Sadly, today marks the 5 year anniversary of the passing of boxing icon Floyd Patterson. Nicknamed the “Gentleman of Boxing” for his shy and sensitive demeanor outside the ring, Patterson was one of the greatest pure boxers of his, or any generation. A former heavyweight champion of the world, Patterson’s rise to the top of the boxing ranks was truly a sensational story. Lets take a brief look back at the rise of a boxing icon.
At the age of 14, Patterson began working with legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato at his Gramercy Gym on the lower east side of Manhattan. Patterson had experienced some troubles during his early childhood, mostly related to schooling. It was said that Patterson couldn’t read or write at the age of 10, and often chose not to attend his mandatory schooling. Around this same time, Patterson’s family decided to move from their upbringing in Waco, North Carolina and relocate to Brooklyn, New York. Once the family was situated in the New York area, Floyd’s mother decided to enroll him in a reform school (Wiltwyck School-located in upstate New York) to help develop his education, and ultimately turn around his life. It was here that Floyd would begin boxing for the very first time.
In 1950, Floyd Patterson began his amateur boxing career. By 1952, Patterson had developed into one of the up and coming boxers in the entire world. At the Helsinki Olympics (Finland 1952), Patterson dominated the middleweight division on his way to a gold medal for the United States. Patterson would knockout two of his opponents during the opening round of the tournament (Tita-Romania & Jansen-Netherlands). In the same year, Patterson followed up his impressive showing at the Olympics by winning the National Amateur Middleweight Championship and New York Golden Gloves Middleweight Championship. Floyd Patterson had officially arrived.
On September 12th, 1952, Patterson fought his first bout as a professional. Taking home a purse of $300 for the fight, Patterson knocked-out Eddie Godbold in the fourth round. Patterson went onto win his next 12 fights as a professional (7 of those wins coming by KO). Patterson’s first loss of his career came at the hands of former light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim in 1954 (8 round decision). Although the loss to Maxim was a temporary setback, it would hardly keep Patterson down. Patterson continued to train hard and hone is craft within the gym. His mobility, lighting fast hands, and superior reflexes, seemed to improve with each and every fight of his young career.
Following his first loss to Maxim in 1954, Patterson went onto to win his next 17 fights (12 of those wins coming by KO). At 21 years of age, and with a professional record of 30-1, Patterson was considered as the top light heavyweight contender in the world. Patterson would get his first shot at the title on November 30th, 1956 against light heavyweight champion Archie Moore. Patterson nailed Moore with a iconic left handed hook in the 5th round of the bout. Moore would get to his feet (amazingly) only to be knocked down one more time. There was no getting up this time for Moore. At 21 years and 10 months old, Floyd Patterson became the youngest world heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Patterson’s reign as heavyweight champion lasted over 5 years (11-30-1956/12-4-1961). And although he suffered a title defeat to Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson in 1959 (would defeat Johansson in his next fight to re-capture the World Heavyweight Title), Patterson defended his heavyweight title a total of six times over that five year period. In 1972, at the age of 37, Patterson officially retired from boxing with a professional record of 55-8-1 (40 by KO). Nearly 40 years after his retirement, Patterson is still regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.
A Vintage 1985 Interview with Floyd Patterson