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Floyd Patterson - youngest to win Heavyweight Boxing Crown

Another boxing champion is gone to his eternal rest. He is 71 year-old one-time American heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson who died on Thursday at his home in New Paltz, New York. He was on the sick bed in the last few years, having suffered from Alzeimer's disease and prostate cancer.

The American first won the heavyweight throne in 1956 at the age of 21, becoming at the time the youngest heavyweight champion. He lost the title to Sweden's Ingemar Johansson in 1959 but reclaimed the crown the following year.

He finished his career with a record of 55/8 with one draw and 40 knockouts.

His career was marked by historic highs and there were humiliating defeats too. Before going on to money spinning heavyweight fights, he was seen in Olympic Boxing too, having come up from a troubled childhood in Brooklyn to win the Olympic middleweight title in 1952.

Then in 1956, the undersized heavyweight became the youngest man to win the heavyweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Archie Moore.

But there were lows too, as three years later, he was knocked down seven times in the third round in losing to Ingemar Johansson at the Polo Grounds in New York. However, it was not the end for Patterson. He came back with a vengeance at the same site in 1960, knocking out Johansson with a stunning left hook to retake the title. He also boxed against Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali once said: "Of all the men I fought, Sonny Liston was the scariest, George Foreman was the most powerful, Floyd Patterson was the most skilled as a boxer".

"Physical injuries don't mean anything compared to mental feelings", Patterson told reporters during a visit to London, where he offered his advice and experience to Britain's heavy weight prospect, then Frank Bruno.

He recalls his boxing thoughts and memories with calm deliberation, but at times reveals a curious and quirky sensitivity to attempt to analyze his career or his sport.

"Unless you've walked in my shoes and experienced what I've experienced, don't talk for me. I resent it", he has said.

He is quietly proud of what he has done for boxing since his retirement. As athletic commissioner for his home State of New York, he is deeply involved in the organisation of amateur boxing. He also finances and runs a boxing club where he has trained more than 1,000 young fighters over the past 10 years.

Opponents stronger

His pride in his achievements in the ring is of a different kind almost defensive. "Most of the guys that I've fought were much stronger than I was. It was my ability and my speed that won the fight, not my strength. What good is a punch if you can never land it'.

Apart from Johansson, only three men have beaten Patterson.

Joey Maxim beat him on points, Sonny Liston knocked him out twice and his two fights with Muhammad Ali were stopped. "I was on my feet", Patterson says.

Few would deny that he is recognised as one of boxing's greatest ambassadors. "I have never said anything derogatory about any of my opponents", he says.

"Of all the opponents I have fought, I have never disliked one as much as I disliked Ingemar Johansson", Patterson says.

Knocked out

The Swede knocked him down seven times in the third round before the fight was stopped. "I did not like him", Patterson adds, "not because of what he did to me but because of all the things he said about me afterwards".

"He said that I couldn't punch, that I couldn't fight. When you beat someone, isn't that enough? he asks.

Patterson admits that the shame of losing the title, and of the manner in which he lost it, drove him into hiding. He took refuge from an incredulous press and public by secluding himself in a remote mountain training camp in Connecticut, where he began preparing for his re-match with Johansson.

He says he now knows his ex-opponent well and likes him but the memory of what was said about him then still rankles.

"Here was a man that I didn't even know. You would think this guy and me had a private vendetta, you would think we had a private relationship or something", he says.

Patterson started boxing at the age of 14 "just for something to do" while living as one of a large family in a Black ghetto in New York.

"In the ghettos you have alcohol, crime, narcotics and boxing. You have a choice. I chose boxing", he says.

He speaks of boxing, with all the vehemence of a social crusader, as a means of escape for those born in the ghettos.

Change

"Many of them succeed but most of them don't. But it does change their lives. Boxing changes live. Even if you never win a title, even if you never make a good fighter, boxing will change your life to the point that it will better it", he says.

A reminder that there are those who would like to see boxing abolished because of the danger of death and injury draws a surprising outburst from the softly-spoken former champion.

"We are these people that say it's a barbaric sport? I'll tell you who they are. They are white collar workers, people who have never even seen the ghettos, much less lived there.

"They're the dictators. They're the ones who sit behind their desks, smoke their cigars with their white shirts and neckties on and say 'I feel this, I feel that, I feel the other".

"Don't take boxing away", he pleads.

"I say look what it's done for me. My whole life I owe to boxing".

But as New York State athletic commissioner, he is anxious that boxing safety rules should be improved and standardised to reduce the risk of death or serious injury.

Patterson, who during his career seemed to fear words more than punches, also thinks fighters should not publicly discuss their opponents.

"I don't believe in talking, because you talk, you talk, you talk, and then you go out there and you get knocked out. So don't say anything.

Whatever I said I said to myself", he says.

Although he says he respects all his opponents, his own boxing favourite is Joe Louis.

"The greatness of a champion is not just what he does inside the ring but also how he carries himself outside", he says.

Fact file

Pro Record: 55 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw with 40 knockouts

First heavyweight champion to lose title and reclaim title

1952: Won middleweight gold medal at Helsinki Olympics, stopped Eddie Godbold in fourth round in professional debut

1956: Knocked out Archie Moore in the fifth round to win the world heavyweight title at age 21, becoming at that time the youngest heavyweight champion.

1959: Lost world heavyweight crown in his fifth title defense, being stopped by Sweden's Ingemar Johansson in the third round at New York's Yankee Stadium.

1960: Reclaims world heavyweight crown by knocking out Johansson in the fifth round. 1961: Defeats Johansson by sixth-round knockout to retain world title in their third bout in 22 months, having inflicted the only two losses on Johansson's career.

1962: Loses world heavyweight title to Sonny Liston by first-round knockout 1963: Loses rematch with Liston by first-round knockout

1965: Stopped in 12th round by world champion Muhammad Ali

1968: Lost controversial 15-round decision in Stockholm to Jimmy Ellis for World Boxing Association heavyweight title. 1972: Stopped in seventh round by Ali in final fight of Patterson's career.

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