In walking shorts and cowboy boots, taking his moonlit strolls through southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, panning playfully for gold in a swift little creek near his luxurious bungalow, or swapping barks with a fox that hunts near the training camp in the evening, Roy Harris cuts an odd figure for a heavyweight challenger. Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis—none of them was like this fellow. But if he should win the heavyweight championship from Floyd Patterson at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles on the night of August 18, Roy Harris could become very like them at the gate. There is color and human interest in everything he does. He is a handsome lad and might even stir the interest of women in boxing as feminine hearts have not been stirred since the days of Georges Carpentier. He might even be able to fight, too.
The Harris camp at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel takes its personality from the fighter. Like him, it is a relaxed and easygoing place in off hours, uncommonly so. Trainers and fighter sit around their porch at sundown and trade yarns about pit dogs and chicken fights. It is a subject close to Harris' heart. He confides that one of his Cut and Shoot kin will eat no eggs or flesh of ordinary barnyard chickens but savagely restricts his poultry diet to fowl that have been bred to fight.
"He says the other kind don't have any flavor," Roy explains.
Roy has been bred to fight, too, but his good manners and soft voice won't let you appreciate it until you see him in the training ring, earnestly absorbing the lessons of Bill Gore, a tall and slender white-haired veteran of a thousand training camps, a man who has trained such knowing champions as Willie Pep and Joe Brown. It is Gore's job to give Harris enough learning so that he may have a decent shot at Floyd Patterson's title. It is not an easy job. Harris is no Pep or Brown, with their consummate skills. He lacks their experience and probably lacks their native abilities. He is still somewhat crude, still learning. Gore's job is enormous, but he does not think it is impossible. He has discovered that Harris, a boy during his off hours, becomes a man when he works, that he takes correction with mature earnestness and that he is an apt pupil. Gore decided early in the game, and probably wisely, to limit what Roy must learn for this fight rather than confuse him with more instruction than could be absorbed in the brief training period.
"I think he's picking it up," Gore finally announced the other day. "He shoots better with his right hand. Everything is all right going down the stretch. As for his morale, he is overburdened with confidence. I have never seen such a determined fellow. This is a fighter they'll have to carry out of the ring if he loses."
WORK AND REST
The situation and atmosphere at Patterson's camp, a beach resort some 85 miles away at Oceanside, is vastly different. It, too, reflects the personality of the fighter. This is the camp of a champion of Ph.D. grade, a fellow who has none of the basics to learn any more, settled in his routines, coolly aware of the value of his title, coldly determined that no one will take it from him if meticulous preparation will save it. Fighting has become a serious business for Patterson, and so there is a certain grim efficiency about his camp, expressed in such ways as a tendency to walk on eggs lest the champion's frequent slumbers be disturbed. The camp motto is "Work and Rest." It is not a place where fighting can be regarded as fun. Patterson, who likes the woods, is not yet quite at home on the beach, where he is not permitted to swim because of the effect swimming might have on his muscles. A quiet man who has acquired a rather special dignity as champion, he answers questions easily and straightforwardly but volunteers no small talk.
Patterson is a superbly tuned fighting instrument. Harris is a country fiddle. Because Patterson is so seriously bent on perfection, and thus is easily disturbed by breaks in routine, he got off to a rather poor start in his California training. A two-week postponement of the fight upset him, disturbed his precise timing, finally caused him to ease up for a few days. When he resumed, the champion's good early schooling began to assert itself, his timing improved and he began to fire combinations in bursts of oldtime machine-gun speed. One sparring partner, the durable Paul Wright, was battered just too much about the body, where most Patterson combinations start, and found it necessary to retire. Jose Torres, a middleweight who had impressed the boxing world by decking Patterson with a right hand—pretty much a slip, according to Patterson—began to need all his speed to stay in the ring with the champion.
Harris started out looking very good indeed. He stumbled a little on a couple of occasions as 212-pound Howie Turner, who has previously trained with Patterson, began to apply some of the knowledge he had learned from the titleholder. But then Harris picked up and began to show steady improvement.
"I wish I had had Bill Gore training me three years ago," Harris said one evening after a very good workout. "I'm sure learning a lot."