Blood gushed from a deep, raw cut on his left eyelid, from a streaming gash alongside the same eye, from his nose, from a cut near the right eye and from his temple. It dribbled down his chest and it stained his opponent's glossy white trunks. It sprayed ringsiders as his head was rocked by blow after blow.
This was the handsome Roy Harris, heavyweight challenger from Cut and Shoot, Texas, the most celebrated little community of the year. He was taking a bad beating at the hands of Champion Floyd Patterson, a cold-eyed, crouching stalker. But he fought back, too, flashing a fast left hand and bringing up a strong right uppercut. At every such exchange the crowd of 21,680 which had paid a California record of $234,183.25 to sit in Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, roared hoarse applause. When Harris landed there was a special roar from Texas pilgrims and a crazed waving of ten-gallon hats. Across the land, and especially in Texas, tens of thousands—perhaps as many as 200,000—saw the fight on theater television and paid upwards of $1 million for the privilege. It was a highly successful promotion, the more astonishing in that it was the maiden effort of Bill Rosensohn, hitherto a television man, who had to buck a critical press that kept predicting his failure on the grounds thatHarris was unknown outside of Texas and Patterson had not fought a heavyweight of stature since he won the title.
Both premises were true enough, but the crowd streamed into the park and into the theaters anyhow. Though the fight was one-sided there was tension in almost every round.
Patterson's head blows took spectacularly obvious effect, but inside, and invisibly, the schoolteacher must have been sickened by punches to the spleen, liver and heart, punches that leave no gross mark but hurt far more than gaudy head blows. Patterson weakened his sturdy opponent with crushing, painful smashes of a kind that once caused the seemingly insensate Hurricane Jackson to squeal in agony. Harris, a man with a good stoic soul, just gasped for breath through a scarlet mouthpiece.
August 31, 1958
It took the champion 12 bloody, bruising rounds to beat Harris, the best of the three men he has met since winning the title and very likely the second-best heavyweight.
Patterson, in a manner of speaking, had to get off the floor to do it. In the second round the champ found himself sitting flat on the seat of his trunks for a four-count, while all the Texans in the world, it seemed, screamed for his blood. Referee Mushy Callahan ruled it a knock-down, after some hesitation, though Patterson had fallen more from a push than a punch. But an instant before the push he had been hit by an excellent right uppercut (see above), which is Harris' best punch and one he scored with repeatedly in the early stages. Expecting more, Patterson tried to move away, but his footwork, based on an unorthodox square stance and designed more for forward than backward movement, never has been of the fanciest in retreat. In retreat this time he found himself off balance as Harris, trying for a following left hook, caught him on the side of the head with the left forearm and pushed him on down.
Patterson got up quickly, bashed but unabashed. Then the champion was hit by a true hook. He admitted that this blow "dizzied" him.
Five rounds later, beginning to regain the sharpness that only actual fighting can give, Patterson started his own series of knockdowns, not one of them questionable. He felled the challenger with a right hand in the seventh, knocked him down twice, once with each hand, in the eighth, and put him down again with a long right hand smash in the 12th.
That last knockdown was revealing. Harris hesitated before going down. For what seemed like two seconds he stood there, knees sagging, his face reflecting only a dazed consideration of the situation. Then he slumped to the canvas. He started up again and Patterson lunged across the ring to try for a finisher. Harris has splendid legs but he found them too wobbly for support. He sank to one knee and Patterson withdrew while the count went on to nine. Technically, Referee Callahan might have stopped the fight there, for Harris had gone down without being hit. (There had been a dressing room agreement before the fight that the referee would not stop the bout except on request of the loser's corner.)
Somehow, in spite of rights to the body and blazing head combinations, Harris survived that round and was even ready for another. Only his lean, white-haired trainer, Bill Gore, had had enough. Gore signaled to the referee that the fight was over.
If it had gone the full 15 Harris might have been ruined as a fighter forever. As it is, he hopes that Gore will be available to give him more training so that he may try again, perhaps a year from now. In the few weeks that Gore worked with him, Harris, hitherto trained in a rough-and-tumble school, learned much about the professional way.
The cuts were entirely unanticipated. Harris had no previous reputation as a profuse bleeder. After 22 fights, in which he never had been defeated, his face showed no scar tissue. But in this fight he busted up easier than a Carmen Basilio.
One explanation came from the Patterson camp. The gloves were peculiar and may have represented an effort to counteract California law, which calls for eight-ounce gloves in championship fights, though six-ounce gloves are used elsewhere when a title is at stake. The gloves seemed to have much of the weight on the wrists instead of on the punching surface so that, while they weighed a legal eight ounces, they had the effect of six-ounce weapons. Patterson's manager, Cus D'Amato, noted also that the leather seemed thinner than is customary and suggested that this may have been a factor in the blood bath.
Even Patterson was horrified at the bloody spectacle Harris presented.
"Generally," Patterson said, "I don't look at an opponent's face. I keep my eye on the center of his chest because that way I can tell whether he is moving his muscles to throw a right or a left. But once I looked up into his face and it seemed all I could see was flesh and blood. I didn't want to hit him around the eyes any more so after that I aimed for his chin."
One such chin shot was so powerful it sprayed all the blood off Harris' face and left it as though it had been wiped with a towel.
Harris proved to Patterson's satisfaction that he is a better puncher than was thought before the fight, though he still needs to pivot in order to get more steam into his drives.
"He hits harder than people say he hits," Patterson said. "It's a lucky thing I don't listen to what they say. He hurt me a couple of times, but not seriously." Even so, Harris does not punch with adequate authority for a heavyweight.
Harris left the ring to the cheers of thousands who had come in the expectation, based on absurd reports of 7-to-1 odds, that he must succumb early to Patterson's thundering fists. Instead, he made a fight of it.
Joe Louis, a pithy man, summed it up better than anyone.
"When a man that punch get in the ring with a man that can't punch," the old champion said, "the man that can't punch he better be awful fancy and this man just ain't fancy enough."
Promoting out of native ability and ignorance, with veteran Jack Hurley as consultant, Bill Rosensohn proudly contemplated success. The previous California record gate, the Sugar Ray Robinson-Bobo Olson middleweight title fight of 1956, was promoted by the very experienced International Boxing Club and was topped in this case by $852.25. Patterson also holds the Pacific Coast gate record, set at Seattle against Pete Rademacher.
Patterson's share of the net gate was $101,384.41. In addition he may get as much as $300,000 more from TelePrompTer, which handled the theater TV, and a possible $60,000 from the movies. Out of his share Patterson paid Harris a $100,000 guarantee. The champion will net close to $300,000.
Certain lessons may be drawn from the fight:
1) Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, has won his war with the IBC. He has established that the manager of a champion can make money for his fighter (and, importantly, for other fighters) outside the IBC pale. It is a lesson that he expects will be read and understood by other managers. "This breaks the back of the IBC," a D'Amato follower said in a postfight glow of glee. "It was a very successful promotion." Whether or not it gave the IBC even a bad case of lumbago, it vaulted D'Amato into a position of extraordinary power in boxing. He now has two well-heeled promoters, Emil Lence and Bill Rosensohn, eager to handle his champion's fights. Lence is attempting to get Madison Square Garden for late October or early November, so that Patterson may fight in New York, though no one knows the opponent. D'Amato has also committed Patterson to a June 1959 fight at Colorado Springs, again against an undetermined opponent. This would be in celebration ofColorado's centennial, Rush to the Rockies, and highlight an exceptional, months-long sports program, ranging from skiing to track.
2) Patterson must fight oftener. At 23, he should be close to his peak but a year's layoff has dulled his once-sharp weapons. Now he may well fight three or four times a year, as he desires. Thus his sharpness can be preserved. These fights probably will be against ranking contenders, too, for now that D'Amato has established that he alone rules the heavyweight roost this amazingly stubborn manager can, without loss of face, take on even such so-called "IBC fighters" as Zora Folley, Eddie Machen and Willie Pastrano.
3) Having won his war, D'Amato now faces a moral obligation to see that Patterson, his loyal champion, achieves recognition as one of the great heavyweights. This can be done only by letting him fight all comers of sufficient ranking.
4) The big fights for a long time hereafter will be dominated by theater television. Theater TV audiences were impressed by the enormous size of the fighters on the big screen and by a sense of presence and participation that resulted from being in a big, responsive crowd instead of being seated before a small screen with a few friends in the living room. They laughed, booed and cheered like fight crowds anywhere and few of them will ever again prefer to see a big fight on a little screen if they can see it in a theater. This alone is enough to put the IBC, tied so intimately to home television, in second place. Such organizations as TelePrompTer and Theater Network Television (TPT and TNT) have the money and the potential income to offer the fighters guarantees far beyond anything they would get from stadium promoters or free home television, or both. Home television sponsors, who once laid out a $300,000 guarantee for the Rocky Marciano-Jersey Joe Walcott second fight (aone-round fiasco), are not likely to try that again. So fight fans will have to pay to see the really big fights hereafter. If you are a fighter that will seem only fair.
5) When pay television enters the home in the far distant future, as is certain when the FCC can tune in on the possibilities of the medium it rules, a championship gate of $5 million will be ordinary.