World Heavyweight Champion: 1956-1959
When Rocky Marciano finally announced his decision to retire, in April 1956, one contender for his crown was Archie Moore, the light-heavyweight champion who had given him such a tough fight the previous September. The other was Floyd Patterson.
Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato had decided his man was ready to step up and challenge for the heavyweight title several months earlier. He told Patterson so at a party to celebrate the latter’s 21st birthday, in January of that year. Events then took their course, and instead of challenging Marciano, Patterson found himself in an eliminator against Tommy ‘Hurricane’ Jackson for the right to meet Moore. Jackson was rated second in the heavyweight ranks; it was the biggest test of Patterson’s career and he came through on points. Now only Archie Moore stood between him and the greatest prize in sport. ‘Budding delinquent’
Patterson was born in Waco, North Carolina, on 4 January 1935. In demeanour he was shy, reserved, humble and sensitive. Yet the young Patterson still came dangerously close to going off the rails. He later admitted that he was ‘a budding juvenile delinquent’ and that boxing saved him from graduation to the fully-fledged article. At 12 he was carrying the boxing kitbags of his elder brothers. At 14 he met Cus D’Amato, the man who guided him through nine amateur championships at welterweight and middleweight. He turned professional after winning the middleweight title at the 1952 Olympic Games, when he was just 17.
Patterson’s inexorable rise suffered a jolt in June 1954, when he was matched against veteran Joey Maxim, ex-light-heavyweight champion of the world. Maxim won on points, albeit controversially. Patterson was unhurt -except for his pride. He learned from the defeat and went on collecting cruiserweight scalps. It was a run of success which led to the final eliminator against Jackson, in June 1956, and then to the big one against Archie Moore.
Youth and speed triumphed in Chicago on 30 November, 1956. Patterson knocked Moore out in the fifth with the sweetest of left hooks to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion. He was 21 years 11 months old, 14 months younger than Joe Louis had been when he took the title off James J. Braddock.
Patterson’s first two defences were poor fare. ‘Hurricane’ Jackson, the man Patterson had outpointed to earn a crack at the title, was dispatched far more readily in July 1957. The next defence matched the champion against Peter Rademacher. Rademacher had an Olympic gold medal to his name, but he had never boxed professionally in his life. It was a total farce, ending in a sixth-round knockout.
Roy Harris was Patterson’s only challenger in 1958. Harris was tough, but no match for Patterson’s lightning speed and scintillating combination punching. This completed a hat-trick of indifferent contests. Was it simply that there was a paucity of good heavyweights around at the time? Not quite. D’Amato studiously ignored some of the more dangerous candidates, men such as Xora Folley, Eddie Machen and Sonny Liston. Patterson’s manager was undoubtedly hand-picking opponents who best served the purpose – that being to keep the title exactly where it was. the picture was further confused by the fact that D’Amato had a long-running feud with the International Boxing Club, and wouldn’t allow Patterson to fight anyone connected with that organization.
Patterson later said that he regretted being denied the opportunity to fight the men both the press and public were calling for.
London defies boxing board
The pattern continued with Patterson’s next fight, against Brian London. London wasn’t even the British champion, having lost his title to Henry Cooper in January 1959. When Cooper’s manager turned down the chance of fighting Patterson, London jumped at the opportunity. The British Boxing Board of Control refused to sanction London’s trip to America, feeling that the fight ‘wasn’t in the interests of British boxing’. London defied the ruling body and went anyway. He took a lot of punishment for 10 rounds and succumbed to a left hook in the 11th.
Even before the London fight, Patterson’s next defence was being lined up. Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson, the European heavyweight champion, had leapt into the frame by beating top contender Eddie Machen inside a round. The Patterson-Johansson fight took place on 26 June 1959, just eight weeks after the champion’s demolition job on Brian London.
Born: Waco, North Carolina, USA. January 4,1935
Height: 5’ lli/z’ Weight: 194lbs
World Heavyweight Champion: 1956-1961 , 1961-1962
Middleweight Olympic Gold medal: 1952
Won55(40K0s) Lost 8 Drawn 1
Patterson to meet Moore in title decider
Floyd Patterson lands a right to the jaw of Tommy ‘Hurricane’ Jackson and goes on to win the fight on points. This match, which took place in June 1956, was a final eliminator to decide Rocky Marciano’s successor. Patterson’s victory earned him a meeting with Archie Moore to decide who was to be the new heavyweight champion.
Patterson becomes youngest champion
Chicago, November 30, 1956. The lightning speed of the young Floyd Patterson gets the better of wily old campaigner Archie Moore in their fight for the vacant heavyweight crown. Moore had gone into the fight as warm favourite. He was the craftsman who had given Marciano such a tough fight the previous year. He was also the KO king, having knocked out more men than any other boxer. But it was Moore who was counted out, following a terrific left hook from Patterson in the fifth round. At 21 years 10 months, Patterson became the youngest-ever holder of the heavyweight crown. Above: Earls Court, February 19, 1957: Henry Cooper and Joe Bygraves battle it out at close quarters during their fight for the British Empire heavyweight title. Bygraves came out on top.