Since he won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1956, Floyd Patterson has had but six fights, averaging a bit less than two a year. Two of these fights, one-third of the total, have been against Ingemar Johansson. He is now about to sign for a third Johansson bout. From cities north, south, east and west the bids have been coming in, backed by fervent promises of better police protection than the spectators and even the fighters got at the Polo Grounds, where hooligans swarmed as freely as the bugs under the ring lights.
The return is both legally necessary (because of a clause in the original contract) and a matter of honor to Patterson, who likes to keep his word. Its sporting necessity is more questionable. The new Patterson, as distinguished from the Patterson who fought with so little luster against Roy Harris, Brian London and the Ingemar Johansson of a year ago, plainly established that he has grown to fighting manhood under the lash of failure.
Unless Johansson now makes a comparable advance, it seems likely that Patterson will be his master whenever they choose to meet again. To be sure, both previous fights ended in upsets. Twice-bitten experts will be shy of a third. There is no guarantee that an upset cannot happen again, for Ingemar's right hand remains a menace to any man, and especially to a man as susceptible to rights as Floyd Patterson has been.
The only real mystery of the second Patterson-Johansson fight lies in Johansson's curious reluctance to use the right hand more than he did. He had five rounds in which to throw it. He saw it take considerable effect in the second round, even though it landed a trifle high. Had it been two or three inches lower we might have seen a repetition of the fight of a year ago. After that second-round blast, Johansson missed a couple of times with the right (Floyd ducked under each punch), then seemed to forget about it. There were a number of openings later, all quite transparent to ringside observers, none apparently observed by Johansson.
Ingemar says he believed Patterson was tiring himself with his savagery, that he would be a more likely pigeon in the late rounds, that he was saving the right for broadcast at a more convenient hour.
A pretty fair hunch is that Johansson realized, consciously or unconsciously, that his major problem was defense against the raging Patterson. It was, too, and Johansson handled it quite well for four rounds. The Patterson combinations simply did not work against Johansson's blocking and retreating. Only an occasional single punch landed in a scoring zone.
Those single punches, however, were most damaging. They ripped into Johansson's body, they concentrated his attention on body defense, so that when he was knocked out the right hand that should have been protecting his jaw was down to save him from body punishment. Banging the body to expose the head is one of boxing's oldest ploys. It is old because it works.
Patterson went into the ring under instructions not to block Johansson's hooks but to duck under them, then tear into Johansson's body. In the first fight Floyd's original knockdown came on a left-hook-straight-right combination. He blocked the hook with his right glove, but the move did nothing to protect him against the instantly following right. But in the second fight he did duck, and each time he was able to follow with punches to the body.
With Johansson, guard down, the knockout left hook, traveling upward from a point off Patterson's hip, landed precisely on the cleft in Johansson's handsome chin. It was one of the best hooks ever thrown, and Ingemar did not fully recover from it for hours.
Taking his cue from Johansson, Patterson now plans to let the world know what he is about between fights. He will not be the recluse of his first reign, the forgotten champion. He is scheduled for television appearances, a testimonial dinner, and presentation of the City Medallion by New York's Mayor Robert F. Wagner. His de facto manager, Cus D'Amato, has plans for a European tour, with a special eye on Sweden. Patterson hopes to box exhibitions there and in London, winding up the trip by taking in the Olympics at Rome.
The peekaboo retained
He will find the world more eager to welcome him than it has been before. Partly for lack of faith in his opponents, partly because his showings against them did not come up to the high standard he set on the night he beat Archie Moore, prizefighting's fans have never been fully convinced of Patterson's greatness. For a long time he endured ridicule as "an over-grown middleweight." (He weighed 190 last week.) Some of boxing's top trainers were contemptuous of his peekaboo defense, which is excellent in some ways, deficient in others.
Patterson retained the peekaboo this time, but his mind was on offense. For the most part he stood straighter in order to move inside quickly and, except for the brief and critical period after he was hit by Ingemar's right in the second round, he pressed the fight relentlessly.
But it was those two blazing hooks that finally established Patterson in the public mind as a true champion. With the first of them he bowled over a man who had been knocked down only once before. With the second he knocked out a man who never had been knocked out, or even defeated as a professional.
Before the fight Johansson was convinced that Patterson could not erase the memory of last year's knockout and would follow a policy of excessive caution. It turned out quite otherwise. And only if Johansson is made of the same steel as Patterson will he forget the left hook that finished him.
The Patterson steel showed in the aftermath of the fight. Four days later, while Johansson was recuperating in Florida, Patterson told Trainer Dan Florio, "I want to go back into training next week."
That is a pretty fair indication that Floyd intends to follow through on his promise to be a fighting champion. He cares little that taxes on a second fight this year will mean that he will be fighting for practically nothing. If the movies of the fight are as successful in Europe and South America as they have been in the U.S., D'Amato estimates that each fighter will receive "between $700,000 and $900,000" for his night's work at the Polo Grounds, thanks to a special financial arrangement D'Amato worked out for both fighters with TelePrompTer.
"The taxes don't mean a thing to Floyd," D'Amato said. "All he wants to do is fight. And if he doesn't care about them, I don't either."
The jubilant D'Amato is preparing a special reward for Patterson. He has asked jewelers to submit designs for an actual crown—a golden, jewel-studded one—to be presented to Patterson at a testimonial dinner that Jackie Robinson is arranging.
"It's going to be all solid gold," D'Amato said, "and it will have genuine jewels in it. I don't know what it will cost—maybe $20,000, maybe even $35,000. I have no idea, and I don't care. Floyd gave me the greatest night of my life."
Though Roy M. Cohn, of Feature Sports Inc., has said that the next fight will be in Los Angeles, D'Amato's vote on this has yet to be cast. "We'll fight where we get the best offer," D'Amato said. "We fought in New York this time because Johansson insisted on it and he was champion. Now Patterson is champion."
And worthy of that golden, jewel-studded crown.