You know," said Tom McNeeley, "if he hits me and I find out about it, I'm going to be sore." McNeeley made this reasonable observation several days before he fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship of the world this week. McNeeley is a thoroughly attractive and engaging young man, an admirer of the works of Hemingway, a devotee of zoological gardens. But he is an inferior, if gallant, prizefighter. Floyd hit him many times, and McNeeley, as he fell and rose and fell again like one of those plastic birds that drink water from a glass, had more opportunities than he had counted on to become enraged.
Anger and fury might have enabled McNeeley to triumph in the landscape of a romantic novel; not, however, in Maple Leaf Gardens while a dour rain fell on Toronto, that solemn, Calvinistic city. His doom was innocently forecast by his brother Brian at the weigh-in. Inspecting the meager matting in the ring, Brian asked: "Aren't they going to put anything more under this?" In sum, McNeeley was knocked out in the waning moments of the fourth round after surviving, with notable purpose, seven official knockdowns, one that Referee Jersey Joe Walcott failed to recognize, and several slips.
The evening began hilariously with Sonny Liston's one-round knockout of Albert Westphal, who flitted about the ring like a white moth before he was squashed. This farce, a bad home movie, was clearly televised from Philadelphia on four large screens erected about the ring. The screens removed, McNeeley climbed the steps first and engaged in some ferocious shadowboxing; then came Patterson, in mild blue robe and mien. He stood in his corner through the anthems like a man wistfully waiting for a train.
The first moments of the opening round were spent in clinches. Peter Fuller, McNeeley's manager, had prophesied that Tom was going to start fast, "in order to take Patterson out of his medium." This did not come to pass. Patterson presently slashed two lefts and a right, felling McNeeley, who took the mandatory eight count.
December 11, 1961
The second round was as dreary as the weather outside, but the third was, in a word, a beaut. At the start, McNeeley seemed to be boxing with composure. Floyd, however, disrupted that by knocking him down with a left hook, and then sent him down again, and again he rose, one arm clutching the ropes. At that point, for the first time in the fight, McNeeley showed his celebrated headlong rush, plowing into a somewhat astonished Floyd. In the wild milling that followed, McNeeley slipped twice and was knocked down twice. Between these knockdowns, however, he tore into Patterson with berserk persistence. "Each time he got up," Patterson said later, "he got up fighting harder."
At the beginning of the fourth round, McNeeley stunned Floyd with a mighty butt of his handsome blond head and followed up with shoulders and elbows. It reminded one of the Irish wife shouting out the window to her Irish husband, who was getting the whey kicked out of him in a street brawl: "If you can't lick him, Mike, tear his shirt!" A left and a right knocked McNeeley down for the sixth time, but he stubbornly rose, still bellicose. A right cross felled him yet again, and again he gained his feet and fought with uncommon desperation. Then a long right cross put him down once more. The fight was over as far as Walcott was concerned, but McNeeley charged blindly forward, flailing away, into Jersey Joe's compassionate embrace. Patterson had won, not swiftly, not even impressively, but—for the record book—by a knockout in 2:51 of the fourth round.
In Philadelphia's Convention Hall the confident Sonny Liston had observed the swift circling of Albert Westphal, the sometime German heavyweight champion, for one minute and 48 seconds and then blasted him down with a right hand. Ten seconds later Westphal was counted out by Referee Zach Clayton.
Afterwards Liston, wearing the hooded Turkish robe he had worn in the ring, adjourned to an anteroom to watch Patterson take on McNeeley. "What do you think of Patterson?" Liston was asked after he saw McNeeley knocked out. "Tell you what I think?" Liston demanded incredulously. "You want me to blow my chance of getting a fight with the guy?"