I saw Daddy fight on television," Seneca Patterson said sweetly. "He was so handsome." Seneca is 4 years old, and her Daddy bought her a rubber alligator in Miami Beach that squeaked and pounced when she squeezed a bulb. Daddy was fixing it Saturday afternoon. "It ought to leap better than that," he said, listening to its pitiful, artificial cry.
It seemed, perhaps, an unnecessarily bitter and haunting toy. Floyd Patterson had had enough squeaks and feeble pounces last Monday night, before, by a triumph of the will, he knocked Ingemar Johansson out in the sixth round. He realizes, with uncommon awareness, that he fought ineptly. "I was determined," he said, "but who pays to see determination?" And, "It's over with. The main thing was accomplished: victory."
In a very major sense, however, it is not at all over; only absolute victories cast no shadow, as if their time were always high noon. "There has to be a reason," Floyd mulled over a mug of tea. "There was a reason." He was still at sea, as he had been when desperately, almost pathetically, he had cried out to his manager in his corner between rounds: "Cus, I can't find it. The style. I can't find the style to fight him." It might have been a cry from a dream he had had the day before the fight: "I kept going down and the referee kept counting. It had no beginning and no end."
"I know what happened," he said Saturday, sitting in the quiet, familiar light on his sun porch in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "I can see it like daylight. I mean I can see it as vividly as daylight. I was in there. But I couldn't find myself. My mind was on the fight, but not as much as it should have been. When I got in the ring my mind was very blank. I'd backpedal. I did that several times. I'd go back awhile. I thought it would help me find myself and that then I'd tear in there, the Floyd Patterson I know I am. But I wasn't accomplishing anything.
"I'm the type of a fighter who, when he sees an opening, takes advantage of it. It wasn't the knockdowns. In the first round I saw an opening after a couple of jabs but.... It was a good thing I got knocked down. It woke me up. And then it got to a point where I knew I'd have to gamble; I wasn't that far ahead on points. I'd have to try to knock him out, and to do that I knew I'd have to absorb a lot of right hands. But I had to take the chance. I knew that if I got some punches in he'd go down. I felt that he was weakening. I wanted to keep him under pressure, under pressure with skill. But I had no skill, and when you have no skill you're afraid."
And so, afraid, reckless and alone, rejecting a confusion of advice from his corner, Patterson groped as in a suddenly darkened room. "Everyone was telling me to do something different," he said. " 'Throw the right,' someone said. So I bent down to throw, and he threw. I felt like telling them to shut up. I more or less turned that station off after that.
"You know, I feel that I have to put fighting—of course, I love fighting—over other sports. Because you are alone. In basketball, if you're having an off night you can pass the ball to someone else. But in fighting, if you have an off night, what are you going to do? Tell your trainer to go in and fight for you? In baseball you don't hit a homer every time you swing at the ball; in basketball, you don't score every time you shoot. Why then should I look like a million dollars every time I fight? It just happens." Of course, Floyd realizes that it doesn't just happen. And, indeed, he tried to explain, not excuse, his singular emptiness and vagrancy of mind. "For my way of training," he said, "I need seclusion and concentration. I couldn't get that in Florida. I thought to myself, maybe I can condition myself in that kind of environment, but it didn't turn out. And, I have taken a stance: that I make the decisions. I hate to show them that I'm not interested. Then if things don't turn out right they'll blame me for everything that happened. But I'm not used to taking care of all the ends. Making decisions didn't prove beneficial as far as fighting's concerned. The promoters would come to me with their problems about the gate. My lawyer, Mr. November, would want my ideas on things. It was a big burden. I don't want to say it interfered with the fight; it might have turned out the same way anyhow and what not, but next time I'm not going to take such an active interest. I'll be told about things briefly, in a hot minute, so I won't get so involved.
"I didn't have time to concentrate and think about the fight. It's very important that a fighter have seclusion so he can try different things without strangers in the gym embarrassing him if he fails. When you're alone you can try and miss and only your sparring partner knows, and he understands at least a little bit. You try and miss until it works, and if it continues to fail, why, you give it up, but you're not embarrassed. There were still things I wanted to try two days before the fight. At least that day I wanted to concentrate and think. I went over to the hotel to work out, and there were newspapermen and others there. They weren't supposed to be there, and I was very disturbed. But the people were so nice to me in Miami Beach, what could I do?
"The best way for any human being, not just a fighter, to act, is to relax, not bother. I feel I know my mental mistake now. When I look at the films I'll know my physical mistakes. But I hear Ingemar said he wasn't impressed with me. Well, if it wasn't the real me in there and I could beat the real him...but was he the real him? That's what I want to know. I know I wasn't the real me. I would like to fight him again. I would love to. I don't like to leave any doubts in the minds of the people I fight. But I can't now. Others are waiting. We can't tie this thing up permanently. But I'll tell you one thing: if we fight seven days a week, four weeks a month, it will never go the distance."
Apart from his mental concerns, Floyd admits that he was too heavy. "I want to weigh '92 next time," he said. When he views the fight movies he will learn more. For one thing, in the early rounds Johansson's left almost completely distracted Patterson. Ingemar used his left as if he were a sharper dealing three-card monte. "Watch my left, watch it closely," he seemed to say. "It's always there, right before your eyes." As Floyd followed the left, Ingemar watched his eyes. When he had him bamboozled, Ingemar crossed the right over the extended left. This con worked niftily, except that Ingemar has one serious frailty. He cannot slip lefts. His defense depends, rather, on picking them off.