Blood gushed from a deep, raw cut on his left eyelid, from a streaming gash alongside the same eye, from his nose, from a cut near the right eye and from his temple. It dribbled down his chest and it stained his opponent's glossy white trunks. It sprayed ringsiders as his head was rocked by blow after blow.
This was the handsome Roy Harris, heavyweight challenger from Cut and Shoot, Texas, the most celebrated little community of the year. He was taking a bad beating at the hands of Champion Floyd Patterson, a cold-eyed, crouching stalker. But he fought back, too, flashing a fast left hand and bringing up a strong right uppercut. At every such exchange the crowd of 21,680 which had paid a California record of $234,183.25 to sit in Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, roared hoarse applause. When Harris landed there was a special roar from Texas pilgrims and a crazed waving of ten-gallon hats. Across the land, and especially in Texas, tens of thousands—perhaps as many as 200,000—saw the fight on theater television and paid upwards of $1 million for the privilege. It was a highly successful promotion, the more astonishing in that it was the maiden effort of Bill Rosensohn, hitherto a television man, who had to buck a critical press that kept predicting his failure on the grounds that Harris was unknown outside of Texas and Patterson had not fought a heavyweight of stature since he won the title.
Both premises were true enough, but the crowd streamed into the park and into the theaters anyhow. Though the fight was one-sided there was tension in almost every round.
Patterson's head blows took spectacularly obvious effect, but inside, and invisibly, the schoolteacher must have been sickened by punches to the spleen, liver and heart, punches that leave no gross mark but hurt far more than gaudy head blows. Patterson weakened his sturdy opponent with crushing, painful smashes of a kind that once caused the seemingly insensate Hurricane Jackson to squeal in agony. Harris, a man with a good stoic soul, just gasped for breath through a scarlet mouthpiece.
It took the champion 12 bloody, bruising rounds to beat Harris, the best of the three men he has met since winning the title and very likely the second-best heavyweight.
Patterson, in a manner of speaking, had to get off the floor to do it. In the second round the champ found himself sitting flat on the seat of his trunks for a four-count, while all the Texans in the world, it seemed, screamed for his blood. Referee Mushy Callahan ruled it a knock-down, after some hesitation, though Patterson had fallen more from a push than a punch. But an instant before the push he had been hit by an excellent right uppercut (see above), which is Harris' best punch and one he scored with repeatedly in the early stages. Expecting more, Patterson tried to move away, but his footwork, based on an unorthodox square stance and designed more for forward than backward movement, never has been of the fanciest in retreat. In retreat this time he found himself off balance as Harris, trying for a following left hook, caught him on the side of the head with the left forearm and pushed him on down.
Patterson got up quickly, bashed but unabashed. Then the champion was hit by a true hook. He admitted that this blow "dizzied" him.
Five rounds later, beginning to regain the sharpness that only actual fighting can give, Patterson started his own series of knockdowns, not one of them questionable. He felled the challenger with a right hand in the seventh, knocked him down twice, once with each hand, in the eighth, and put him down again with a long right hand smash in the 12th.
That last knockdown was revealing. Harris hesitated before going down. For what seemed like two seconds he stood there, knees sagging, his face reflecting only a dazed consideration of the situation. Then he slumped to the canvas. He started up again and Patterson lunged across the ring to try for a finisher. Harris has splendid legs but he found them too wobbly for support. He sank to one knee and Patterson withdrew while the count went on to nine. Technically, Referee Callahan might have stopped the fight there, for Harris had gone down without being hit. (There had been a dressing room agreement before the fight that the referee would not stop the bout except on request of the loser's corner.)
Somehow, in spite of rights to the body and blazing head combinations, Harris survived that round and was even ready for another. Only his lean, white-haired trainer, Bill Gore, had had enough. Gore signaled to the referee that the fight was over.