Birthplace: Waco, NC
Location of death: New Paltz, NY
Cause of death: Alzheimer's
Remains: Buried, New Paltz Rural Cemetery, New Paltz, NY
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Heavyweight champion at age 21
Floyd Patterson was raised in Brooklyn, got into trouble early, and at age ten was sent to a juvenile facility, where he learned to box. He was 17 when he won the Olympic Gold Medal as a middleweight, and 21 when he became professional heavyweight champion of the world, beating Archie Moore for the title. No fighter has ever won the undisputed championship at a younger age.
After defending his title four times, a 1959 championship match against Swedish slugger Ingemar Johansson was widely considered a puffcake fight that Patterson would win easily. But the Swede knocked Patterson to the mat seven times, until Patterson's wife begged the referee to stop the match, and Johansson was declared the new champ. Patterson has said that John Wayne had front-row seats for that fight, and as the ref awarded Johansson the crown, the battered Patterson looked over the ropes directly into the Duke's eyes. "This famous American hero had come to watch me fight, and I was losing the title to another country," Patterson said. "It was the most embarrassing moment of my life."
Johansson, dubbed "The Hammer of Thor," met Patterson again the following year, and with a fifth-round KO, Patterson became the first heavyweight to regain the title. After raising his arms in victory, Patterson saw that the unconscious Johansson's left leg was twitching in spasms. He quickly knelt at Johansson's side and held him in his arms until the doctors arrived.
Photos of that moment endeared Patterson to fans worldwide, especially Swedish fans, and solidified his nickname as "the gentleman of boxing". Nine months after their second match, the two men met one final time, Patterson winning by knockout in the sixth.
Through the late 1950s, Patterson's championship was dogged by his unwillingness to fight an up-and-coming prison-taught thug named Sonny Liston. When they finally met in 1962, Liston won with two left hooks and a right to knock out Patterson, two minutes and six seconds into the first round. According to legend, Patterson was so ashamed he snuck out of the arena in disguise, under a fake beard and mustache. In a 1963 rematch with Liston, it was again lights out for Patterson in the first round.
In a later comeback attempt, he fought Muhammad Ali, whom newspapers still persisted to call Cassius Clay. In a pre-fight interview, Patterson said, "This fight is a crusade to reclaim the title from the Black Muslims. As a Catholic I am fighting Clay as a patriotic duty. I am going to return the crown to America." Ali toyed with Patterson for nine rounds before winning.
As a professional, Patterson had 55 wins, 40 by knockout, with eight losses and one draw.
In 1998, while serving on the New York State Athletic Commission, Patterson was unable to remember who he had fought to first win the title, or even his aide's name. He said he did not sleep well the night before, and that his memory was spotty when he is unrested. He subsequently resigned from the Commission.
Wife: Janet (wife #3)
Son: Tracy Harris Patterson (adopted)
Daughter: Jennifer Patterson
Daughter: Janene Patterson
High School: Wiltwyck School for Boys, Esopus, NY
Olympic Gold Medal Middleweight Boxing, 1952
World Heavyweight Champion 30-Nov-1956 to 26-Jun-1959
World Heavyweight Champion 20-Jun-1960 to 25-Sep-1962
Reagan-Bush '84 Member, Reagan-Bush All-Stars
International Boxing Hall of Fame
US Olympic Hall of Fame 1987
Risk Factors: Depression, Prostate Cancer
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Terrible Joe Moran (27-Mar-1984) · Himself
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee (21-Nov-1969) · Himself
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