If I should win I'm going to look down into the faces of those reporters...and that alone is going to be worth a million dollars."
In these words, Floyd Patterson, training for his return bout with Ingemar Johansson, summed up to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the pent-up fury he has felt at a denigrating section of the sporting press since he lost his title to Johansson a year ago.
When Floyd Patterson did win, brilliantly, he looked down into the faces of the reporters and he jumped up and down on his heels in glee.
"Ee-yah!' he shouted at them through his pink mouthpiece.
But the press did not understand his derision. The press was on its feet cheering him, delighted that Floyd Patterson had just done what no man had ever done before and that he had done it with the élan of a true champion. He had regained the heavyweight championship of the world. He had regained it with such a vicious, furious assault that the bewildered Ingemar Johansson, fighting his first defense of the title, was totally unable to cope with him.
The youngest, at 21, ever to win the title, Patterson was the youngest, at 25, ever to try to win it back.
In succeeding, he astonished almost all the experts, including SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, not only by his achievement but by the manner of his doing it. Never before has Patterson fought with such fire, not even on the night he won the title by knocking out Archie Moore at Chicago. On that night he was coolly competent, in charge from the opening bell. This night at the almost packed Polo Grounds in New York he flashed fire with every move, accepted Ingemar's power-laden right hand in the second round, and crashed home punch after punch to the body until the defending champion's guard was forced down.
With a path thus opened to Johansson's chin, Patterson landed two left hooks in the fifth round. The first came on one of his famous leaps and knocked Johansson to the canvas for a count of 9. Not badly hurt, Johansson prudently took the count on one knee, his eyes clear. Moments later he was indeed hurt. A long left hook banged into his jaw and toppled him over backward with a crash that jarred the ring. He lay very still on the flat of his back, his massive legs stretched out straight, blood flowing from a corner of his mouth, and he did not move while Referee Arthur Mercante counted the 10 seconds that ended his championship and marked his first defeat as a professional.
For several minutes thereafter he remained there, only semiconscious, while doctors and handlers ministered to him. He seemed to have suffered a concussion, one of the physicians said.
Floyd promises return
The chances are that Ingemar did not hear his predecessor and successor, Floyd Patterson, as the new champion bent over him in the ring and shouted to him above the din:
"You definitely will get a third fight."
Their contract calls for a return engagement, but Patterson well knows that it is rather easy to avoid fulfillment of such agreements. He merely wanted to add his reassuring word of honor to the legalities.
Just as he was a different fighter on this night than he had ever been before, Patterson will be a different champion. He will ignore the devious politics of boxing.
"I'll just take whoever is No. 1 contender and I'll fight him regardless," Patterson told me a few weeks ago at his training camp. "I made up my mind about that right after I lost the title."
He has smarted for a long time under criticism that some of his challengers were less than worthy, although all of them except the amateur Pete Rademacher were ranked fourth or better when Floyd fought them. The new Patterson is determined, too, that he will be more available to the sporting public than he was during his first reign. Naturally retiring, he shunned most public appearances except for children's charities, in which he is interested. He saw with astonishment how the charming Johansson won the public's affection on the strength of his big punch, his big smile and his willingness to appear on television, in movies and in advertising. He has decided to do what he can to emulate Johansson in this area, conceding, however, that he is by no means an actor.
In this spectacular fight Patterson fulfilled the promise of greatness he showed even before he won the title. Even so, some of his combinations were smothered by Johansson's defense, and the knockout came on no combination but on a single punch. Instead of the patient, waiting figure he presented in the first fight, Patterson fought with passionate impatience, crowding Johansson about the ring from the very first seconds of the first round.
In that round it was immediately apparent that Patterson had no intention of fighting cautiously. Pride, as well as strategy, made him intent on dominating the issue. There was surprise in Johansson's eyes as Patterson charged brashly into him after an exchange of light jabs. There was even more surprise when Patterson crunched a left hook into Johansson's head.
Johansson won the second round, however, on the strength of his good right hand. He crossed it into Patterson's face, a trifle high, and Patterson was clearly hurt but he was also clearly confident that he could take more such punches. While he clinched to recover he winked reassuringly down at Irving B. Kahn, president of Tele-Promp Ter, which owned the theater TV, movie and radio rights to the fight. Then he circled sensibly away until he was certain of full recovery.
In the third round Patterson was back in action, throwing the rather special hooks to the body that he had counted on before the fight to weaken Johansson and force down his guard. To get to the body he was charging in fast, faster than Johansson could retreat, and brushing aside the ineffectual, flicking jab that Johansson had used to keep him at bay in their first fight. Johansson tried his right hand again but was short with it and it never counted for anything thereafter. Patterson merely bobbed under it, thoroughly confident that he could handle it.
In the fourth round, as he had done in the first, Patterson drove Johansson back with flurries, landed one good right-hand punch and some stiff jabs.
They applied an ice bag to Ingemar's left eye after this round. He had sustained a slight cut under it in the first round and now it seemed that the eye might be closing a trifle.
Thus far in the fight the faces of the two fighters were a study in contrasts. Patterson wore a look of almost amused contempt. Johansson at first looked bewildered, later adopted a rather odd smile, which did not jibe with what was happening to him.
But in the fifth and final round Patterson was neither amused nor contemptuous. He snarled viciously as he poured head-shaking jabs into Johansson's face, then closed with the champion and banged two rights to his head in tight. The rights were high on the head, because Johansson's shoulder was blocking characteristically, but they were hard punches, nonetheless.
Then came the end, in two furious moves, prepared by the fact that Johansson's right hand was now down to protect his body. As he has done so often, Patterson leaped to close with Johansson, and as his feet touched canvas a good left hook crashed into Johansson's jaw and dropped him. The moth-filled air of the Polo Grounds was shattered by the crowd's roar, and Patterson stepped quickly to a neutral corner.
Johansson was scarcely up when Patterson was on him again, both hands flying. Johansson spun helplessly about the ring. At one crucial point Johansson had his back turned to Patterson and Floyd might legally have hit him on the back of the head, just as Johansson had hit Patterson in their first fight. Instead, Patterson twisted Johansson about and threw the final left hook of the fight, catching him flush on the chin. At that moment it was apparent that Floyd Patterson's left hook is at least as powerful as Ingemar Johansson's right hand. Ingemar went down for the full count and much more besides.
So, in their two fights, Patterson and Johansson are even so far as results go, but it does appear that in their second encounter Patterson established clear superiority. For one thing, he knocked Johansson out utterly, something Johansson had been unable to do to him in that seven-knockdown third round of a year ago. For another, aware at last that he had an opponent worth respecting, he moved toward a solution of his problem with a champion's assurance, took command of the situation and did what was necessary when the opportunity occurred.
There will, of course, be the usual ignorant rumors that the first fight was a fake in order to warrant a return, especially since the return was a richly rewarding one to the fighters and everyone else connected with it. (Full financial reports will not be available for several weeks but it is possible that Patterson and Johansson will be enriched to the extent of almost half a million dollars apiece from this second fight.) But such rumors must be transparent nonsense to those who were actually present at these two fights or, for that matter, to anyone who knows either fighter.
There will also be the question of what to do about Cus D'Amato, whose license has expired in New York State. New York's boxing commission, which gave Cus a certain leeway when he managed a champion, then zealously prosecuted him after his fighter lost the championship, must decide whether to license him again.
D'Amato is entitled to crow and almost certainly will. When Patterson lost the title, D'Amato's first words were: "I predict Floyd Patterson will be the first heavyweight in history to regain his title."
Cus, crushed to earth, has risen again.
Another man entitled to crow is Joe Louis, whose retention as an adviser to Patterson was derided as a publicity stunt. But the wise old champion made one most important contribution to the victory. He recognized the virtues of Johansson's circular barrier defense and he suggested a way to penetrate it.
"The way to get inside Johansson," Louis said, "is to make him miss, then step inside."
Which is precisely what Patterson did on several occasions. On those occasions he dug his left into the heart area, weakening Johansson so that he lost some of his backward speed and forcing down the guard that protected his head.
In Johansson's Geneva gymnasium he has hung on the wall two mottoes. Both are in Swedish. One of them says, "Keep your hands up." The other says, "Keep your chin down." And a third might well say, "Don't miss with your right."