A MATTER OF HEART
The decisive match between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson, which had promised so much, proved rich in fury and in melodramatic incident. It was not, however, theater of a high order. Like a bottle of beer which has been open too long, it had an undeniable kick, but to the purists the flavor was faintly stale and flat. This was odd and appeared to belie the facts: Patterson's survival of two astonishing knockdowns in the first round, his knockout of Johansson in the sixth round and the controversial question of the fast count.
Yet the fight seemed to occur in a dream—a dream portentous with disaster, tense with unresolved hostilities and at times filled, with almost intolerable suspense. The day before the fight Patterson said he had a dream. He did not describe it but said instead that if he were a superstitious man he would be worried. Then he seemed to dismiss it entirely, saying, in almost a Zen attitude, "As far as I'm concerned, a dream is just an empty space looking for something to fill in." In the first round and throughout much of the fight, Floyd seemed to be of little more substance than an empty space looking for something.
Patterson performed in what almost amounted to a trance; he was distant and feckless, with the heavy, futile legs and arms of a dream runner. The jab which had been so impressive in the second fight and in his training for this one was gone. He stood as erect as a man treading water; and then—in that startling first round—he sank. Ingemar, pale as a Welsh miner, sweat dripping persistently from his drawn face, missed with three of his famous rights before he landed a big one. Floyd went down abruptly, and was up, perhaps, at three. Since the Miami Beach Boxing Commission had not waived the mandatory eight count, unprecedented in a heavyweight championship fight, Floyd got the welcome gift of a short rest after the knockdown and before a right put him down again. He fell forward, hugging Ingo, but sliding to the floor. With his remarkable resiliency, Floyd got back on his feet, and shortly thereafter knocked Johansson down with a right followed by a left hook. Ingemar, too, rose almost immediately before the round ended.
March 20, 1961
Floyd had said before the fight that he could not possibly be as vicious as he was during the last fight; but that fiery particle which had blazed across the Polo Grounds last June had become a cinder. It was Henry V who exhorted his army before the battle of Agincourt, "But when the blast of war blows in our ears / Then imitate the action of the tiger: / Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood...."
Floyd could not imitate the action of a tiger. "I couldn't get myself together," he said later, bruised, desperately tired, a cut swelling over his left eye and one on the bridge of his nose. "I tried everything, but I couldn't seem to find a style to fight him. There were more opportunities tonight than in the last fight but I couldn't take advantage of them." He was like Gene Fullmer in Las Vegas a week earlier, who had a loser's face in a loser's town. He talked in the faint, wistful tones of the defeated and busted, yet he had won, if not with splendor, at least with authority.
The second round and the third passed, expectantly, suspenseful. Ingemar was boxing very well, not in his advertised crouch, but with quite a nifty jab and good movement with his legs. Floyd slipped twice, once in each of these rounds; his footwork was bad, his timing off, although he did connect with one classy hook. He threw frequent wild rights, often leads, but accomplished little. He did cut Johansson over the right eye.
Ingemar stunned Floyd with a right in the fourth, but that vaunted weapon was losing its power. In the fifth Floyd's guard was dropping, and if Johansson had had any sort of punch remaining he could have taken advantage of the target. But just as Floyd's combinations and body punches, which had been so fruitful the last time around, had vanished, so now had Ingemar's major weapon. Both men seemed weak and confused, unable to fill their missions.
And so it was with great surprise that the end came in the next round. Ingemar was well ahead in the sixth. He had landed with two mild rights, was jabbing well against Patterson, who was almost stationary from the waist up and was retreating listlessly. Then, of a sudden, Floyd struck out with a left hook. It connected, but it lacked the supersonic crack of authority. Ingo was halfway down before the crowd was halfway up. As he descended, Floyd caught him under the ear with an overhand right.
Even then it seemed that Johansson would make it to his feet with no difficulty, as he had at the conclusion of the first round. Indeed, he started to rise, but his legs were unequal to the great, disturbed weight of his body and he caved forward as though to begin the most elementary of somersaults. As the count continued, he rose again and seemed to have beaten 10, but Referee Billy Regan waved his arms in front of Ingo and the fight was over.
Floyd had won, but the victory was not sweet. It was rather as if he had awakened from the desperate dream and stumbled, thick with sleep, into reality. The empty space was filled, but not the way it should have been. "I thought I was up in time," protested Ingemar later, wearing a red tie and black eye. "I heard the count all the way. I heard nine and he say 10 when I was up."
It was, as Comedian Joe E. Lewis had predicted, a taxing fight. Joe E. had been referring to Johansson's troubles with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which claims he owes over a half million in back income taxes. Ingo contends he is a Swiss resident, the sole asset of a "holding" firm called Scanart and not a taxable property. He says he owns no stock in Scanart. When pressed to divulge who owns it, he said airily, "Oh, a couple of people in Geneva." "Who's that?" said Joe Louis (the one who used to fight), listening in. "Your mother, your father and your brother?"
Ingemar can ponder his financial future the next few days while he takes in some sun. "I must catch up with my brother," he said. "He's got the nice sun tan and in Sweden it is still winter and a sun tan is much envied."
Even in victory, Floyd must consider the darker realities of his future. He had won, yes—but why had he looked so bad? Had he, again, been overtrained? Is he of too compassionate a nature to be a truly demanding and vicious fighter? Should he have his hair cut the day before a fight, as he did, wondering if, like Samson, it would weaken him?
Before him, almost unavoidably, is that amiable b√™te noire, Sonny Liston. Floyd has said he would fight him if Liston gets rid of the tough guys who own and move him, and Manager Cus D'Amato has said the same. But if Floyd is eventually to take on Liston and be hopeful of winning he will need not only the passionate savagery of the second Johansson fight but the admirable execution of punches as well. He must, then, at 26, recapture the past, always a hard undertaking.
But as he lay in his bed Tuesday morning, lying on his back on his board—he has had a back condition and has not been able to sleep on his stomach for years—Floyd had no need to feel ashamed. He has a proud and first-rate heart. It brought him up from peril and darkness in the first round and, surpassing his lapsed skills, bore him on. He is a good man and a good champion, and may he sleep easy. Ingemar, too.