Floyd Patterson

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Floyd Patterson
Floyd Patterson 1962.jpg
Real name Floyd Patterson
Nickname The Gentleman of Boxing
Rated at Heavyweight
Nationality USA
Birth date January 4, 1935
Birth place Waco, North Carolina, USA
Death date May 11 2006 (aged 71)
Death place New Paltz, New York, USA
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 64
Wins 55
Wins by KO 40
Losses 8
Draws 1
No contests 0

Floyd Patterson (January 4, 1935 – May 11, 2006) was an American heavyweight boxing champion. At 21, Patterson became the youngest man then to have won the world heavyweight championship. He had a record of 55 wins, 8 losses, and 1 draw, with 40 wins by knockout.

Patterson was also the first heavyweight to win the world championship twice. He regained the title when he knocked out Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson in a 1960 bout that caught the world's attention. He was also the first Olympic gold medalist to win a world heavyweight title.

Patterson firmly believed that a champion should conduct himself as a gentleman in life as well as in the ring. He was widely known as a modest man who deplored the later violence and sleaze of the boxing world.

After stepping out of the ring, Patterson continued his involvement in the sport and established an amateur boxing club. He served as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Childhood and early career

Born on January 4, 1935 into a poor family in Waco, North Carolina, Patterson was the youngest of eleven children and experienced an insular and troubled childhood. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he was a persistent truant and petty thief. At age 10, he was sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York, and stayed there for about two years. Patterson credited this experience with turning his life around.

At age 14, he started to box, trained by Cus D'Amato at his now-legendary Gramercy Gym in New York. Patterson carried his hands higher than most boxers, in front of his face. Sportswriters called Patterson's style a "peek-a-boo" stance.

Aged just 17, Patterson won the gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a middleweight. The year 1952 turned out to be a good one for the young Patterson; in addition to Olympic gold, he won the National Amateur Middleweight Championship and the New York Golden Gloves middleweight championship.

Patterson's amateur record over 44 fights was 40-4, with 37 knockouts.

After turning pro, he rose steadily through the ranks. His only early defeat was controversial, an eight-round decision to former light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim.


Although Patterson fought around the light-heavyweight limit for much of his early career, he and manager Cus D'Amato always had plans to fight for the heavyweight championship.

Patterson got his chance when he fought Archie Moore on November 30, 1956, for the world heavyweight championship left vacant by Rocky Marciano. He beat Moore by a knockout in five rounds, and became, at the time, boxing's youngest, world-heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 21. He was the first Olympic gold medalist to win a heavyweight title.

After a series of defenses, Patterson met Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, in the beginning of what many consider one of boxing's most interesting trilogies of fights. Johansson triumphed over Patterson on June 26, 1959, with the referee Ruby Goldstein stopping the fight in the third round after the Swede had knocked Patterson down seven times. Johansson became that country's first world heavyweight champion and the first European to defeat an American for the title since 1933.

Patterson knocked Johansson out in the fifth round of their rematch on June 20, 1960, delivering a leaping left hook to become the first man to recover the world's undisputed heavyweight title. The punch caught Johansson's chin, and he hit the canvas with a thud, knocked out before he landed flat on his back. With blood trickling from his mouth, his glazed eyes staring up at the ring lights, and his left foot quivering, the Swede was counted out.

After the count, Patterson showed his concern for Johansson by cradling his motionless opponent, and promising him a second rematch. Johansson lay unconscious for five minutes before he was placed on a stool. He was still dazed and unsteady fifteen minutes after the knockout as he was helped out of the ring. Patterson further endeared himself with the people who had made Johansson their national hero, and when he went on a European exhibition tour after that rematch, he was greeted by Swedish fans, who were eager to shake hands, ask for autographs, and take photos with Patterson everywhere he went during his stay there.

A third fight between them was held on March 13, 1961, and while Johansson put Patterson on the floor twice in the first round, Patterson retained his title by a knockout in six to win a wild rubber match.

The quality of some of Patterson's opponents as champion was questionable, including 1960 Olympic Champion Pete Rademacher, fighting in his first professional match, leading to charges that Patterson was ducking the powerful contender and former convict, Sonny Liston. Patterson, eventually stung by the criticism, agreed to fight Liston while attending an event with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

After one more defense, Patterson lost his title to Liston on September 25, 1962, by a knockout in the first round. The two fighters were a marked contrast. In the ring, Liston's size and power proved too much for Patterson's guile and agility. Ten months later, on July 22, 1963, Patterson attempted to regain the title again, but Liston once more knocked him out in the first round.

Following these defeats, Patterson went through a depression, often donning sunglasses and hats to disguise himself in public. However, he eventually recovered and began winning fights again, until he became the number one challenger of the man who twice beat Liston, Muhammad Ali.

In the build-up to the fight, Ali had been offended by Patterson's criticisms of his membership in the Nation of Islam. As a result, Ali continually taunted Patterson, dubbing him "The Rabbit" because of his docile manner in his two defeats to Liston. Ali even turned up at Patterson's training camp to hand him some carrots. Despite this insult, Patterson was indeed a legitimate contender.

On November 22, 1965, in an attempt to regain the world's heavyweight yet again, Patterson lost to Ali by technical knockout at the end of the twelfth round.

Although he was criticized by many as "washed up," in 1966 Patterson traveled to England and defeated the respected British heavyweight Henry Cooper in just four rounds at Wembley Stadium.

In 1967, Ali was stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing military service after being drafted into the United States Army. Despite the previous bad-blood between the two men, Patterson came to Ali's defense and opposed Ali losing the title over his stance.

In September of 1969 Patterson divorced his first wife Sandra Hicks Patterson. She wanted him to quit boxing, but he was not quite ready; he knew he could get another chance at the title. The World Boxing Association staged an eight-man tournament to determine Ali's successor. Patterson, in a third and final attempt at winning the title a third time, lost a fifteen-round referee's decision to Jimmy Ellis in Sweden despite breaking Ellis' nose and scoring a knockdown.

Patterson still continued to fight, defeating Oscar Bonavena in ten rounds in 1972. However, a final and decisive defeat to Muhammad Ali in a rematch for the North American Heavyweight title on September 20, 1972 convinced Patterson to retire at the age of 37. Patterson is still the youngest man to gain the heavyweight champion at 21, Mike Tyson became champion on June 27, 1988, just three days shy of his twenty-second birthday.

Later life and legacy

In retirement, Patterson and Johansson became good friends who flew across the Atlantic to visit each other every year. Patterson continued his involvement in the sport and established an amateur boxing club. Patterson became chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, a job that he held almost to his death. In 1982 and 1983, he ran the Stockholm Marathon together with Johansson.

Patterson lived in New Paltz, New York for many years and was known as a true gentlemen around town. He was a Latin Rite Catholic convert, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Patterson suffered from Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer in later life. He died at home in New Paltz on May 11, 2006, at age 71. He is buried at New Paltz Rural Cemetery in New Paltz, Ulster County, New York.


Patterson firmly believed that a champion should conduct himself as a gentleman in real life as well as in the ring. He is remembered as a modest man who deplored the violence and corruption of the boxing world. Among his accomplishment and awards:

  • He received "Setting a Good Example Award" from President John F. Kennedy, 1961.
  • He was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame, 1976.
  • He received the "Pioneer of Excellence Award" from the World Institute of Black Communications and CBS Records, 1986.
  • He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, 1991.

Patterson's adopted son, Tracy Harris Patterson, was a world champion boxer in the 1990s and was trained by Floyd during part of his career.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cayton, Bill. Archie Moore vs. Floyd Patterson (Audio CD). Cayton Sports, Inc., 2001. ISBN 9780970837189
  • Newcombe, Jack. Floyd Patterson: Heavyweight king. Bartholomew House, 1961. ASIN B0006AXG8C
  • Patterson, Floyd, andSugar, Bert Randolph. The International Boxing Hall of Fame's Basic Boxing Skills, Skyhorse Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1602390201
  • Patterson, Floyd. Victory over Myself, Scholastic Book Services, 1963. ASIN B0007F6GT2


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