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Original Issue


As much as Floyd Patterson's peekaboo style of boxing baffled
opponents, his ruminations on such unfighterly topics as
friendship and responsibility intrigued sportswriters. Red Smith
characterized Patterson as "a man of peace whose life has been
devoted to beating men with his fists," while other writers
described him as "a fighter who is a flower child" or "a quiet
tiger." Patterson was a fascinating study, one of the rare men
in whom sport seemed to have effected the miraculous change we
often claim it can, turning a teenage hooligan into a
disciplined member of society.

Like Mike Tyson, Patterson escaped the tough streets of Brooklyn
and was trained by the legendary Cus D'Amato. Patterson used
boxing to vent, in his words, his "convict tendencies," and he
became a superb fighter. He turned pro after winning the
middleweight gold medal at the 1952 Olympics, and though small
for a heavyweight--he usually fought at less than 200 pounds and
often gave away as many as 15--he became the youngest man to win
the heavyweight title when, at age 21, he knocked out Archie
Moore in November 1956, five months after his first of eight
appearances on the SI cover (above). Patterson was also the
first man to regain the championship, when he KO'd Ingemar
Johansson in June 1960, a year after he'd lost his title to
Johansson. But Patterson didn't like what that fight did to him.
"I was so filled with hate," he said later. "I wouldn't ever
want to be like that again."

Patterson once said that "it's better to make friends than build
gates," and he has taken that maxim seriously. He has maintained
a close friendship with Johansson and has even run marathons
with his former foe. Still a trim 182 pounds at age 61,
Patterson lives on a 17-acre farm in New Paltz, N.Y. He no
longer trains fighters, as he did for 23 years following his
retirement from the ring in 1972, but he remains active. As a
Eucharistic minister, he administers Communion every Sunday to
residents of a nearby nursing home, and recently he was named
chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, which
regulates pro boxing and wrestling. His hope is to create a
pension plan for retired boxers. "A fighter should be able to
put his earnings away so that when he retires, he doesn't have
to walk the streets," Patterson says. "Joe Louis, Sugar Ray
Robinson--all the great fighters--retired with nothing. I don't
want that to happen anymore."

--Merrell Noden

B/W PHOTO: MARK KAUFFMAN [Cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Floyd Patterson]