In order to taste the wines of the country (lemon-flavored mineral water at Arrowhead Springs and vanilla ice-cream soda at Oceanside, both California) and to take a look at participants in the waning year's first heavyweight championship fight, a visitor shuttled last week over the freeways between the training camps of Roy Harris, challenger, and Floyd Patterson, champion. He came away with stupefaction of the palate and furrows of the brow.
For he saw Floyd Patterson, hitherto famous for the fastest hands ever seen on a modern heavyweight, out-speeded by Roy Harris, hitherto famous only as the most distinguished resident of Cut and Shoot, Texas. At Arrowhead Springs, Harris displayed a very swift left hand and a bulletlike right uppercut. At Oceanside, Patterson had ignition trouble with his heretofore devastating combinations and was hit significantly with right uppercuts. He was, furthermore, knocked down (while his feet were tangled) by a right hand thrown by a mere middleweight, Jose Torres.
"Mere" is not really the word for Torres, though he has had but four professional fights. He is a fine boxer and a gamester more than willing to slug it out with the heavyweight champion. In round after round, day after day, Torres made the champion look slower than he ever has looked in training and connected with that meaningful right uppercut which is Harris' most effective punch.
Patterson was sincerely disgusted.
"I don't know what's wrong," he said in a thoughtfully glowering way. "My reflexes aren't working. I can't get off. I can't get started."
So too thick ring padding was removed in the belief that it might have caused the slowness. His speed of foot then improved, though not vastly, but his hands remained the same. Other rationalizations followed. It was observed that Patterson has not had a fight of consequence since he met Moore (in November 1956) nor has he had a fight of any description since he knocked out Pete Rademacher at Seattle last August. And postponement of the fight (from August 4 to August 18, at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles) was certainly a serious disruption of the champion's training schedule.
Then there was the explanation of Cus D'Amato, his worried manager, and a true D'Amato solution.
"I think he's bored," D'Amato said. "He's been in training for a year, almost steadily. All he does is play cards and watch television. He needs something to divert his mind."
So Cus motored to town and bought his protégé a couple of air rifles, because the champion loves to shoot.
It should be pointed out that Patterson's slowness is only relative, that his hands still are fast by ordinary standards. Ordinary standards should not prevail in his case since he and those who have watched him prepare for other fights expect perfection of a Patterson. Three weeks before the fight he was far from perfect.
Two return engagements are on the television cards coming up. One will be a re-run of an interesting and recent film, Mickey Crawford Trails Indian Ortega, and the other will be a second showing of a B production with dramatic horror elements, Nino Valdes Outthinks Mike DeJohn.
The last Crawford-Ortega meeting, in which Ortega won a split decision, might have turned out differently if the two judges who voted against Crawford had brushed up on the rules book the night before the fight. The rules book does say, if anyone remembers, that points are to be awarded for good defense (Crawford's defense is just short of superb) and ring generalship (Crawford is three-star material). He should throw more punches, though, because New York judges won't care if he misses, any more than they cared when Ortega missed so aggressively and grotesquely. And he should never let himself get caught on the ropes, where a skilled fighter can duck, block and parry to his own satisfaction but still look like a trapped animal to the crowd and often to the judges.
This one, at Madison Square Garden, will be shown at your neighborhood TV set on the night of August 13 (Wednesday) and will be followed two days later by the Nino Valdes-Mike DeJohn Spectacular. In their last meeting Valdes won, partly because his left hand clogged DeJohn's sensitive nose with blood but largely, too, because DeJohn decided to pace himself for a fine lOth-round finish, disregarding the fact that while he was being so too utterly shrewd he was losing all the middle rounds.
Valdes went on from there to knock out the renascent Harold Carter in nine rounds and set himself up as a potential Patterson challenger. Given the proper spiritual encouragement, a spank on the trunks, by Manager Bobby Gleason, the often lackadaisical Nino could start yelling for a title fight. In Rochester, where this one will be held, he should repeat his Syracuse victory. We think Crawford will win, too.
CHAMPION BANGS THE BIG BAG IN ANGER