Floyd Patterson was a young man in trouble with the law when boxing changed his life. Although he grew up poor in New York’s tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, some people in the sport wondered if Patterson was too nice to be good in the ring.
His temperament didn’t hold him back. During a career spanning from the early 1950s to the early 1970s, Patterson won the heavyweight title, lost it and became the first champion in history to win it again.
W.K. Stratton is the author of a new biography of Patterson. He joins Bill Littlefield on Only A Game to discuss Patterson’s life in and out of the ring.
Bill’s thoughts on Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion:
Boxing is full of extraordinary stories, and lots of them involve Floyd Patterson. Who else embraced and even kissed his fallen foes? Who else kept a fake beard in his dressing room so that if he lost a bout, he could escape from the arena incognito? Nobody else would have said after losing to Muhammad Ali in a technical knockout that his only regret was that he “wanted to go out with a great punch, to go down that way.”
Boxing is generally an ugly, corrupt, and deadly business, but for a time at the height of his career in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Floyd Patterson seemed to represent an alternative to the witless thug or the mobbed-up fall-guy. He was the favorite of John F. Kennedy and, for a time, a pal to Frank Sinatra. He held on to enough of his money so that he could serve as an example for folks who regarded boxing as a fine way for poor boys to get on. He was the evidence for those who said the sport didn’t addle the brains of everyone who climbed into the ring, until it became publicly and embarrassingly evident that Patterson’s brains were addled.
W.K. Stratton’s biography of Floyd Patterson is thorough and fascinating. He makes a convincing case that Patterson has “a significant place in American popular culture,” and he tells the stories of the former champion’s career with respect and energy.