Floyd Patterson vs. Pete Rademacher

By Norman Marcus on December 21, 2015
Floyd Patterson vs. Pete Rademacher
“The totally exhausted challenger was reeling on rubber legs like a defenseless giant.”

“The thousands rose with a mighty roar and got their money’s worth then and there. The rest was almost an anticlimax…”

It was the only time in modern boxing history that an amateur boxer challenged for the World Heavyweight Championship in his first pro fight. How did such a strange match take place? 

Pete Rademacher, a Washington University football star, was also a celebrated amateur heavyweight boxer. He won the Seattle Golden Gloves in 1949, 1951, 1952, and 1953. He also won the US Amateur Championship as a heavyweight in 1953, as well as the Chicago Golden Gloves, the All-Army championship, and the Service championship in 1956, before qualifying for the Olympic team.

Rademacher stormed through the 1956 Olympic boxing competition held in Melbourne, Australia. He defeated a Czech, he defeated a South African, and he finally KO’d a big Russian named Lev Moukhine in the first round to win the gold medal. Pete’s final flurry of punches was so savage that referee Tommy Loughran had to stop the fight. A great pro career seemed possible. But Rademacher was in a hurry.

“I knew that Cus D’Amato, Doc Kearns and Archie Moore were going to get together with Floyd Patterson and fight for the title,” he said years later. “I thought that if I could win that Olympic Gold that I would have a shot to fight for the vacant title.  We called Cus and proposed the idea. He said it would take $250,000 guaranteed. We called back in two days, signed the contract, and went into serious training.” 

Patterson won the heavyweight title vacated by Rocky Marciano by knocking out Archie Moore at Chicago Stadium on November 30, 1956. (Floyd was the youngest heavyweight champion ever at that time. He was just twenty-one. Mike Tyson, another D’Amato protégé, later surpassed that by winning the title at the age of twenty.) Eight months later, in his first title title defense, Patterson TKO’d Tommy Jackson at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Rademacher’s plan was coming together, right on schedule. He would challenge the new champion for his heavyweight belt.

Patterson was a classic Cus D’Amato fighter, a stylistic precursor to Mike Tyson. Following D’Amato’s advice, he bobbed and weaved from a peek-a-boo stance. “Remember,” he told Floyd, “it’s always good to throw the punch where you could hit him and he can’t hit you. That’s what boxing is all about.” Patterson learned his lessons well and discovered it worked. It seemed to confuse his opponents. His leaping left hook was his best punch, but his suspect jaw often got him in trouble.

Rademacher was a more conventional fighter than Patterson. He had a good jab. He could take a punch. He packed power in both hands. But he was twenty-eight and not in great shape. Georges Chemeres, his trainer, knew his craft but Pete, while a decorated amateur, had never gone more than three rounds, let alone the scheduled 15 against a world champion.

He would soon find out why he would be the first and last fighter to fight for a title in his first bout.

The press was abuzz. Pete assiduously read the sports sections. He was bout to realize dream, while failing to read the small print. Georg Meyers, Seattle Times sports editor, who had covered Rademacher at the Olympics, described Rademacher as “a somewhat shopworn heavyweight” and that “Even for an amateur world champion, 28 is no time to be thinking of beginning a career in professional boxing.” Then, to rub salt in the wound, Meyers suggested that hopes for a Rademacher victory were preposterous.

Preposterous or not, Rademacher was undeterred.

“I won’t be afraid,” he said at a pre-fight presser. “I’ve never been afraid in the ring. I am big, I am strong, and I have felt men being hurt from the bones in my fist. And Patterson is only a man.”

Unlike Rademacher, Patterson had thirty-one professional fights before he won the vacant title in Chicago the year before. Moore, the ageless Old Mongoose, was no match for the fast, young Patterson. He was allegedly forty-one at the time, but Archie’s mother told reporters he was born in 1913, not 1916 as he claimed, which would have made him forty-four. When told about his mother’s comments, Moore clarified the situation by saying, “I have given this a lot of thought and decided that I must have been three when I was born.”

On a cloudy day in Seattle, Rademacher the challenger got off to a fast start by knocking Patterson down in the second round. “The thousands rose with a mighty roar and got their money’s worth then and there,” wrote Dick Sharp in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “The rest was almost an anticlimax.”

“I made one mistake in that fight,” Pete later told the press. “I knocked him down and made him mad. I was excited at first and then I thought stay down. But he got up…” Described as looking “a little sheepish,” the champ did indeed get up and proceeded to knock down Rademacher down six times during the fight, once in the third round, four times in the fifth round, and again in the sixth, before it ended at 2:57.

“It had been exciting at first,” wrote Red Smith, “and then it petered out in dreary punishment.”

As the Post-Intelligencer sports editor Royal Brougham put it, “The totally exhausted challenger was reeling on rubber legs like a defenseless giant.”

Rademacher went on to fight fourteen more times in his professional career. He fought Zora Foley, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Archie Moore, Doug Jones, and George Chuvalo. All these guys would later face young Muhammad Ali. But Ali beat every one of them, whereas Pete lost to all but Chuvalo.

Rademacher retired in 1962 with a unanimous decision over Bobo Olson. He was 35 and his record was an unremarkable 15-7-1 with 8 KOs. He walked away from boxing with all his marbles and no regrets. He lives in Ohio and is involved in local politics.

Patterson went on to fame and fortune as a popular champion. He fought Ingemar Johansson three times, and twice against Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. Floyd retired from boxing in 1972 with a record of 55-8-1 with 40 KOs.

He later served time as a New York State Boxing commissioner. But CTE (brain damage) finally caught up with him and he had to retire from the sport completely. He died too soon, in 2006 at age 71.

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Floyd Patterson vs Pete Rademacher August 22, 1957

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  1. Peter 11:04pm, 12/27/2015

    Àmen Eric,
    Seems like Rademacher had bad management or, didn’t listen to it if it was good.
    And I think you’re right about Patterson also, he would have been great as a LightHeavyweight, but Cus D’Amato wanted him to be Heavyweight champion. My Pop way back when, was a sparring partner for Floyd, and Cus wanted my Pop to box professionally because he thought he could make him light heavyweight champion, but he wanted to go into the Army and then marry my mom,etc,etc.

  2. Jethro's Flute 04:12pm, 12/26/2015

    Archie Moore was either 42 or 39 in 1956. Please learn to count.

  3. Sean Matheny 08:51am, 12/21/2015

    Unlike far too many ex-boxers, Pete had a very successful life after the ring.  He moved to Medina OH and became CEO of a corporation that manufactured competitive swimming gear.  He became a well known amateur and professional boxing referee in the OH area, and he invented a unique one-wheeled motorized vehicle he still rides in parades.  He is a true gentleman.

  4. Eric 08:31am, 12/21/2015

    Taking on Patterson and Zora Folley for his first two professional fights, looks like Rademacher was really feeling time wasn’t on his side. Nowadays, with 60 year old rock stars still touring, and 40 year old contenders/champions becoming more common, 28 doesn’t seem that old at all. Floyd was knocked down plenty but when you consider he never was really nothing more than an overstuffed light heavy fighting heavyweights, his chin wasn’t as bad as all that. His chin stood up well against bruisers like Chuvalo & Bonavena. Floyd carried the title well in and especially out of the ring.

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