Since he won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1956, Floyd Patterson has had but six fights, averaging a bit less than two a year. Two of these fights, one-third of the total, have been against Ingemar Johansson. He is now about to sign for a third Johansson bout. From cities north, south, east and west the bids have been coming in, backed by fervent promises of better police protection than the spectators and even the fighters got at the Polo Grounds, where hooligans swarmed as freely as the bugs under the ring lights.
The return is both legally necessary (because of a clause in the original contract) and a matter of honor to Patterson, who likes to keep his word. Its sporting necessity is more questionable. The new Patterson, as distinguished from the Patterson who fought with so little luster against Roy Harris, Brian London and the Ingemar Johansson of a year ago, plainly established that he has grown to fighting manhood under the lash of failure.
Unless Johansson now makes a comparable advance, it seems likely that Patterson will be his master whenever they choose to meet again. To be sure, both previous fights ended in upsets. Twice-bitten experts will be shy of a third. There is no guarantee that an upset cannot happen again, for Ingemar's right hand remains a menace to any man, and especially to a man as susceptible to rights as Floyd Patterson has been.
The only real mystery of the second Patterson-Johansson fight lies in Johansson's curious reluctance to use the right hand more than he did. He had five rounds in which to throw it. He saw it take considerable effect in the second round, even though it landed a trifle high. Had it been two or three inches lower we might have seen a repetition of the fight of a year ago. After that second-round blast, Johansson missed a couple of times with the right (Floyd ducked under each punch), then seemed to forget about it. There were a number of openings later, all quite transparent to ringside observers, none apparently observed by Johansson.
Ingemar says he believed Patterson was tiring himself with his savagery, that he would be a more likely pigeon in the late rounds, that he was saving the right for broadcast at a more convenient hour.
A pretty fair hunch is that Johansson realized, consciously or unconsciously, that his major problem was defense against the raging Patterson. It was, too, and Johansson handled it quite well for four rounds. The Patterson combinations simply did not work against Johansson's blocking and retreating. Only an occasional single punch landed in a scoring zone.
Those single punches, however, were most damaging. They ripped into Johansson's body, they concentrated his attention on body defense, so that when he was knocked out the right hand that should have been protecting his jaw was down to save him from body punishment. Banging the body to expose the head is one of boxing's oldest ploys. It is old because it works.
Patterson went into the ring under instructions not to block Johansson's hooks but to duck under them, then tear into Johansson's body. In the first fight Floyd's original knockdown came on a left-hook-straight-right combination. He blocked the hook with his right glove, but the move did nothing to protect him against the instantly following right. But in the second fight he did duck, and each time he was able to follow with punches to the body.
With Johansson, guard down, the knockout left hook, traveling upward from a point off Patterson's hip, landed precisely on the cleft in Johansson's handsome chin. It was one of the best hooks ever thrown, and Ingemar did not fully recover from it for hours.
Taking his cue from Johansson, Patterson now plans to let the world know what he is about between fights. He will not be the recluse of his first reign, the forgotten champion. He is scheduled for television appearances, a testimonial dinner, and presentation of the City Medallion by New York's Mayor Robert F. Wagner. His de facto manager, Cus D'Amato, has plans for a European tour, with a special eye on Sweden. Patterson hopes to box exhibitions there and in London, winding up the trip by taking in the Olympics at Rome.