I saw Daddy fight on television," Seneca Patterson said sweetly. "He was so handsome." Seneca is 4 years old, and her Daddy bought her a rubber alligator in Miami Beach that squeaked and pounced when she squeezed a bulb. Daddy was fixing it Saturday afternoon. "It ought to leap better than that," he said, listening to its pitiful, artificial cry.
It seemed, perhaps, an unnecessarily bitter and haunting toy. Floyd Patterson had had enough squeaks and feeble pounces last Monday night, before, by a triumph of the will, he knocked Ingemar Johansson out in the sixth round. He realizes, with uncommon awareness, that he fought ineptly. "I was determined," he said, "but who pays to see determination?" And, "It's over with. The main thing was accomplished: victory."
In a very major sense, however, it is not at all over; only absolute victories cast no shadow, as if their time were always high noon. "There has to be a reason," Floyd mulled over a mug of tea. "There was a reason." He was still at sea, as he had been when desperately, almost pathetically, he had cried out to his manager in his corner between rounds: "Cus, I can't find it. The style. I can't find the style to fight him." It might have been a cry from a dream he had had the day before the fight: "I kept going down and the referee kept counting. It had no beginning and no end."
"I know what happened," he said Saturday, sitting in the quiet, familiar light on his sun porch in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "I can see it like daylight. I mean I can see it as vividly as daylight. I was in there. But I couldn't find myself. My mind was on the fight, but not as much as it should have been. When I got in the ring my mind was very blank. I'd backpedal. I did that several times. I'd go back awhile. I thought it would help me find myself and that then I'd tear in there, the Floyd Patterson I know I am. But I wasn't accomplishing anything.
March 27, 1961
"I'm the type of a fighter who, when he sees an opening, takes advantage of it. It wasn't the knockdowns. In the first round I saw an opening after a couple of jabs but.... It was a good thing I got knocked down. It woke me up. And then it got to a point where I knew I'd have to gamble; I wasn't that far ahead on points. I'd have to try to knock him out, and to do that I knew I'd have to absorb a lot of right hands. But I had to take the chance. I knew that if I got some punches in he'd go down. I felt that he was weakening. I wanted to keep him under pressure, under pressure with skill. But I had no skill, and when you have no skill you're afraid."
And so, afraid, reckless and alone, rejecting a confusion of advice from his corner, Patterson groped as in a suddenly darkened room. "Everyone was telling me to do something different," he said. " 'Throw the right,' someone said. So I bent down to throw, and he threw. I felt like telling them to shut up. I more or less turned that station off after that.
"You know, I feel that I have to put fighting—of course, I love fighting—over other sports. Because you are alone. In basketball, if you're having an off night you can pass the ball to someone else. But in fighting, if you have an off night, what are you going to do? Tell your trainer to go in and fight for you? In baseball you don't hit a homer every time you swing at the ball; in basketball, you don't score every time you shoot. Why then should I look like a million dollars every time I fight? It just happens." Of course, Floyd realizes that it doesn't just happen. And, indeed, he tried to explain, not excuse, his singular emptiness and vagrancy of mind. "For my way of training," he said, "I need seclusion and concentration. I couldn't get that in Florida. I thought to myself, maybe I can condition myself in that kind of environment, but it didn't turn out. And, I have taken a stance: that I make the decisions. I hate to show them that I'm not interested. Then if things don't turn out right they'll blame me for everything that happened. But I'm not used to taking care of all the ends. Making decisions didn't prove beneficial as far as fighting's concerned. The promoters would come to me with their problems about the gate. My lawyer, Mr. November, would want my ideas on things. It was a big burden. I don't want to say it interfered with the fight; it might have turned out the same way anyhow and what not, but next time I'm not going to take such an active interest. I'll be told about things briefly, in a hot minute, so I won't get so involved.
"I didn't have time to concentrate and think about the fight. It's very important that a fighter have seclusion so he can try different things without strangers in the gym embarrassing him if he fails. When you're alone you can try and miss and only your sparring partner knows, and he understands at least a little bit. You try and miss until it works, and if it continues to fail, why, you give it up, but you're not embarrassed. There were still things I wanted to try two days before the fight. At least that day I wanted to concentrate and think. I went over to the hotel to work out, and there were newspapermen and others there. They weren't supposed to be there, and I was very disturbed. But the people were so nice to me in Miami Beach, what could I do?
"The best way for any human being, not just a fighter, to act, is to relax, not bother. I feel I know my mental mistake now. When I look at the films I'll know my physical mistakes. But I hear Ingemar said he wasn't impressed with me. Well, if it wasn't the real me in there and I could beat the real him...but was he the real him? That's what I want to know. I know I wasn't the real me. I would like to fight him again. I would love to. I don't like to leave any doubts in the minds of the people I fight. But I can't now. Others are waiting. We can't tie this thing up permanently. But I'll tell you one thing: if we fight seven days a week, four weeks a month, it will never go the distance."
Apart from his mental concerns, Floyd admits that he was too heavy. "I want to weigh '92 next time," he said. When he views the fight movies he will learn more. For one thing, in the early rounds Johansson's left almost completely distracted Patterson. Ingemar used his left as if he were a sharper dealing three-card monte. "Watch my left, watch it closely," he seemed to say. "It's always there, right before your eyes." As Floyd followed the left, Ingemar watched his eyes. When he had him bamboozled, Ingemar crossed the right over the extended left. This con worked niftily, except that Ingemar has one serious frailty. He cannot slip lefts. His defense depends, rather, on picking them off.
How to spike a gun
Floyd's plan was to press Johansson, constantly pumping his left jab. To this lead, Ingemar could only respond by batting away the left with his right hand—which of course meant he couldn't throw the right. Then, Ingemar's big gun spiked, Patterson was to throw the short, abrupt right hook to Johansson's left side. Ingemar's natural reaction to this punch would be to drop the left arm to protect the body, leaving Ingemar open to a quick, overhand right to the head. But there were two imperatives: 1) don't bob away from Ingemar's jab; instead, accept it while firing your own jab and 2) never block a left hook. (Ingemar does throw an immature version of this punch. In fact, the ultimate blow of the second knockdown was a left hook.) If Floyd blocked a left hook his head would be static and—because he relies on his glove to absorb the punch—almost cooperating with Ingemar's right. Patterson had heeded these rules in the second fight. But in Miami Beach he neglected them.
Throughout the fight D'Amato yelled, "Pump the left and press." It was unimportant that Floyd be accurate with the jab, only that he keep jabbing and keep Johansson thinking and acting defensively. For Ingemar is a fighter who cannot conduct an offense and a defense at the same time. When he is not pressed he appears masterful, but when he ceases to dominate he cannot think offensively and his hands beat like wings in their frenzy to ward off punches.
Ingemar's battle plan was almost the same as in the first fight, except that he was heavier and stronger and felt he could stand and fight instead of skipping lightly back. To compensate defensively, he bent to avoid punches and did, indeed, duck innumerable rights in this fashion. But he could not punch from this position and, besides, it made him lose his tempo. Whatever their tactical failures, it was ultimately Ingemar's vast fatigue and Floyd's intolerable fists that decided the matter.
TelePrompTer claims to have resolved the controversy of the count by counting motion-picture frames, which show that Ingemar was on the floor for 11 1/12 seconds—but the point is not how long he was down but whether he beat the count as given in the ring. No matter, though; it seems likely that Floyd would have knocked him out in the seventh round had the referee not stopped it. Johansson was reduced to feebly pushing Floyd away with both arms, like a man shoving off from the dinner table. His jab was as languid as Adam's arm when he reached out for the spark of life. At the end of the sixth Floyd slipped this gentle jab, which drifted over his shoulder as he crouched and, like the little alligator, leaped in with the left hook high on the forehead, the herald of the end.
In their three bouts Floyd and Ingemar have come to know each other with the special knowledge reserved for lovers and fighters and those who struggle in lonely partnership for identity. In recognition of this, Floyd pecked Ingemar on the cheek after the fight. He would have liked to disclaim it. "It was girlish," he said.
It was a sunny and windy Saturday. Floyd's wife, Sandra, had gone to the 10¢ store and bought a kite and Floyd was putting it together. Seneca and her little sister Trina fidgeted. Floyd, too, couldn't wait to get outside. When a kite catches the wind and rises, it fills the moment: the past recedes, the future is only its bright and farther ascent.
PATTERSON WAS KNOCKED TO THE FLOOR TWICE IN THE FIRST ROUND, THE SECOND TIME GRASPING AT JOHANSSON IN A FRUSTRATED EFFORT TO REMAIN ON HIS FEET. THE PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN AT RINGSIDE (OPPOSITE AND FOLLOWING PAGES) SHOW THE FRANTIC QUALITY OF THE UP-AND-DOWN FIRST ROUND AND THE STUNNING SURPRISE OF THE FINISH IN THE SIXTH
NOW IT IS JOHANSSON'S TURN. STUNNED BY A LEFT AND TWO CLUBBING RIGHTS, THE CHALLENGER MAKES RELUCTANT—AND FINAL—OBEISANCE TO HIS CONQUEROR
INGO IS UP, FEELING STRONGLY THAT HIS BUSINESS IS UNFINISHED; PATTERSON IS READY, TOO. BUT REFEREE REGAN SPREADS HIS ARMS—IT'S ALL OVER