Remembering Floyd Patterson: 1935-2006

By Francis Walker
Updated: May 14, 2006

NEW YORK — Earlier this week boxing lost one of its most recognizable and historic elders. Floyd Patterson had passed away at age 71 last Thursday in New Paltz, NY after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer.

Patterson will best be remembered as the first boxer to regain the heavyweight championship after losing it. He also fought the legendary Muhammad Ali and the late Sonny Liston.

Patterson was a gentleman, a really nice man. It was difficult to believe that he was in a business with individuals that must crave a disliking for their opponents and found comfort in ring-violence.

If anyone would have met Patterson, especially in his advanced age, it would be difficult to fathom that he was a boxer.

Born on January 4, 1935 in Waco, North Carolina, but later moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York, Patterson was a small heavyweight, fighting at 180-198 pounds, which is considered to be a small cruiserweight in modern times.

After winning a gold medal at the 152 Helsinki Olympics, Patterson made his professional debut on September 12, 1952 in New York City. He knocked out Eddie Godbold in the fourth-round.

At 21, Patterson made history by becoming the youngest fighter then to win the vacant world heavyweight championship on November 30, 1956.

Patterson knocked out the legendary light-heavyweight champion, Archie Moore in the fifth round. Moore entered the fight with a record of 160-20-9.

NOTE: Moore had to wait 17 years for his first world light-heavyweight title fight and 20 years for his first world heavyweight title shot. Moore would beat Joey Maxim (W 15) for the light heavyweight crown in December 1952, but lose to heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, via TKO 9, in September 1955 at Yankee Stadium.

Patterson successfully defended the heavyweight title four times before losing it to undefeated Ingemar Johansson at Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1959. Patterson was knocked down seven times en route to a third-round TKO loss.

Johansson out-weighed Patterson by more than 14 pounds (196-182) and it would be the last time Patterson would weight less then 185 for a pro-bout for the remainder of his career.

At the time, no fighter in boxing history has ever regained the heavyweight championship after losing it.

On June 20, 1960, Patterson made history by becoming the first fighter to win the world heavyweight title twice when he knocked out Johansson in the fifth round at the Polo Grounds in New York City.

Patterson’s rematch with Johansson was considered to be the 1960 Fight of the Year.

Patterson would KO Johansson in a rubber match in March 1961 for the heavyweight title. The following year, Patterson lost the heavyweight title to Liston. Patterson at 185 was too small for the 213 pound Liston, who was intimidated by boxers and the general public.

Liston was mean and so was his left hook. Liston had a way of imposing his will on his opponents, as was the case with Patterson.

Liston would knockout Patterson in the first round to end Patterson’s heavyweight title reign in September 1962. Patterson would never again become heavyweight champion.

Liston would score a repeat first-round KO of Patterson in July 1963.

Patterson would remain undefeated for the next two years before challenging Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title on November 22, 1965. Ali would KO Patterson in the twelfth round.

Patterson continued to box for the next seven years following his first loss to Ali. Patterson would end his 20-year fight career at Madison Square Garden on September 20, 1972 – exactly 20 years, 10 days following his first professional fight.

Patterson would lose to Ali (who was 38-1 at the time) the bout was stopped in the seventh-round because of cuts and welling around Patterson’s eyes.

Patterson enjoyed success after his professional boxing career was over. Patterson once served as the New York State Athletic Commissioner and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

Patterson ended his career with a respectable record of 55-8-1, 40 KOs.