Floyd Patterson has fought three times in Stockholm since he was defeated for the second time by Sonny Liston, and the difference between the Patterson who met the Italian Sante Amonti in his first Swedish bout 17 months ago and the Patterson who last week took on Texan Tod Herring is astonishing. Not that Herring's credentials are overly impressive. At 27 he is the champion only of Texas. This, in fact, was his first bout outside his native state in seven years of fighting and one of only a few that he has fought outside his home town of Houston. But Herring is a big man (6 feet 3½ inches, 210 pounds) with shoulders that one Swedish sportswriter described as being "as broad as the door of a cowhouse." In 29 fights he had scored 19 knockouts.
Even so, the Swedes were not exactly brimming with enthusiasm for the match. The sports paper Idrottsbladet could not make up its mind whether Herring was "fish or fowl," which was not an intended pun on the fighter's name (the Swedish word for herring is sill), but an expression of genuine confusion about Herring's qualities as a fighter. Under a headline that read ARE WE THAT FOND OF FLOYD? the chief sports editor of Aftonbladet conveyed his own skepticism about the fight: "This Herring business doesn't seem very tasty."
These doubts did not affect the esteem in which Swedes hold Patterson, but they did have influence when it came to emptying Swedish pockets for the fight. When it became clear that tickets were not moving fast, Patterson traveled to Stockholm a day earlier than planned to help boost publicity. Even though the final crowd was 10,000, remarkable enough for a fight between two ill-matched Americans in a foreign city, it was still some 2,000 short of the sellout that the bout's promoters had hoped for, and which would have culled half a million kronor.
After a round of golf on a course near Stockholm's center two days before the fight, Herring (who shoots in the 80s) spoke of his chances over a smorgasbord lunch. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, he was pinning his hopes on Patterson running into his big punch. "You know how he jumps," he said across the table. "I hope to hit him with something on the way in. I'll be stronger than he is on the inside. The only thing he's got going for him on the inside is his speed. He'll get off—boom, boom, boom,—eight shots and I'll get off five, you know what I mean? His speed will overcome me there but my five will be harder."
As it turned out, Herring was never given a chance to prove his theories. Patterson's boom, boom, boom was blurred into a b-b-boommm as he fought the type of fight, he belatedly concedes, he should have fought against Liston. He kept away from danger and darted in and out, using his agility to reduce Herring's advantages in size.
Only in the second round did Herring score. Landing several good body punches, he seemed for a moment to become dangerous. But Patterson had no intention of letting this develop. In the next and final round, which lasted only 40 seconds, he finished the contest with seven fine punches. The first two were short, extremely fast left hooks that sent Herring back on his heels. The two men then clinched for a moment before the fight moved out into the open again, and Patterson hit Herring with the final five punches: a right, a left, a right, a left and a right. The blows sent the Texan staggering, though they did not knock him off his feet.
At this point British Referee Teddy Waltham stopped the fight. "If Herring had taken another punch," he said, "he might have been killed." Although, in the fashion of boxers, Herring said later that he thought the fight was stopped too soon, he also admitted in his honest, likable fashion that his legs were wobbling and his head was "muzzed up."
"Why," asked a Swede in the audience, "didn't Floyd fight Liston that way?" Drinking tea in the dressing room and frequently blowing his nose because of a cold that had come on that day, Patterson offered his own explanation. "All the time," he said, "the whole world is learning different things. First the Wright brothers flew; now we have jets. I did not know yesterday what I know today, but if I had to fight Liston all over again I would fight a completely different style. My pride this time would not compel me to fight as I did before."
The metamorphosis, Patterson explained, occurred in his fight with Chuvalo. "I have never fought anyone as I fought Chuvalo. My strategy before then was to go forward until I sustained an injury and was compelled to go backwards. Against Chuvalo, I had to drop my pride or retire. My choice was not to retire but to retreat. That's why I won. But had I fought Chuvalo or Tod Herring or Eddie Machen the first time I came back to Sweden I do not believe I would have won. I took a very easy fight when I fought Amonti because I wanted to find out if I had anything left. I saw I still had something, and I trained for Machen and was able to win again. If I had fought Chuvalo immediately after Machen I don't think I would have won, so I have been stepping up gradually. To beat Sonny Liston or Cassius Clay I have to get better still."
At some point, somewhere, it remains Patterson's ambition to meet Liston again, even if it is not for the championship. His pride is still there, but it is not a foolish pride anymore. The difference is that Patterson has learned some elementary truths about fighting big men which, when they were told to him by his old manager, Cus D'Amato, he had ignored. The light came late in the land of the midnight sun, but perhaps not too late.