It is not a newstory, but it serves to illuminate the curious unreality of Miami Beach, whereFloyd Patterson will defend his heavyweight title against Ingemar JohanssonMonday night. A guest at the Hotel Fontainebleau—pronounced Fountain Blew inMiami—asked a bellboy the way to the ocean. "I'm sorry, sir," the boyreplied, "but the ocean is closed."
In this whimsicalsetting, Floyd Patterson has trained diligently. He has been working out at theDeauville (pronounced Dough-ville, as in Splitsville or Laughsville)—a hotelwhich, behold, has an ice-skating rink in the basement and no mortgages andwhose doilies carry the legend that the Deauville is, inalienably,"dedicated to the attainment of happiness."
Pursuing hishappiness, if not Ingemar's, Patterson has been sparring in the Napoleon Room,Section 3. This is a free-form auditorium with ghastly brass chandeliers andcork walls. It might better be named the Proust Room. Floyd and his sparringpartners wear T shirts with musketeers on them, the emblem of the Deauville:the décor here is free French. But Floyd is not galled. He even endures thebroad in the sunsuit who parades the aisles carrying a poster that proclaimsboth the number of the round and the fact that the Ritz Brothers are appearingin the Casanova Room. "This is a vacation spot," Floyd says wistfully,"not a place for business." He adds, almost apologetically, "But Icame here for business."
March 13, 1961
After his workoutand a cup of tea from an elaborate service, Floyd walks slowly down CollinsAvenue through the languorous dark to his rented house. He collects theunfamiliar leaves of tropical plants from the gutters and wrenches fronds frompalms. "I'm going to send them home to my wife," he says, as though youhad asked an idiotic question. Nature, evidently, is harder to attain thanhappiness. Here are the blue balloons of Portuguese men-of-war washed up on thetide; the snips of hair which the pastel artists cut from tourists' heads sothat the color can be "faithfully reproduced" while the subjects arelearning to cha-cha-cha at poolside or going to Mass at the jai-alai fronton.Floyd in Miami Beach is, as in W. B. Yeats's startling vision of the force ofactuality, like a real toad in an imaginary garden.
Now 26, Floyd isalso a new, dominant man. He has changed powerfully and radically. "I usedto be on the outside looking in," he says of his castoff self. "Now Iam on the inside looking out." It is a vantage which pleases him. "I'mgrown up now. I am a little more hard." Not that he ever allowed himself tobe taken advantage of. Years ago, he says, before he was married, he took agirl to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. A group called The Orioles were on thebill, and when they had finished their act the leader wiped his sweaty facewith his handkerchief and flung it into the orchestra. "You know what wasextraordinary?" Floyd asks. "My girl finished third in the race forthat handkerchief. But you know what was even more extraordinary? When she gotback to her seat I wasn't there." One day Floyd asked a friend thisconundrum: "What is the most powerful license plate there is?" Afterthe friend had guessed "No. 1" or one's initials, Floyd said, "No.It's no license plate at all."
Patterson'schange was rung in the solitary deprivation of the year between his first fightwith Johansson, which he lost, and the second, which he won. "I make thedecisions now," he says. Indeed, he has assumed the executive stance, thecommand voice. "Don't bother me with details," he told the cameramanwho films his sparring sessions. "That's why I have a lawyer." Hisemployees have learned to respect him as he flexes his new authority. EvenJulius November, his attorney, is sweet and submissive, hovering like somehuge, pale butterfly, in Floyd's company. A friend told Floyd that in certaincountries there is a king, who is merely the titular head, and a primeminister, who holds and manages the power. "Yes, yes," said Floydquickly, "now I am the king and the prime minister, too."
As for CusD'Amato, whose shadow, like the moon, used to eclipse Floyd's sun—he lives inthe same house as Patterson but Floyd neither knows what he does nor seems tocare. Not that the old bindings of love and loyalty have been totally broken,but the roles of father and son appear to have been subtly reversed. "Itell Cus," Floyd says patiently, "that some of the people he knows havebeen using him and taking advantage of him, but he doesn't listen to me. Myeyes have been opened."
What does Cus do?He is ill upstairs in his room—it may have been the smoked salmon. Or he goesto the Fontainebleau, where Beau Jack, the old lightweight, shines shoes and,emotionally, shines Jack's shoes. "Is that good publicity for thefight?" Floyd asks. D'Amato comes frequently to training and then sits inthe back and does not visit Floyd. November, however, comes lordly to training."I'm happy to present to you the attorney for Champion Patterson," isthe astonishing announcement.
Although thefight is doing badly at the gate—an informed estimate says it will gross$550,000 in a hall scaled for almost twice that much—it is certainly notFloyd's doing. He has thoroughly charmed and won the Beach. He treats hisbattered sparmates compassionately, autographs almost endlessly, stopsshadowboxing and bows low so a little girl can take his picture, greets andchats engagingly with passers-by. One afternoon when Johansson failed to appearfor a public workout in the Convention Hall, Floyd pleaded with Trainer DanFlorio that he be allowed to go two rounds so "the people wouldn't bedisappointed." Floyd apparently is satisfied that the seating has beenintegrated in Convention Hall, where the fight will be held. He had forced thepromoters to post a $10,000 forfeit that would be payable to the NAACP if theattendance wasn't integrated. Now he is going to donate that sum to the NAACPfrom his share of the purse. Of course, he remains apprehensive about hisunfamiliar role as a Negro in the South, although in many respects Miami Beachis closer to Seventh Avenue than Peachtree Street. But it is still the South,and Floyd is anxious and, understandably, a little forlorn. One night he boughta handful of picture postcards from a rack outside a store and prepared to payfor them with a $5 bill he held in his other hand. When the white salesladyasked Floyd how many cards he had selected, he, bemused and unsettled, handedher the bill to count instead of the cards.
To anticipate theprobable outcome of the third fight, one has to gather evidence from the firstand second fights; they are inextricably connected. In the first, Floyd, securein soul, was, as he admitted later, "treated like a kid." And, like anangry child, he pursued Ingemar aimlessly, while Johansson flitted beyond hisfutile reach as though in a dream of anxiety, his body turned to such a radicalangle that it looked like a head-on view of the Flatiron Building. Ingemar'sjab fluttered (he doesn't throw his jab as a piston but in a raking motion)across Floyd's face, and when Floyd tried to pounce and punch from long range,Ingemar, like the man upon the stair, wasn't there.
"I was justout to get him," Floyd has said, disconsolately. Instead, of course,Ingemar got Floyd.
"I wasashamed," Floyd said.
"You havenothing to be ashamed of, getting up seven times," a reporter consoled himthe other day.
"It was notthe getting up that made me ashamed," Floyd said. "It was the goingdown."
Floyd refuses toaccept any excuses for his dismal performance that night. "If you don't seeit coming," he says, "it's bound to hurt you. But you don't have toaccept punches."
There are,however, lessons from that first fight:
1) Ingemar hitFloyd with what was, if not a perfect punch, at least so near to one as to makelittle difference. Yet, Floyd got up, as, in fact, Eddie Machen had survivedJohansson's first shocking blow a year previously. Ingemar's right is by nomeans fatal.
2) Although athoughtful, cunning fighter, Ingemar's attempts to finish Floyd after the firstknockdown were wild and amateurish. The first right had been straight, accurateand fairly short. His subsequent right hands were long, wild, random. Ingemarlost both his poise and control when he had Floyd in difficulty. Ingemar seemsto go to pieces when he is angered, too. When he sparred on the beach withCassius Clay, the 18-year-old Olympic light heavyweight champion now turnedprofessional, Clay's deftness so annoyed Ingemar that he began throwing vast,arcing righthand leads that Cassius easily ducked.
3) When Floyd gotup for the seventh time he was, even though sorely beaten, beginning to regainhis senses.
Floyd had notdeigned to use a jab in the first fight. In the second he jabbed constantly andstrongly, using this punch to make contact with Ingemar and then, as it were,riding in on it for his hooks and combinations. As Floyd's sparring partnerWilson Hannibal said the other day, "It has a sincere message." Bykeeping contact with Ingemar through the jab and forcing him to retreat in apredictable, controlled fashion, Floyd was able to contain him for his heavierpunching. Ingemar did hit Floyd with one imperfect right—it is impossible notto get hit in a prize-fight. The punch landed in the second round and itstaggered Floyd, although it was high. Floyd takes pains to explain that therewas a plan: if Ingemar landed a worthwhile blow of any variety—jab, hook orcelebrated right—Floyd was to simulate being hurt and to retreat and attempt tolure Ingemar into an ambush. What happened was that Floyd was stung by thepunch, instinctively fought back for a moment and then, recalling the trap, heretreated like a mother bird feigning a broken wing to lure a predator awayfrom her brood. In the fifth round Floyd knocked Ingo flatter than a latke,which is a pancake popular in Miami that is usually made from potatoes. Eitherhe hits harder than Ingo or he takes a punch better.
Although Floydadmits that it is difficult to get a long, complex combination at work onJohansson because of his swift retreat and the sharp angle of his body, he didget to him in the second fight and there seems to be no reason to believe hewill not get to him again, unless "toonder and lightning" can striketwice in the same place and early. Furthermore, Floyd was a heavier, sturdierfighter in the second fight; he weighed 190 compared to 182. This did not seemto slow him down; on the contrary, it added both punching power and the abilityto withstand punches. Floyd probably will be even heavier this time. When hestarted to taper off his training on February 25 he weighed 197. "I havebeen striving," he said then, "to get someplace, and today I realizedthat the reason I couldn't get there is that I was already there. I felt thisway three weeks before the first fight...but I kept going." Although gymworkouts are sometimes misleading, Floyd has been felling his sparring partnersregularly and, interestingly, more often with a right than a left. However, itis difficult, because of Ingemar's fighting posture, to hit him with a rightexcept at very short range.
The third fightis not what horse-players call a fuzzy, or a cinch. Whitey Bimstein, Ingemar'strainer, says, "Never underestimate a puncher." At the same time,Whitey despairs of getting Ingo to get the lower part of his body behind hispunches. "Foreigners," he says, hopelessly, "punch from the waistup." Attitude, Patterson says, is at least as important in a fight asability. Floyd underestimated Ingo the first time, and Ingo underestimatedFloyd the second time, but both will have the proper respect on Monday. Floyd,that singular tiger of 1960, concedes that he cannot be as "vicious" ashe was last year. Nor will Ingo be the trusting lamb. But, purpose being equaland souls wary, skill should carry the night. Floyd has a greater arsenal ofheavy, effective weapons, his hands move much more quickly if his feet don't,he is bigger than ever and he is smart. Against all this is Ingemar's right, awill-o'-the-wisp defense and, as a manager who sneered at foreign fighters oncesaid, "the jabski and the blockeroo." It is not enough. The knockoutmay occur even sooner than last time.
When Floyd wasyoung he used to like to go to Coney Island and ring the bell. One night,walking down Collins Avenue, looking with wonder at what he calls the"ritzy" hotels, Floyd recalled that he was able to ring the bell everytime. A few years ago, he said, he went back to Coney with his wife Sandra andstood wistfully by the concession, itching to try his hand. "Why don'tyou?" Sandra urged. "You know you can." Floyd said he turned awayand hasn't been back to Coney since. "Suppose I hadn't rung the bell,"he said. "I am the heavyweight champion of the world. A lot of people werethere watching." A lot of people will be at Convention Hall Monday watchingand waiting for the bell to ring.
If it does, youngCassius Clay can write another poem. "I'm the greatest," Cassius says."But then, I'm just young and talkative. My daddy says that when I get alittle older I'll quit talking so much. I want to break Patterson's record andbe the youngest to win the heavyweight championship." "You'll breakyour head," his trainer, Angelo Dundee, says sourly. "It rhymes,"says Cassius blithely and recites his poem:
"You can talkabout Sweden, you can talk about Rome,
But Rockville Centre is Floyd Patterson's home.
A lot of people said that Floyd couldn't fight
But they should've seen him on that comeback night.
Round five, Floyd and Johansson came out fighting pretty fast.
Floyd knocked Johansson dead on the pads."
...And in LasVegas
There are noclocks in Las Vegas, and the casinos might as well be moored deep in the sea,for there are no windows to find the day, the night or the weather. But time,the old wolf, howls at the door, the cherries on the slot machines don't comeup in a row any more and Sugar Ray Robinson found at 39 that you don't need aclock or a window to tell time. "I just wasn't there tonight," he saidlast Saturday in Vegas after Gene Fullmer soundly beat him to retain the NBAmiddleweight title. All that remained was a smile that can, like the Cheshirecat's, still light up half the world. Indeed, Robinson has become something ofa folk hero in his middle age. "All the old ladies are for me," hesays. And Fullmer said, "He just gave me that knowing smile," whenasked if Ray had said anything to him after the fight. There was nothing tosay. Ray did not fight poorly; it was just that Gene fought too well and wastoo strong and too young.
If there was apoint in the bloody fight when this became clear it was late in the thirdround. Robinson, moving lightly, had won the first two rounds—well, certainlythe first—and had cut Fullmer along the left eye midway through the third. ThenGene hit him with a first-rate right hand on the jaw, his best punch of thenight, and left Ray shocked and helpless against the ropes. He remained there,slumped against them, absolutely motionless, while Fullmer cuffed his saggingface with hook upon hook, holding his head at times with one hand, as one holdsa baby's head to feed him, while he hit him with the other. Gene fought onbeyond the bell, which rang like a telephone in an empty apartment. The refereedid not hear it either. He stood fascinated by the spectacle.
Ray endured. Butafter that, though his legs carried him through the rounds, he was vanishing.The power was gone from his punches. "They were all arm," Fullmer said."They looked good but they didn't hurt." Fullmer pursued Robinsonincessantly, never letting him rest, hitting him with curious, childish jabs,giving him great thumps to the body in the clinches and whacking him with hissapping right. "I went in a little too steady," he said afterwards."I kept the pressure on too much instead of fighting cobra style, in andout. But this is the kind of fight I should've fought last time." Last timewas a draw in Los Angeles in December. Fullmer attributed the draw to hismanager's conservatism and, indeed, the manager, Marv Jensen, admitted,"Gene kept the championship in spite of me."
In the dressingroom before the fight, Fullmer lay on his back in a blue suit, covered withtowels, a cardboard box over his face. He looked like an elegant stiff."Did you pass out, Gene?" one of his handlers asked him. "No, I'mstill here," he said beneath the box, smiling. When he got up to undress hetold a mild off-color joke with great amusement, and the last thing he didbefore he went out to fight was to do a little dance. "Mitzi Gaynor, sheshowed me a fancy one," he said, hoofing gaily to the door. This is Ray'sact—an act, incidentally, which Fullmer, whose admiration for Robinson isrestricted to the ring, wouldn't catch. "He ain't the kind of showman I'dgo to see every night if he was playing at the casino. I wouldn't even go inMid-vale." Midvale, apparently, is a town in Utah with short sidewalks.
In his lastpublic workout, Sugar Ray fooled with a jazz band as it played When My SugarWalks Down the Street, did a soft-shoe double with Eleanor Powell and asked thewriters: "What are you guys going to do when I get out of boxing?" Hedid not seem unhappy that that time was near, for he said he didn't likefighting. Furthermore, he said he didn't like to go to fights. "I justdon't find it interesting," said Sugar Ray to the writers. "Do you goto watch people write columns?"
The day beforethe fight, Ray was two pounds overweight. That afternoon he boxed three roundsin absolute secrecy but did not lose enough weight. At 10 o'clock that night heran three miles in the desert in the dark. He went to bed at midnight and fellasleep at one. Ray didn't offer this as an alibi or a complaint. He doesn'tlook for excuses. His trainer, Harry Wiley, doesn't either. But, Wiley saidsadly, "This subtracted strength." Wiley said that Ray hadn't wanted itknown, but he felt compelled to talk about it.
Ray said he wouldreserve decision about whether he would retire. "I wanted to quit at thetop," he said faintly. But you can't choose your endings any more than yourbeginnings. It's the cherries again.