Ben Skelton is 37 years old. He never got anywhere as a boxer, but he has sparred with the champs—Louis, Charles, Walcott. In the past months he has worked out with both Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Last week he told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Mort Sharnik what he thinks of their chances—their strengths, weaknesses and plans
September 23, 1962

Shortly after I started working with Sonny Liston last June I nicknamed him The Bear. It became sort of a grim, hurtful joke to us sparring partners. He's mean in the ring; he can mess up your guts with one swipe. When I moved over to the champ's camp I discovered Floyd had been aptly nicknamed The Lion. Patterson moves easily and throws punches with catlike quickness. Yet it would be better for Floyd to imitate a cobra or a mongoose, moving in fast, loosing his combinations and getting out before Sonny has a chance to unload.

I have to laugh at the reports of Sonny's love for roadwork. Only thing I know is that I usually led all the way and when I finished up I hadn't worked up a sweat. That "three-mile" trot along the railroad bed was closer to 1½ miles, and that "five-mile" run around that bitty nine-hole golf course couldn't have been more than two miles. Patterson, on the other hand, is a demon for running, and how that boy can run! This is another reason for Floyd to stay out of reach, make Liston chase him. If he does this, then around about the seventh round Sonny is going to run out of leg. In close, Patterson should pump straight lefts and rights to the body, because this, along with all the chasing, will sap Liston's strength and Sonny will unwind like an old clock spring.

They've been preparing Sonny for this kind of fight. He's been concentrating on the big bag, working his punches straight up. This is to catch Floyd as he darts in. But Liston is not likely to develop this punch. He showed almost no improvement when I left his camp.

He has, however, mastered one tactic that could be very effective in counteracting the champion's foot speed. Willie Reddish, Sonny's trainer, has taught him what we call cutting the ring in half. This means Sonny must take position about mid-ring. From there, with his big body and long arms, he can reach Patterson at almost any point in a half circle. He must not give up this position unless Floyd should get caught on the ropes or in a corner. This strategy reduces Floyd's moving space, but he can still stay away by circling, and avoiding the ropes and corners.

Sonny's like a stubborn kid. He just won't believe that anything or anybody can hurt him. And he fights the same way. He just keeps stalking, willing to take good shots in order to put over his left. But if the champ don't cooperate, then Sonny's in trouble. He has to fight his fight. It upsets him when he's unable to move the other guy around. It got so he wouldn't spar with Jim McCarter, who was too strong to shove and maul about.

The first time I saw Patterson up close I thought, it will be suicide for this little guy to get in there with Liston. I changed my mind after working out with him. An unbelievable amount of snap gives Floyd the punching power to rattle a man's brain. Getting rocked and being unable to land his big punch will bother Sonny. After seven or eight rounds of this frustration, he'll begin to realize time's running out and he'll lose his cool. Even then the champion must be careful of Liston's incredible left hand. Liston's right is nothing, no more than the average fighter's. It amazed me at first, but later I heard that Liston's a converted southpaw. He does everything with the left, even catches punches. It's an effective defensive tactic, about the only one he has. His jab always lands around the temple. I've never felt a punch to equal it, and that includes Joe Louis'. It is so hard that for a week after being hit with it I was taking pills to kill the pain.

From one advance he'll throw two, at most three punches, but no more. Then he pulls his glove back. Often he turns the jab into a hook, and this, too, is tough to take. When he wants to throw his right he draws it back, telegraphing the punch. He also drops the right when he goes to throw the left, exposing the whole side of his face. They tried to break him of this habit, but it was too long-standing and he was still doing it the last time I worked with him. He'll learn better against Patterson, because Floyd will shoot rapid-fire left hooks, his best punch, at this opening. Sonny's left is also a very long punch, and he's slow to bring it back. With Floyd's speed he can slip the jab and counter with a combination. The important thing for Floyd is to keep away from the left. In sparring with Liston we just hugged his right side.

Sonny likes to attack the kidneys. That's why Floyd has to be careful about crouching. When he's down like that, Liston has an open path to his kidneys. It won't take many kidney punches before Floyd's in trouble.

Sonny is not adaptable. He always follows a prearranged plan, while Floyd's flexible. Floyd's a young kid, but he has an old head. He knows all the tricks and how to handle them and, best of all, he has the equipment to slug or box. If he mixes up his style, Sonny will be constantly confused. But Floyd also has a stubborn pride, and if this pride overrules his good sense and he chooses to stand and slug it out—then that's it.