Friday, May 12, 2006

Floyd Patterson (1944 - 2006)

In my lifetime I have had the pleasure of meeting three heavyweight boxing champions, a svelt Joe Frazier at a supermarket in Somerset, New Jersey, Sugar Ray Robinson during the broadway production of The Wiz, and Floyd Patterson who just happened to be walking around Times Square. I have never really been a fan of boxing but I remember vividly when I was a kid the exploits of Patterson, Liston and Muhammad Ali were fascinating to someone just entering his teens. This was the dawn of the civil rights era and these three champion boxers were so radically different from each other that they represented three paths black males could take. Ali (at that time known as Cassius Clay) was young and confident. Fiercely independent, he spoke his mind regardless of what another thought. His conversion to the nation of Islam and his absolute refusal to serve in what he believed to be an unjust war earned him the respect and admiration of many people including whites, but to young blacks he became larger than life. Sonny Liston on the other hand was someone who had a checkered past with connections to organized crime. He was such a powerful puncher whose primary interest appeared to be self preservation. I know of no occasions when Liston would speak out on the issues of that affected black America the way Ali would. Then there was Floyd Patterson, who was the quiet perfect gentleman, who was the first ever to regain a heavyweight crown. Politically Patterson and Ali reminded me of Dubois and Washington, both role models but at the same time radically different from each other. To me it seemed as if the two men actually hated each other. Patterson in his heart of hearts was concerned about the image Ali projected as being stubborn, cocky and definitely unpatriotic. Patterson refused to call Ali by his chosen name, insisted on calling him "Cassius Clay" When Ali fought Patterson for the crown, Ali asked him several times "What is my name?" After receiving several punishing blows Patterson went down in defeat but continued to call Ali, Cassius Clay. Floyd Patterson was physically small for a heavyweight. Whenever he stepped into the ring the opponent always looked bigger, but most of the time (until the 60s) Patterson would come out the winner. History will remember him as one of the "greats"

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