Died on this day: Floyd Patterson
He was fast as a welterweight, as mobile as a flyweight, and a two-fisted heavyweight puncher who became one of the last big men in boxing to weight under 200 pounds for most of his bouts.
Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935 in Waco, North Carolina, in a family that included eleven children. The family’s escape from the troubled Deep South landed them in the tough streets of New York, where young Floyd turned to theft and thuggery for survival.
It was during his time in several correctional institutions that he found boxing, and he ended up devoting himself to it at the age of 14 to start a meteoric amateur career that would make a gold medalist in the Helsinki 1952 Olympics as a middleweight when he was still in his late teens.
It was around that time that legendary trainer Cus D’Amato took him under his wing and got him started as a professional. Racking up an impressive 30-1 resume with his only loss going to former light heavyweight champ Joey Maxim, Patterson was matched with aging legend Archie Moore for the vacant heavyweight title. They fought in November of 1956, and Patterson made history as the youngest man to win the biggest prize in sports at age 21.
After four title defenses that included the infamous fight against debuting former Olympic champ Pete Rademacher, Patterson faced Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson at Yankee Stadium, being knocked down surprisingly a total of seven times to lose his belt.
One year later, Patterson stopped Johansson at the Polo Grounds in the rematch to once again make history as the first man to ever lose and then regain the heavyweight crown. A rubber match also ended in a brutal stoppage win for Patterson.
At around that time, the era of the six-feet-or-less, 200-pound heavyweight was coming to an end. Soon enough, Patterson was matched with the imposing and much heavier Sonny Liston, who famously demolished him in back-to-back first round knockouts in 1962 and 1963.
Patterson remained a force in the division for many more years, losing in 1965 to a young Muhammad Ali and dropping close decision losses to Jimmy Ellis and Jerry Quarry later in that decade. But after a string of wins in the next few years, he lost his rematch against Muhammad Ali and called it quits in 1972 with a record of 55-8-1 and 40 knockouts to his credit. His list of victims included names such as Yvon Durelle, Brian London, Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper and Oscar Bonavena, among others.
It would take another long decade for the world to see a not-so-tall 21-year old D’Amato-trained heavyweight to reach the heights that Patterson achieved in his best days. His name was Mike Tyson.
Patterson was named Fighter of the Year in 1960 and 1961 by both The Ring magazine and the BWAA, and later in life he served two terms as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.
Affected by Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, Patterson passed away on May 11, 2006 at the age of 71. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.