The most lucrative prizefight in boxing history, one that will make the legendary million-dollar gate look like a box office flop (probable gross: $5 million to $7 million) was signed last week between the only two men who could make such an attraction. Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, stifling yawns and blinking through eyes that suggested he would much prefer to take a nap (right), scrawled his name at the bottom of a document that should double his currently estimated $500,000 fortune, and Sonny Liston, dourly glowering, followed him with an exhibition of a newly acquired skill: the ability to sign his name.
The fight will bring together two young men of remarkably similar backgrounds. Both were wayward boys, but Patterson, as he himself has pointed out, had the good luck to grow up in a community where some effort is made to rescue youngsters from the effects of their environment. Liston had far less of a chance, and his rehabilitation is much more recent, a matter of months, and still subject to question. His association with gangsters like Blinky Palermo is no matter of the distant past, but he has contrived, without vast difficulty, to persuade the Pennsylvania boxing commission that he has severed all such relationships.
The signing was rushed. The National Boxing Association had threatened to lift Patterson's title and declare the championship vacant if he did not immediately contract to fight an opponent of more serious import than Tom McNeeley. In all this haste, the contract was signed before either a date or a site had been chosen. The agreement stipulated that the fight would take place between mid-June and the end of September. New York, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle sites are under consideration.
One reason Liston glowered at the signing of what may put him on the road to riches was that, as challenger, he receives a mere 12½% of both live gate and ancillary rights (closed-circuit TV, movies and such). Patterson gets 55% of the ancillary rights and 45% of the gate. Moreover, Liston can take home only $50,000 of his end, and before taxes, to boot. The rest must go into escrow to guarantee Patterson a return match.
Those who watched Patterson's quite sizable hand disappear into Liston's enormous paw when they shook hands at the signing murmured that size alone might justify the early-line odds of 7 to 5 in favor of Liston. The challenger exudes an aura of power, even in his voice, which rumbles like nearby thunder when he is upset or disgruntled, as he was at the signing. The sleepy, indifferent Patterson, on the other hand, looks like a very gentle fellow.
Well, he isn't gentle at all when he is in the ring. It will be time enough to assay the fighters' chances after they have gone into training and especially after Patterson's mood has been determined. He himself says that his mental attitude is the most important factor in a fight. Many of his poor performances, and he has had a few, can be attributed to a bored disbelief in his opponent when they met. But he was not bored on the night that he knocked out the deft and dangerous Archie Moore, and he was not bored on the night of the second Ingemar Johansson fight when he slashed and blasted the bewildered Swedish champion out of his senses and out of his briefly held title. The muscle-bulging Liston will probably be taken seriously by Patterson, as no Rademacher or Roy Harris ever was.