hadn't mentioned the injury before the fight.
So his showing against Jackson was by no means Patterson at his best, except in self-confidence.
Patterson at his best was a lean 182½ pounds—four pounds more than he weighed against Jackson—facing the supreme challenge of his life, the 187¾-pound Moore, one of the world's most experienced, craftiest, hardest-punching fighters. Their age difference—with Moore rated at 39 years, as he counts it—favored Patterson in speed and stamina, Moore in ring learning.
But the student took on the professor and took away his degree.
At the noontime weigh-in Archie looked glum until spoken to, when he brightened like a wallflower who had just been asked to dance. Patterson was serene. He had gone to bed the night before to sleep 11½ hours, so sweetly that Florio let him skip breakfast. He awakened him just in time to dress and be strategically late for the weigh-in. Floyd slept three more hours in the late afternoon and, arriving at his dressing room, took another nap, or seemed to. At any rate his eyes were closed, and remained so, until he was called into the ring.
In his modest robe of blue, trimmed with orange, Floyd looked like a preliminary boy compared to the flamboyant Archie; Archie's mother-in-law had made him a black robe trimmed and lined with cloth of gold. His very pretty wife Joan was at ringside, part of the harmonious ensemble in a cloth-of-gold evening coat. Archie's robe made a sensation that Dior would have envied. The crowd loved it and cheered the man who wore it.
Then the fight began, after a false start caused by the sounding of the 10-second buzzer, normally reserved for a between-rounds warning.
There were 16,248 in Chicago Stadium, 2,000 short of a full house, and most of them had paid money—a gross of $228,145—to see what might happen. After deductions of various sorts the fighters were to get $114,257 each from their shares of the gate and radio-TV receipts. And the winner would get a title estimated to be worth $1 million.
Patterson, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, knelt and crossed himself, then turned and faced Moore. Moore scored the first effective punch, a right to the head, but the effect was not what he had expected. It was a good right, well delivered, and should have staggered Patterson; but later Floyd could not even remember it. His response was a thunder of punches to the body and head that drove Moore back. He was in charge for the rest of the round, and, as this became clear, Patterson's face wore an impish grin. His combinations, accurate and fast, penetrated Archie's complicated guard. He maneuvered his man like a master and scored especially well with his left hook.
When he came back to his corner D'Amato said to him: "If you make no mistakes from now on you will be the world's champion." It was a reminder of what had been drilled into him in training—"Stay low and cover up as you back away from Moore; keep your right up when you throw a hook; don't give him punching room."
He made no real mistakes. Toward the end of the second round he was a little overanxious as he drove Moore to the ropes and perhaps missed a chance to finish it then. He was hit a couple of times with Moore hooks but he was still in command, and when he ducked under a whistling right it was apparent that Moore would have trouble getting the clean power shot he needed so desperately. In the third round both were cut over the eyes but neither wound was serious, and Patterson again closed the round with a battling barrage, driving Moore to the ropes and, for a parting shot, rocking him with a left hook at the bell. The fourth was distinguished by a Moore right to the head, the only punch of the fight that, in retrospect, impressed Patterson in his dressing-room summation. And in the fifth the end came. You could see it coming.
The round began with a Patterson jab—the others had begun with Archie missing a tentative left each time—and was followed by a Patterson combination that drove Moore back. (Patterson forced Moore to break ground in every round.) Patterson slipped to his knees, perhaps because he was again too eager. Up again, he coolly measured his man. As Moore charged him, Patterson moved easily into position and caught him with a long left hook to the jaw. Moore went down, floored with a single punch. He rose at the count of nine (he is the kind of fighter who gets up) and Patterson was on him again with a left and right to the head, both punches catching Moore as he tried to duck out of their way. Moore went down once more.
There was some dispute as to whether he was up again at the count of nine, as it seemed from this seat, and many others, or whether he was counted out on the floor as Referee Frank Sikora insisted. It didn't matter. Floyd Patterson was indisputably Heavyweight Champion of the World.
He was Heavyweight Champion of the World and he was father of a baby girl who was born, unbeknownst to him, a few hours before he climbed through the crimson ropes.
Next morning Floyd Patterson was burning the roads in a Cadillac on his way to the bedside of his wife and child in New York. Cus D'Amato, his white-haired, ebullient manager, as tough in his own way as Patterson is in his, was meanwhile holding forth at a press conference, suggesting that a return bout with Hurricane Jackson, "who gave Floyd his hardest fight," would be in order. Furthermore, D'Amato intimated, the return of Rocky Marciano to the ring would be most welcome and would draw "the greatest gate in history." He made it clear, however, that no actual plans had been made for anything but the cashing in of Floyd's prestige on such things as television appearances and endorsements of manufactured goods.
Patterson was sharing the headlines with the Olympics, and D'Amato reminisced a little on the fact that, four years ago, his fighter had come back from Helsinki with the Olympic middleweight title and now, as another Olympiad went on, had just won the world's highest professional title.
"When Floyd came back from the Olympics," he said, "I told him that before he was through he would be chosen 'rookie of the year,' 'fighter of the year,' would become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time and would be the greatest fighter of all time.
"Now only one of these remains to be realized."
D'Amato sincerely believes that this final accolade will be Patterson's, just as he believed a year ago, when few could see anything but the bulky shadow of Rocky Marciano, that Patterson would be the next heavyweight champion.
D'Amato is the sort of man who makes dreams come true. And so is Patterson.
FROM THE JANUARY 30 ISSUE WHEN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED NAMED YOUNG FLOYD PATTERSON AS THE NEXT HEAVYWEIGHT TITLEHOLDER, HIS CASE HAS BEEN CONSISTENTLY CHAMPIONED IN THESE PAGES. TO READ WHAT HIS TRIUMPHANT MANAGER NOW SAYS ABOUT IT, SEE PAGE 14
WHAT CUS D'AMATO HAD TO SAY
D'Amato, holding court amidst a group of reporters and well-wishers after the fight, had the floor: "I don't know what I would have done without SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. You fellows have been square all along. You didn't always agree with me, but at least you came to see me to ask me my side of the story, and then you printed what you thought was right.
"You gave me a voice. I am eternally grateful. I'm not too clever with words, and when some newspapermen would talk with me, if they did talk with me at all, they wouldn't put down the essence, the essence, of what I was saying. You know what I mean. I don't care who knows it. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is great. They are honest people."
"What," a newsman asked skeptically, "would happen if you said that in front of Jim Norris?"
D'Amato's voice rose almost to a shout. "I would say it in front of anybody!" he cried. "I don't care what they think, Jim Norris or anybody else. With me they have been great, and when I couldn't get my story across to the newspapermen, I could with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is a class outfit. They are class people."
WHAT CHARLEY SCHWEFEL DID
A profound influence in the development of Floyd Patterson was a white-haired, pink-cheeked New Yorker with the personality of an Al Smith and the conscience of a nun. He was Charles W. Schwefel, a man who had grown wealthy in the hotel business. His real enthusiasm was for underprivileged boys, and one of his closest lifelong pals had been one—a baseball player named Babe Ruth. Schwefel believed that sport was the best outlet a confused teen-ager could have for enthusiasms that might otherwise be misdirected, that sport could supply ideals of sportsmanship a New York street urchin might discover nowhere else.
Schwefel came upon Floyd Patterson in one of New York's "600 Schools," which he had helped establish as a city project to serve the needs of boys who had proved hard to manage in the regular schools. Floyd was in P.S. 614, and his record so impressed Schwefel that he made himself the youngster's guardian angel, gave him a job at the distinguished Gramercy Park Hotel, which Schwefel owned, and was so solicitous of the boy's welfare that he paid for a quiet investigation of Cus D'Amato, whose gymnasium Floyd was frequenting. "Nobody could find anything wrong with D'Amato," Schwefel reported happily. "100% straight." Thereafter he gave D'Amato full moral support in the manager's efforts to stave off the greedy wolves who wanted a "piece" of Floyd. He gave jobs to Patterson's sparring partners, insuring him a supply of punching material.
Charley Schwefel died suddenly last August at age 61. He missed Patterson's crowning achievement of last Friday night, which would have given him great joy, but he had a few achievements of his own. Not the least, of course, was the rise of his boy, Floyd, from the danger of delinquency to solid maturity.