A Continental comeback

Floyd Patterson may be a loser at home but in Sweden, where he won his first fight since the two Liston fiascos, he is a national hero
January 20, 1964

To be successful a professional boxer must keep his mind devoted solely to the task at hand. This is not the case with Floyd Patterson today, a confused yet compelling man. Attempting a comeback in Stockholm last week after two crushing defeats by Sonny Liston, Patterson seemed oddly distracted. "Once I got past the first round I was all right," he said later. "When the bell sounded at the start, the memory of those other fights came back to me. I jabbed and backed off, and after the first round had ended I sighed and was relieved." Even so, it still took Patterson seven more ragged rounds to beat an outclassed Italian fighter named Sante Amonti. Sadly, Floyd was like a matador who has lost the secret of the clean kill.

Patterson came into the Johanneshov stadium, with its sterile atmosphere, its strict rule against smoking and its masses of gray-clothed Swedes, wearing the same white robe he used in Las Vegas. He looked fit and young, a fighter without the face of a fighter, and although he insisted he was psychologically ready there was a touch of tiredness about his performance. In the first round he made the elementary mistake of leading with a wild right that missed and put him off balance. He looked, as a British reporter at ringside quipped, as if he "was digging the garden." In the second and fourth rounds when Floyd knocked Amonti down he went over to help him up, before the referee, amazed, brushed him aside to make his count. "I knew I hadn't hit him hard enough to keep him down, so I thought I'd help him up," was Patterson's simple explanation for his peculiar behavior.

Thoughts not associated with professional boxing revolve more than ever in Patterson's curious, intelligent mind, often stinging him with bitter memories: the color line, the cost of stained glass windows in a church while the poor starve outside, and the present solace of his life, a close relationship with the Swedish people. Posing for a fashion advertisement in Stockholm, dressed in a sports jacket and elegant gray trousers, Patterson asked, "Where in America would I be asked to model suits?" And quietly, "New York? Alabama?"

Despite this deep-rooted resentment, Patterson retains a moving faith in his own country. The Swedes have helped to ameliorate some of the wounds he feels he bears. "After the second fight with Liston, I thought perhaps it would be better if I retired," he said the other day in Stockholm's Apollonia Hotel. "I wanted to continue fighting, but I decided people wouldn't think well of me. I received a lot of letters—about 70% came from Sweden—and they helped me to make up my mind. I thought Sweden would be a good place to come for a fresh start. They don't even like fighting here but they like me."

At Patterson's request, Championship Sports arranged with Edwin Ahlquist, Ingemar Johansson's old manager, to promote a match in Stockholm. Floyd trained at home, but to finish his preparation he flew to Sweden at the end of November, going first to Valadalen, a sports center in the northern half of the country. "I completely forgot about my defeat by Liston the moment I landed in Sweden," remarked Floyd. "Over here they're still talking about the last fight with Ingemar."

During the Patterson-Johansson fights most Swedish newspapers set circulation records. When Patterson visited the country in 1960 he immediately became a Swedish hero. Although Johansson aroused in his people a nationalistic fervor, Patterson touched on something else. They feel he is sympathetic, a quality they never could perceive in their own countryman. In a very unusual way their hearts have gone out to him. According to one Swedish correspondent, he has seen the Swedes break up over only two people in the past five years: Lyndon Johnson, when he visited the country, and Floyd Patterson.

In a country where people are noted for a reluctance to publicly reveal emotion, Floyd cannot walk outside without having displays of affection directed at him. Visiting the Operakallaren, grandest of Stockholm's restaurants, he was surrounded by some elderly female diners. One of them kissed his hand (he kissed her hand in return), while another grabbed him around the waist from behind in order to kiss his neck. He has been inundated not only by ordinary fan mail but also by a mountain of gifts ranging from paintings to glass vases, poetry, carved butter knives from little boys and dolls from little girls. His 29th birthday, two days before the fight, virtually became a national occasion.

In return, Patterson is currently giving a series of exhibition bouts for Swedish charities and has paid visits to local hospitals. "I was asked if I'd like to live here permanently," said Floyd. "I couldn't do that, but I do feel a closeness with the Swedish people that I have never felt anywhere else. I feel part of every person. It is like being in a family." The American people, Patterson feels, have usually understood him better than the American press. "I hate to keep going back, but the night I knocked Johansson out for the second time I bowed to the people. The reporters claimed I was bowing to them as if to say, 'Now I've shown you.' It just wasn't true. I've decided I'll never bow again.

"Some people yelled that they were robbed after the last Liston fight. Perhaps they were, but think how I felt. If they could just see the months of preparation. All that grinding work for the fight, and then, boom, one punch and out.

"I'm not looking to get the title back but to fighting Sonny again. Right now I don't deserve the chance. My comeback, if successful, should take a couple of years. People say that if I still want to fight Liston I must hate him. I don't hate him. I do not hate anyone, because hate distorts the mind. I have no feeling toward Liston whatsoever, except I feel sorry for him. He looks like a person who hates. If he does, he must be miserable."

To provide the first rung of the ladder leading to, perhaps, another crack at Liston, Edwin Ahlquist found for Floyd a fighter described by a cartoonist in the newspaper Aftonbladet as "the only one who could be found in Europe with eyelashes as long as Floyd's." Ranked among the top European heavyweights, Sante Amonti has been in the comeback business himself for four years, periodically announcing his retirement.

Before the fight the odds on Patterson ranged around 4 to 1. At a dignified weigh-in Floyd scaled 191½ pounds, a pound heavier than Amonti, a shorter, stockier man. In the Johanneshov stadium the fight was a sellout; 11,700 paid prices ranging up to a small Swedish fortune of 120 kronor ($23.34) for each ringside seat. Of $120,000 in gate receipts, Floyd took about a 50% cut.

In the dressing room before the fight the ex-world champion brooded. "I was worried about giving the Swedish people a good show more than anything else," Patterson said later. "Winning was pretty important but giving a good show seemed even more important." He was also concerned about the fourth professional fight of his brother Ray, who was meeting a Swedish fighter called Lars Norling. Floyd arranged to have Ray fight after him so that he could settle his own problems first. (Ray Patterson, as it turned out, lost on points in six rounds because a majority of the judges felt he landed too many blows with the inside of his gloves.)

"I am going in to win quickly if I can," remarked Floyd beforehand. "I don't intend to take any chances." In the second and fourth rounds he put Amonti down. In both cases Amonti took compulsory counts of eight, standing most of the time. In the last round, the eighth of a scheduled 10-round contest, Floyd again managed to knock Amonti down, but again the game Italian took the count standing. When Floyd then sent Amonti staggering like a cowboy in a western barroom brawl, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight.

Although Amonti did not win a round, he did hit Patterson often. The Italian was also able to lean on Patterson and tie him up and, while Floyd himself was fast in spurts, he showed himself painfully open in his defense. He was not even a dull reflection of what he once was. The moves were missing and the parrying was substandard. He had Amonti going and then let him off the hook, and when the Italian stood in front of him he couldn't finish him properly.

When the fight was over, Floyd still seemed unsure of himself. "Amonti was such a fine sportsman I found it difficult to take advantage of some opportunities," he said. "But then I am a bit off distance and not as sharp as I should be. After only two rounds in two years, I was satisfied." Saying this, Patterson departed. He was taking Sante Amonti out to dinner.

PHOTOSHOWING COSMOPOLITAN SAVOIR FAIRE, PATTERSON KISSES AN ADMIRER'S HAND

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)