Monday, February 13, 2012

Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion by W.K. Stratton

Why I read it: A love of boxing history, and Patterson's story was one I had not read in depth.

Summary: A bio of the youngest heavyweight champion and the first two-time champ.

My Thoughts: Boxing's heyday has come and gone, we know that. Unfortunately, it was pretty heavily controlled and fixed during that time (so why should we be surprised by such shenanigans today?). Still, a knockout punch is a knockout punch. Boxing's gentleman, a man of pureness and honesty - he once stopped fighting an opponent mid-match to help him find the mouthpiece he'd dropped - was Floyd Patterson, who rose above all the deviousness and made his living in the sport in the fairest possible way.

Is that why we forget him?

We remember Joe Louis for his role in World War II, and Muhammad Ali (Patterson was the only man who was allowed to call him Cassius after his conversion) for obvious reasons. We remember Mike Tyson for biting the ear off Evander Holyfield. But we don't remember Floyd Patterson as one of the all-time greats, despite his record, 55-8-1, and his monumental bouts with Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston and even Ali.

Stratton's bio of Patterson shows us that we'e been missing something, and that the professional boxing world today is missing something, that it is possible to rise to the top and be a good person. Floyd spent his career doing good works outside the ring, helping schoolboys escape poverty and despair as he had, giving communion to shut-ins and so much more. His life was one of contradictions. In the ring, he could be as fierce as anyone, as long as the clock was ticking; when the final bell sounded, he often rushed to embrace his opponents, to even help them off the mat.

There is one more side to the Patterson story. His rise coincided with the rise of the Civil Rights movement, and he contributed to it in numerous ways, financially, representationally, even physically, in person, when called upon. He was a soft-spoken man, but often his actions spoke volumes. In a time of turmoil when African-Americans were even fighting among themselves over how Civil Rights should be achieved, he was ostracized as an "Uncle Tom." Stratton stresses this was an unfair classification.

In the end, this book left me feeling like boxing needs another Floyd Patterson if the heavyweight title is ever to rise again. Alas, the Golden Age is gone.

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