Pete Rademacher, the amateur boxer brazenly aspiring to Floyd Patterson's heavyweight title, came into the ring at Sick's Stadium in Seattle looking like Willard before Toledo. Five rounds and a fraction later he was rolling on the canvas for the seventh time, a helpless hulk but a hero nonetheless. He was groggy and reeling as deputy sheriffs all but carried him to his dressing room, but he had a sense of unprecedented achievement to bear him up, too. And 20 minutes after that he was once again the man in the gray flannel boxing trunks, serenely poised and issuing concise, precisely phrased statements to a somewhat embarrassed press, most of which had predicted he would last no more than a round or two, some of which had demanded bitterly that the fight be banned.
But Pete Rademacher, though badly beaten, seven times on the canvas and the seventh time knocked out, was still a hero. He had in some degree justified a preposterous fight, not because he ever had more than a minimal chance to win it, but because he had given a full measure of courage, some measure of quite unexpected ability and a large measure of devotion to an ideal. He enjoys boxing ("I loved every minute of the fight") and takes defeat with grace. He believes that the fighter's essential qualities, courage and skill, can be an inspiration to the young.
The young who saw Pete Rademacher, Olympic heavyweight champion, take on Floyd Patterson, world's professional champion, must surely have been inspired. Some were even inspired to climb over the fence to see him fight. This rank amateur, fighting for the first time in a professional ring, fighting for the first time for more than three two-minute rounds, succeeded in knocking down, by official account, the heavyweight champion of the world and actually outfought him in the first two rounds. What it added up to, in the end, was a moral victory for Rademacher and for Youth Unlimited, that strange organization of which he is a vice-president and for which he fought on salary. Youth Unlimited (SI, Aug. 19) has won itself a place in the sporting sun and in one night has acquired a nationally known executive.
The fight had its mysterious moments, some of which were explained in dressing room postludes. The pattern was simple, however. Rademacher attacked early, was winded early and succumbed in time to a succession of knockdowns. "Each time it was a little harder to get up," he recalled.
September 1, 1957
One mystery was that during the first two rounds Patterson threw little more than a dozen punches and missed often, while Rademacher was landing with awkward hooks and rights. Awkward indeed, Patterson said later, but made effective by their very clumsiness. "He is a sneaky puncher," the champion explained. "You don't know when to expect a punch." That did not explain why Patterson refused to return the fire. "It was the strategy of my fight," Patterson said. "I wanted him to get tired in the early rounds so I could open him up later."
That, of course, is what happened. Rademacher was clearly tired by the third round, though he insists that he got his second wind in the fourth. He had shown this tendency to tire in training, when he would puff badly after a few rounds of sparring. Boxing's amateurs start their professional careers with four-round bouts.
Another mystery was the so-called second-round knockdown of Patterson, which gave Rademacher four seconds of glory. To many ringsiders, including this one, it appeared that Patterson slipped after taking a right to the head. Certainly he did not take his sudden fall too seriously. On the canvas the champion's face wore an embarrassed, quizzical grin. Referee Tommy Loughran, former light heavyweight champion, did not start a count, though the timekeeper reached four. But Patterson insisted he really was knocked down, and Loughran insisted he had regarded it as a knockdown.
STILL ANOTHER MYSTERY
Then there was the third-round mystery when, fighting at close quarters, Patterson stung Rademacher with a left uppercut. Rademacher sagged and Patterson slipped a left arm around his waist and held him up, seemed even to lift him. There were two explanations of this, one by Patterson and one by Cus D'Amato, his manager.
"I could have pushed him down," Patterson said, "but that would have been dirty fighting. It was better to hold him up." D'Amato, on the other hand, said Patterson's move was a precautionary one.
"I had told him that this fellow was a very sneaky puncher who could pretend to be hurt and then throw a hard right," Cus said. "He didn't want to be hit with the right so he moved in and clinched." It looked like much more than a clinch.
In that third round Rademacher suffered the first of seven knockdowns. There was no mystery to that. He just missed with a couple of wild swings and was caught with a right to the head. He took a nine-count on his knees, wisely saving himself.
He scored with a hard right to the head and two good rights to the body in the fourth round when, as he relates it, he began to get back his wind. By this time, though, Patterson was beginning to look like his fighting self, retaliating powerfully when stung and putting his punches together. He was hitting harder and sharper. Even a jab caused Rademacher to grimace, and a Patterson left that landed under the heart undoubtedly took steam out of the amateur challenger. Such a heart punch, Tommy Loughran had been saying at lunch before the fight, is not fully felt until the following round. And in the following round Rademacher was knocked down four times.
Every one of the seven knockdown punches in the fight was a right to the head. Rademacher thoughtfully took a nine-count each time. On the second fourth-round knockdown he sat with knees drawn up, staring at the timekeeper, a look of self-disgust on his face. He took the third knockdown count on one knee. The fourth was caused by a right to the back of the head, delivered as he spun away to escape Patterson's mounting fury. At the end of the round Rademacher was backed into a corner trying to dodge a barrage that came from all directions.
The end had been clearly in sight from the third round on, but Rademacher, his massive arms now leaden, insisted on trying. Just before the start of the sixth round, Referee Loughran, who had announced before the fight that he would not permit a TKO asked Rademacher if he wanted to continue. Rademacher grunted that he would. He walked into a left jab, his face became contorted under the impact of a left hook, and he went down once more from a right to the head. He took the count of nine again, resting on one knee.
In action once more, he missed an audacious right and took a left to the head. He actually hit Patterson with a right to the head. In a matter of moments he was down again, victim of a right to the back of the head as he reeled away from a feint. Loughran had counted 10 when Georges Chemeres, Rademacher's trainer, rushed into the ring to stop the fight. It had seemed as if Rademacher just might have risen again. But as the count ended Vice-President Rademacher still was on one knee, struggling upward.
Despite the outcome, Youth Unlimited may have won a financial as well as a moral victory, though the fight netted only $209,556.62 and Patterson's guarantee, put up by 22 friends of the organization, was $250,000. Movies were taken of the fight. Promoter Jack Hurley, that wise, gray showman, guessed the films might be worth a half million dollars to Youth Unlimited, Patterson and Cus D'Amato. Deacon Hurley's guesses are not invariably sharp. He had predicted the fight would draw a capacity crowd of 25,000. It drew 16,961.
But money offers began to come in to Rademacher. Next day he scratched a thoughtful chin when informed that one of his original scorners, the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president), now thought well enough of him to offer $20,000 if he would fight any of four ranking heavyweights at Madison Square Garden in November. The fighters: Eddie Machen, Zora Folley, Willie Pastrano and Alex Miteff. Only the night before Rademacher had given the impression that he was through with fighting.
"Are any of them IBC fighters?" he now asked, pondering the proposition. He explained that "I kind of lean away from the IBC." Advised that all are pretty much in the IBC fold, he decided to think the matter over.
The IBC offer enraged Hurley, a man who knows the value of an attraction. "That $20,000 is an insult," he sputtered. "Chicken feed! This is the new Masked Marvel! No one knows what he looks like, and everyone wants to see him. He would fill up the Garden, which is a haunted house, just fighting a street car conductor."
"Something like this will require thinking," Rademacher said and went off to pack for a visit to his native Yakima Valley and a trip to New York, on Youth Unlimited business, next week. After that, back to Columbus, Georgia, where this astounding enterprise was hatched, and where he will devote himself to more hatching.
AVOIDING A TARNISH
Any attempt to evaluate Rademacher as a boxer in professional ranks would fault him on a score of points. He lacks, for one thing, the staying power of a professional. It would take a year of intensive training, with occasional four-and six-round bouts, to get him in shape for serious main event competition. (The Patterson fight was a romantic adventure.) Acceptance of an IBC fight would not, therefore, be Rademacher's wisest move. Retiring now, he has a national reputation as a remarkable and respected figure in sport, a man who has made history. To be defeated once more by a professional—and he would almost certainly be defeated, if only by the simple device of staying away from his punch until he tired—could tarnish his accomplishment, make sordid a splendid achievement.
Tommy Loughran, a man who should know, thinks he should retire.
As for Floyd Patterson, still heavyweight champion of the world, he is entitled to a bit of rest and enjoyment of the comforts of home, wife and children. The ascetic life of the champion has given him almost none of this in the past year. Most of it has been spent in training or on tour.
"I'll take a month off," Floyd said, "then go back to the training camp."
His last act before breaking camp at Star Lake was to turn loose a couple of garter snakes he had captured and kept as pets in a glass jug, taking them out from time to time to fondle them between sparring sessions and roadwork. Aside from reunion with his wife and children, he is now looking forward to renewal of an old friendship with his two monkeys.
Patterson does not expect to fight again this year, but Cus D'Amato is pondering some offers which might change that.