A couple of weeks before his fight with Floyd Patterson, Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, the boy who rose out of the sticker bushes of Far Rockaway to within jabbing distance of the world's heavyweight championship, greeted the sunny morning with a white-toothed smile, slipped into training pants and sweatshirt and set out over the green New Jersey hills for his customary eight-mile run. His was a mood that matched the morning, which was the kind that makes the birds to sing. He set off, then, not on a jog or lope but with a merry, shuffling time-step, very like one of those curious maneuvers he uses in the ring. It was the start of what looked like a wonderful day.
By midafternoon he was a sulky hermit, hiding in the woods. The mood had changed. One of Hurricane's sparring partners had knocked him down.
There was, in fact, no sound reason for the morning's joyful feeling. On the night of Friday, June 8, at Madison Square Garden, Hurricane fights Floyd Patterson in a nationally televised 12-round heavyweight elimination match, and Patterson may well knock him out in the first three rounds, very likely will finish him off before the fifth has ended. Patterson will then be taking his first long step on the road to the championship of the world. (There are, of course, roadblocks—like Archie Moore.)
A knockout by Patterson is the way it must seem to anyone who has observed these two men in the ring and in training and has tried to follow the flashing fury of Patterson's big hands, which can throw a bewildering series of punches in the time it takes to wink twice (see illustration, above). They are nothing less than the fastest hands in the heavyweight division and, moreover, to quote one who has felt their power, "Floyd punches hard."
That was Hurricane himself speaking. He and Floyd sparred together in the days when neither could afford to hire first-rate sparring partners. There is that about Patterson's swift hands to remind one of Sugar Ray Robinson, and that about his punching power, not yet fully developed, to make one look forward to the time when a latter-day Joe Louis will come upon the scene.
As for Hurricane, he is a mysteriously successful fighter who has pushed himself into the No. 2 contender's position (right behind Moore, no less) with a weird assortment of pawings and slappings. Those who fight him and lose say he punches hard. Those who can only watch and wonder don't see how this is possible because Hurricane is eternally off balance, and there is, therefore, no place for punching power to come from. Besides, much of the time he forgets to close his fists. But he has defeated men who, by all the laws of prizefighting, should have defeated him. He beat, for instance, Bob Baker, who is a slouch but nonetheless ranked No. 3. He beat Ezzard Charles who, though long gone over the hill, is still an ex-champion. These are the accomplishments of a fighter who, in any other era, would be a semifinalist in order to give the fans comedy relief.
There is a theory that Hurricane has been able to climb the ratings ladder because of his matchless stamina, a gift of both nature and his devotion to training.
"What do you do for relaxation?" is a favorite question at the training camp, the famous Ehsan's.
"Work," Hurricane always answers. It is a joke that almost kills him with simulated laughter, a piece of repartee he pretends to find delightful. He slaps his knee and rocks back and forth. He almost chokes. Then he recovers abruptly and his eyes glint darkly around the audience. If anyone is not amused, Hurricane is likely to rise in offended dignity and stalk away, looking very like a sullen cassowary. His fighting style may be compared to the table manners of a child who has been to progressive school. His shifts in mood are equally startling. There is no appropriateness in anything he does.
He is, indeed, the utter opposite of Patterson, a shy, even-tempered fellow who trains hard, too, but not out of whatever inner compulsion drives Jackson.