To be successful a professional boxer must keep his mind devoted solely to the task at hand. This is not the case with Floyd Patterson today, a confused yet compelling man. Attempting a comeback in Stockholm last week after two crushing defeats by Sonny Liston, Patterson seemed oddly distracted. "Once I got past the first round I was all right," he said later. "When the bell sounded at the start, the memory of those other fights came back to me. I jabbed and backed off, and after the first round had ended I sighed and was relieved." Even so, it still took Patterson seven more ragged rounds to beat an outclassed Italian fighter named Sante Amonti. Sadly, Floyd was like a matador who has lost the secret of the clean kill.
Patterson came into the Johanneshov stadium, with its sterile atmosphere, its strict rule against smoking and its masses of gray-clothed Swedes, wearing the same white robe he used in Las Vegas. He looked fit and young, a fighter without the face of a fighter, and although he insisted he was psychologically ready there was a touch of tiredness about his performance. In the first round he made the elementary mistake of leading with a wild right that missed and put him off balance. He looked, as a British reporter at ringside quipped, as if he "was digging the garden." In the second and fourth rounds when Floyd knocked Amonti down he went over to help him up, before the referee, amazed, brushed him aside to make his count. "I knew I hadn't hit him hard enough to keep him down, so I thought I'd help him up," was Patterson's simple explanation for his peculiar behavior.
Thoughts not associated with professional boxing revolve more than ever in Patterson's curious, intelligent mind, often stinging him with bitter memories: the color line, the cost of stained glass windows in a church while the poor starve outside, and the present solace of his life, a close relationship with the Swedish people. Posing for a fashion advertisement in Stockholm, dressed in a sports jacket and elegant gray trousers, Patterson asked, "Where in America would I be asked to model suits?" And quietly, " New York? Alabama?"
Despite this deep-rooted resentment, Patterson retains a moving faith in his own country. The Swedes have helped to ameliorate some of the wounds he feels he bears. "After the second fight with Liston, I thought perhaps it would be better if I retired," he said the other day in Stockholm's Apollonia Hotel. "I wanted to continue fighting, but I decided people wouldn't think well of me. I received a lot of letters—about 70% came from Sweden—and they helped me to make up my mind. I thought Sweden would be a good place to come for a fresh start. They don't even like fighting here but they like me."
At Patterson's request, Championship Sports arranged with Edwin Ahlquist, Ingemar Johansson's old manager, to promote a match in Stockholm. Floyd trained at home, but to finish his preparation he flew to Sweden at the end of November, going first to Valadalen, a sports center in the northern half of the country. "I completely forgot about my defeat by Liston the moment I landed in Sweden," remarked Floyd. "Over here they're still talking about the last fight with Ingemar."
During the Patterson-Johansson fights most Swedish newspapers set circulation records. When Patterson visited the country in 1960 he immediately became a Swedish hero. Although Johansson aroused in his people a nationalistic fervor, Patterson touched on something else. They feel he is sympathetic, a quality they never could perceive in their own countryman. In a very unusual way their hearts have gone out to him. According to one Swedish correspondent, he has seen the Swedes break up over only two people in the past five years: Lyndon Johnson, when he visited the country, and Floyd Patterson.
In a country where people are noted for a reluctance to publicly reveal emotion, Floyd cannot walk outside without having displays of affection directed at him. Visiting the Operakallaren, grandest of Stockholm's restaurants, he was surrounded by some elderly female diners. One of them kissed his hand (he kissed her hand in return), while another grabbed him around the waist from behind in order to kiss his neck. He has been inundated not only by ordinary fan mail but also by a mountain of gifts ranging from paintings to glass vases, poetry, carved butter knives from little boys and dolls from little girls. His 29th birthday, two days before the fight, virtually became a national occasion.
In return, Patterson is currently giving a series of exhibition bouts for Swedish charities and has paid visits to local hospitals. "I was asked if I'd like to live here permanently," said Floyd. "I couldn't do that, but I do feel a closeness with the Swedish people that I have never felt anywhere else. I feel part of every person. It is like being in a family." The American people, Patterson feels, have usually understood him better than the American press. "I hate to keep going back, but the night I knocked Johansson out for the second time I bowed to the people. The reporters claimed I was bowing to them as if to say, 'Now I've shown you.' It just wasn't true. I've decided I'll never bow again.
"Some people yelled that they were robbed after the last Liston fight. Perhaps they were, but think how I felt. If they could just see the months of preparation. All that grinding work for the fight, and then, boom, one punch and out.
"I'm not looking to get the title back but to fighting Sonny again. Right now I don't deserve the chance. My comeback, if successful, should take a couple of years. People say that if I still want to fight Liston I must hate him. I don't hate him. I do not hate anyone, because hate distorts the mind. I have no feeling toward Liston whatsoever, except I feel sorry for him. He looks like a person who hates. If he does, he must be miserable."