A wise boxing bettor once remarked, "There is no such thing as a 5-to-1 fight." The underdogs have a way of coming through, and no one should know this better than Floyd Patterson. He was a 5-to-1 favorite the night he was beaten by Ingemar Johansson, and he was a 4-to-1 underdog the night he won back the championship. On July 22 in Las Vegas, Patterson, who was the first heavyweight champion in history to regain the title, will once again attempt to win it back, this time from Sonny Liston.
Liston is favored by 5½ to 1. When they met in Chicago last fall, he knocked Floyd out in 2:06 of the first round, and he now boasts, "It'll be quicker this time." Maybe. The big question with Liston is the left knee that he strained last spring, causing the cancellation of the fight in Miami Beach. But good knee or bad knee, Liston is a formidable physical specimen, as the comparative drawings on these pages show, and a formidable opponent in the boxing ring. Liston has lost only once in his entire career, when Marty Marshall broke his jaw while Sonny was laughing at him.
Patterson can hit. But he can also be hit. Perhaps more important, his chances depend on his mental state. Manager Cus D'Amato, who remains estranged from Floyd despite his presence in Las Vegas, offers this evaluation: "Floyd Patterson is without a doubt the superior of Sonny Liston in every technical department of the game. The question is: Why does a superior endowed fighter lose to a less endowed opponent? And the answer is: Floyd has distracting influences. Floyd has always said in the past that in order for a fighter to perform successfully at his peak effort he must have no distracting influences, his mind must be on the fight alone. Only then can he employ his assets. And I say that if this condition exists, if there are no distracting influences, Floyd will beat Sonny Liston. If Floyd is able to employ all his assets, he will win convincingly, either by a knockout or a decision."
And just how, D'Amato was asked, will the public know if Floyd Patterson has his full mind on the fight? Said Cus: "We will only determine this by the result of the fight."
THE FIRST FIGHT: THE KNOCKOUT NOBODY SAW
With the exception of a few lucky fans on the west side of the ring, nobody at the Liston-Patterson fight last September really saw how the knockout took place. Closed-circuit-TV audiences didn't see it, either; the cameras were set up east of the ring. Even Cus D'Amato, in Patterson's corner, was as baffled as the fans. While the referee was counting Patterson out, Cus turned to Trainer Dan Florio and asked, "What the hell happened? I didn't see any punches." But one photographer, by chance sitting in an almost perfect position on the west side of the ring, recorded those dramatic seconds of the first—and last—round, along with the unseen knockout. When D'Amato saw the photographs he immediately knew what happened. "The pictures demonstrate that Floyd was hit because he violated a fundamental rule," he says. Here Artist Handville, sketching from those photographs, shows what Patterson did wrong.
Instead of crowding Liston or moving out of range, Patterson makes the mistake of standing only a foot away. Given this punching room, Liston cradles Patterson's head with his right and throws the first of three left hooks. The punch lands high on Floyd's right hand, and he drops the hand from his temple. He grabs for the ropes as Liston moves in. A second left hook to the temple staggers him.
With Patterson now wide open, Sonny cocks and throws the third and final hook. It lands squarely on the right side of Patterson's fully exposed jaw, and he slumps to the canvas unconscious. "I was feeling him out," Floyd explained later in the dressing room. "I was surprised to see how slow he was. I was surprised that I could see every punch. But after that everything went black."
THE SECOND FIGHT: WHAT FLOYD MUST DO TO WIN IT
If he fights unthinkingly, Patterson has no chance whatsoever against Liston. Sonny has the advantage in weight, height, reach, strength and punch. To beat Liston, Patterson must be on the move constantly, going in, getting out fast, staying to Liston's right to avoid the explosive left. Patterson should try to goad Liston, to make him angry when he misses. Then, as the fight wears on, he can start throwing some bombs of his own.
Patterson must move to Liston's right to avoid the left hand. When Floyd moves in, he will have to try to slip the long, jolting jab, but once he is on the inside he is on relatively safe ground.
If Patterson can't get away after scoring inside, he must tie Liston up at once. Sonny will try to bull him around, by sheer strength, but Floyd has to wait for the referee to make the break.
Patterson can throw Liston off by continually bobbing and weaving. Sonny can batter through an upright defense but, by ducking in and under, Patterson can hope to land to Liston's midsection.
Height 6 feet
Height 6 feet 1