Floyd Patterson, the world heavyweight champion, will defend his title in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens on Monday night, December 4, against Tom McNeeley, a brawling Irishman from the suburbs of Boston. Normally this might produce an emotional upheaval in this sports-loving city. After all, a heavyweight championship fight is something special, and this will be the first time that a world heavyweight championship has ever been contested in Canada. But Toronto fans are regarding the Patterson-McNeeley match with a bland detachment that is infuriating to Promoters Tom and Al Bolan of Championship Sports Inc.
Citizens of Toronto suspect that the brothers Bolan may not have been aware that Toronto has the latest in communications and often receives reports on happenings from the outside world almost the same day they occur. Thus, Toronto long ago learned that Boston, a cultural hamlet some call the Toronto of New England, rejected the Patterson-McNeeley fight rather than submit to a demand from the Patterson camp that an out-of-state referee be appointed. Some Torontonians became indignant when they discovered they had been saddled with a turkey that Boston had spurned.
A few of the town's heavy thinkers feel that Toronto has gained an international reputation for gullibility, especially when it comes to fights. They recall that 21,438 turned out for the Archie Moore-James J. Parker fiasco here in 1956, an artful promotion created jointly by Doc Kearns and Jack Solomons, a pair of accomplished spellbinders. Kearns and Solomons even persuaded impressionable ringsiders to wear evening clothes. Some natives still prickle when they remember that burlesque. (Moore, of course, remembers it with deep affection. He had a fat payday, and he mauled Parker unmercifully before stopping him in the ninth round.)
Even so, the principal reason for Toronto's indifference to the fight is simply that it occurs at the end of Grey Cup week, the climax of the Canadian football season, when East meets West.
This extravaganza, Canada's No. 1 sports spectacle, will be played in Toronto's Exhibition Stadium on Saturday, December 2, before a sellout crowd. In many instances, tickets were reserved almost a year ago. The Grey Cup commands the undivided attention of Canadians, and any other event has to run a poor second. Street-corner gossip is almost exclusively about football, and the fight is ignored. This doesn't mean that the fight will be a flop. It simply means that Canadians will allow nothing to interfere with football.
The promoters, alarmed at first when they realized they were tangling with the Grey Cup, now hope to reap ancillary benefits. They reason that many visitors will remain over from Saturday's game until Monday's fight, especially Westerners who seldom get an opportunity to view a championship bout. (The sale to date has largely reflected expense-account buying by firms entertaining clients at both football and fight.)
One other reason for the disinterest in the fight was the strange absence of McNeeley, who insisted on training in Boston. His manager, Peter Fuller, refused to move training headquarters to Toronto until last Sunday, a stubbornness that enraged Cus D'Amato, Patterson's loquacious manager.
"Fuller is costing us at least $50,000 at the gate because he refused to bring his man into Toronto early and help promote this fight," fumed D'Amato. "I can't understand what Fuller, a keen student of finance, is thinking about. This is where the fight is, and this is where the principals should train."
Fuller retorted that there was no point in bringing McNeeley to Toronto too soon. Tom was unknown anyway, and Patterson's presence (Floyd arrived in Toronto on November 9) should have been a sufficient stimulus. Cynics implied that Fuller might have been afraid that McNeeley's absurd awkwardness in training would have an adverse effect on sales had he trained in Toronto.
Patterson, whose quiet, almost shy manner has impressed local kibitzers, runs at Woodbine Race Track on the northwestern outskirts of the city and boxes at Palace Pier, a local dance and fight emporium. Several hundred people turned out for some of his sessions. Floyd will be at least a 9-to-1 favorite to beat McNeeley, but he has more respect for his opponent than the odds-makers do.
"Everybody seems to be taking this guy for granted. I wish I could be as sure. The way this is set up I can't get any credit even if I win. I'll just collect my money."
It is understood that Patterson has been guaranteed $200,000 for the fight, McNeeley $100,000. The Bolan brothers are predicting a crowd of 15,000 and a gate of around $250,000. Television will make a handsome contribution (supposedly $300,000) to the overall proceeds. The fight will be televised on a closed circuit, with a local blackout. Spectators in Maple Leaf Gardens will first see the Sonny Liston-Albert Westphal fight from Philadelphia on a four-sided, 9-by-12-foot screen. Then, after a short intermission, Patterson and McNeeley will go into their act, and fans in Philadelphia will see them. Equipment necessary for the closed-circuit transmission can be erected or dismantled in a few minutes, the promoters say.
Ringside fans will have to pay $50 per seat, the highest ever asked for a single athletic event in Canada. Cheapest seats in the house will be $10 each, the same price that football fans will pay to sit on the 50-yard line for the Grey Cup.
In the last major fight in Toronto, between Moore and Parker, the gross gate was $148,500 in the baseball stadium. But top price for a ticket was only $20.
Patterson said last weekend, "Physically I'm ready to go now. But I have to concentrate on getting my mental attitude up. That's important."
The mental attitude of the anticipated crowd has to be up too, especially with that $50 tops. There wouldn't be this worry if Patterson and McNeeley could only play football.
PATTERSON'S MANAGER, CUS D'AMATO, FUMES AT McNEELEY'S TRAINING SITE