Floyd Beats Sonny!

By Mike Casey on November 2, 2012
Floyd Beats Sonny!
"Sonny is no Joe Louis," Rocky said, "but who needs to be these days? I like a heavy hitter.”

His getaway car was parked outside the stadium, stocked with food and refreshments, dark glasses and a false beard…

Boxing writers and historians are well accustomed to being rudely embarrassed when it comes to the poisoned chalice of predicting the outcome of a big fight. A big slice of humble pie often follows your not-so-confident pronouncement on how it will go and who will win.

One consolation is to surf the archives and remind yourself of some of the illustrious “experts” who tripped and stumbled before you did. A classic example of this is the polling on the first fight between heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and challenger Sonny Liston at Comiskey Park in Chicago on September 25, 1962.

The preface of this famous clash has been somewhat twisted over the years to give us the impression that the all conquering Liston was an overwhelming favorite of the fight fraternity to win the contest and win it quickly. That wasn’t the case and much of that perception has to do with how Patterson’s profile as a boxer has been similarly warped by time.

Invariably he is described now as a good boxer, fast and skillful with a good punch and excellent hand speed, but too fragile to be a member of the all-time elite. I have no argument with any of that, but what is forgotten is that Patterson was primarily a puncher and a very heavy puncher at that. He went out there to knock his opponents out, not to finesse his way to a decision.

Take a look at the left hook that nearly ripped Ingemar Johansson’s head off. Take a look at the frightening punches that made many ringsiders fear that Floyd might have killed Henry Cooper in their 1966 London battle of the left hookers. Patterson was no Dempsey, Louis or Marciano for hitting power. But the quiet man from New York was no cream puff operator either.

It was Floyd’s punching power and speed of hand that led many observers to believe that he would survive his usual knockdown or two to knock Liston out.

We know now, with the eternal benefit of hindsight, that Patterson was a mentally shattered man even before he stepped into the ring against Liston, crushed by the huge weight of expectation and a chat with President Kennedy that left Floyd feeling like Gary Cooper in High Noon.

There are different versions of what was said during that conversation, but it ended with Patterson giving a duty-bound commitment to defend his title against the man who was ludicrously perceived to be a threat to all things good and American.

No punch was required by big Sonny to seal Floyd’s fate. The champion had sealed it himself in his mind. The fight was over before it began. His getaway car was parked outside the stadium, stocked with food and refreshments, dark glasses and a false beard. A man who thinks he’s going to win doesn’t make preparations of that nature.

Now let us skip back and examine The Ring magazine poll of writers, fighters, managers and trainers. Patterson had some heavyweight backers and they weren’t all thinking with their hearts. Ring editor Nat Fleischer said, “Liston is rugged but he has never faced an opponent as fast or as shifty as Floyd. Considering the contrasting styles, clouting vs. shiftiness and Liston’s performance against Eddie Machen, who went the limit of 12 rounds with him, my vote goes to Patterson.”

Fleischer’s colleague Dan Daniel was also troubled by Sonny’s labored performance against Machen. Dan believed he had seen a bad sign in a Liston sparring session. “If he landed his left, he dropped it. This could be fatal. Patterson will retain the title with a knockout around the tenth.”

Big Tom McNeeley, who had been batted around quite a bit by Floyd in an unsuccessful title challenge, said, “I fought Patterson and was knocked out by him. I think that the champion is too fast and clever for Liston, even though Sonny is a terrific puncher.”

Veteran writer and broadcaster Sam Taub, of the Daily Sports Bulletin, wasn’t too impressed with Liston at all: “I feel that Floyd Patterson’s speed will be too much for Sonny Liston to handle. Floyd moves too fast and punches too fast for the flat footed challenger. I do not know Floyd’s plan of battle so I can’t predict just when, but I feel the champion will knock out Liston.”

Former champion Ingemar Johansson thought that Liston was too slow to be true. Said Ingemar, “ I’ve studied several motion pictures of Liston’s bouts and feel that Sonny is too slow for Patterson. Liston’s lack of speed was so marked that at first I thought the projector was at fault and I asked to have it speeded up.

“I didn’t like Liston’s body balance, his timing of combinations and the way he slings his left hook. The champion’s speed will be the deciding factor.”

Jack (Deacon) Hurley, the veteran manager and promoter, was also confident that Patterson would retain the championship. “Liston may be bigger and heavier and very impressive looking. But he is too slow, for one thing, and he is flat footed. The champion will keep the title.”

Baseball legend Casey Stengel, who was managing the Mets at the time, was more circumspect: “I am inclined to pick Patterson. I have noticed that he fights best when he gets hurt. However, he had better see to it that he doesn’t let Liston hurt a little too much.”

Former middleweight champ Rocky Graziano was having none of this. “Liston can hit an opponent once when that opponent is as strong and fresh as himself and take all the fight out of him. That’s what he did with Cleveland Williams. Sonny is no Joe Louis, but who needs to be these days? I like a heavy hitter.”

So do I, Rock. Call this writer crazy if you will, but the pick here is Liston by first round knockout.

Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Floyd Patterson vs Henry Cooper (September 20, 1966) -XIII-

Ingemar Johansson vs Floyd Patterson, II

Floyd Patterson Vs Tom McNeeley 1961

Sonny Liston vs Cleveland Williams March 21, 1960

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson I

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  1. Eric 08:57am, 12/04/2012

    Definitely think that Patterson “post-1963” was a better fighter. Floyd had some memorable bouts against some rough tough guys named Chuvalo, Bonavena, Quarry, and was robbed of another championship in a disputed loss to Jimmy Ellis. Floyd is always unfairly given the rap for having a “weak” chin, but when you consider that in some of his earlier title defences his weight was only a few pounds above the light heavyweight limit.  In addition to that Floyd was taking shots from fighters who were at least legitimate heavyweights by those standards of the time, then his “weak” chin claim loses some validity. And usually Floyd would get up and go on to knock out his opponent and the only times he failed were against heavy punchers the likes of Johansson and Liston.

  2. peter 03:38pm, 11/06/2012

    As good as Patterson was—and he was good—I think if Liston and Patterson fought 10 times, Liston would win 10 times…If Liston and Ali fought 10 times, I think Liston might win once…If Liston and Tyson fought 10 times, I think Liston would win 5 times…If Liston and Holmes fought 10 times, I think Liston might win 2-3 times…I could go on.

  3. Tex Hassler 02:51pm, 11/06/2012

    Time flys it seems like Lison fought Patterson last week but is has been a long time now. Patterson had a lot of assets for a fighter but Sonny had his number. If Patterson could have stayed at light heavy he might have been an all time great with his hand speed. Machen was a far better fighter than he has been give credit for. Nice article Mr. Casey.

  4. Mike Casey 12:35am, 11/03/2012

    It does indeed, Peter!

  5. peter 05:46pm, 11/02/2012

    In the Liston-Patterson photo accompanying this excellent article, the handshake between them says it all.

  6. peter 04:18pm, 11/02/2012

    Three great heavyweight left hookers came along at the same time: Patterson, Frazier and Cooper. Am I missing a fourth?

  7. mike schmidt 11:04am, 11/02/2012

    Indeed and true Mr. Thresh—I still have Floyd winning the Ellis fight for another chunk of Heavy Title-I tink he wuz robbed on dat one…

  8. Mike Casey 06:09am, 11/02/2012

    Yes, Ted, very good point. I think some of Floyd finest work was post-1963.

  9. the thresher 05:57am, 11/02/2012

    Ah, good one. Floyd truly disgraced himself, but he later redeemed himself with some solid ring stuff.

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