Although the odds on the fight went from 14 to 5 to 3 to 1 following Patterson's untimely knockdown by Turnbow, they are still an underlay. Says Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder, who is, in a way, the oddsmaker emeritus of Las Vegas and who made one of his earlier fortunes tapping out on Joe Louis: "My own personal opinion is that Clay will kick the daylights out of him and the odds should be at least 10 to 1. The fact that Patterson represents the majority of Negroes and that he has done nothing to discredit himself (except he can't fight) is causing a lot of people to make small speculations on him. On the other hand, we have a champion who belongs to a minority group that is not too popular. This normally would mean nothing to an individual who is ready to make a big bet, but sentiment is running away with them and, though they think that Clay will win, they refrain from betting on him in the hope that St. George will slay the dragon with his right-hand spear."
No matter what the proper odds might be, however, it would be imprudent totally to discount Patterson's chances, for there are sound reasons why he could upset Clay or at least make a fight of it. Clay is essentially a long-range fighter. This is a natural consequence of his physique, his inclination and his remarkable quickness. He does not fight inside, and, unlike Liston, he does not care to pound a man in the clinches. This automatically improves Patterson's chances. Of course, Johansson, who was himself disinclined to close with his man, had one notable success against Floyd. Operating from afar, Clay can control a fight. He moves and punches at will as he sets up his victim for the eventual knockout. He does not like to be pressed, however, since then control passes over to his opponent. When this occurs, he is basically on the defensive and cannot exploit his undeniably superior skills and gifts. A good example of this is the Doug Jones fight. One of the smallest and most mobile of Clay's adversaries, Jones kept slipping Clay's jab and punching in close. He did this to special advantage early on but failed to keep it up and lost a fairly close decision. This, too, is Patterson's style, since he, like Jones, is basically too small to fight most heavyweights from outside. Discounting chins, Patterson is a better fighter than Jones. He hits harder. His leap, which is often scorned but has nonetheless proved effective, will enable him to get at Clay. He has greater speed than Jones, particularly with his hands, and he has a naturally aggressive style.
Clay's device of pulling away from punches was a perfect defense against Liston, who could never quite reach Clay's chin with his great, vicious swipes, but Patterson, leaping, can land on the mark, and with impact. It's a risky maneuver, but none of Patterson's opponents have been able to offset it. It should be even safer against Clay, since his lordotic posture makes it difficult for him to counter. Also, because Clay's jabs must be angled down at the shorter Patterson, Floyd will have an opening high on the left side of Clay's neck and head—a situation both camps are well aware of. However, the main thing Patterson must do is press, and press from the bell. As Angelo Dundee says: "In boxing you cannot start in low gear and get to high gear. You've got to start in high." Alas, Patterson has a history of being a "notoriously slow starter, and if this holds for the Clay fight, forget it. Pressing is important for yet another reason. According to Archie Moore, Clay does not breathe properly. He breathes shallowly, like a dog, not from the diaphragm, the way a singer does. If true, this could explain why he has to rest from time to time. Against Liston in Miami Beach, Clay trained and fought in a pattern in which he ran a round and rested a round. Jones never gave him a chance to rest in the early rounds of their fight—which could be why Clay looked so inartistic.
In both the Patterson-Liston fights and the Clay-Liston fights, the importance of comparative styles was overlooked. In reviewing these fights it is now apparent that Patterson's style was exactly the one Liston would do best against, and, in turn, Clay would do best against Liston's. Says Cus D'Amato: "As in a war, it is often the tactical approach that decides the battles. That is why a smaller, inferior force may beat a superior one, as Rommel did in Africa to the British. In this battle Patterson has the style to beat Clay." D'Amato believes the keys are the lead, the assertive two-handed punching, the double hooks, the peekaboo guard, which permits Patterson to fire punches and protect his head almost simultaneously and, perhaps most significantly, the position of Patterson's feet and body.
"Floyd must get inside and rattle off his combinations against Clay's head and body," says D'Amato. "Clay has never fought anyone with Floyd's ability to put punches together—true combinations—and against this kind of pressure he will find it difficult to defend with his hands down." The advantage of the nearly frontal stance, in which the feet are opposed and the hands held high on either side of the head, is that it is an excellent way to cut down the mobility of a fighter like Clay, who tends to move from side to side. This was Liston's major shortcoming against Clay. He was never in position to punch, since his left foot was planted so far in advance of his right. When Clay moved laterally Liston either had to replant his lead foot or, as often happened in his anxiety to reach Clay, he wound up with his legs crossed and totally off balance.
Furthermore, since Clay will be punching down on the crouching Patterson, he will be exposing his jaw to a sneak right hand. This may well be Patterson's biggest punch in the fight. " Patterson likes to lie there in the clinch doing nothing," says Charlie Powell, who has the distinction of losing to both Floyd and Sonny. "That's when you relax, and that's his signal to start ripping off punches, especially that overhand right." Dundee calls this the possum punch, because Patterson plays possum, sagging almost lifelessly in the clinches, before throwing it. "It is the only way he can win," says Angelo. " Patterson must throw straight right hands to the body whenever Clay touches the ropes," says Powell. "Clay invariably leans back and then tries to body slip, but he is, in the first instance, vulnerable to the right hand to the head—he is looking for the left hook."
Just how well Patterson will fare depends on his motivation. Perhaps unfortunately, he no longer seems to fight for some kind of ego satisfaction but rather for dubious, obscure causes. He always fought best when fighting was purely a personal expression. "He was superb," says Tommy Loughran, the old light heavyweight champion, who was once close to Patterson. "He was the nearest thing to Dempsey. So lithe, so supple, and he punched with such power. All of that coupled with ferocity. I thought he could not miss being one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Then something happened. He became a deliberate puncher, and his body thickened under all that unneeded muscle and weight."
The period when Loughran was impressed with Patterson was near the beginning of Floyd's career. This was when fighting was apparently a release for the frustations of an emotionally disturbed youngster, a way of proving himself, of becoming somebody. In these days he fought with a verve, an irrepressible surge, as though innumerable punches were forcing themselves through his arms. But, according to D'Amato, after he defeated Roy Harris Patterson was told by Dan Florio that he must husband his punches, that a champion should show artistry and reasoned skills. Florio made a mistake. Patterson's indomitable rushes were his essence. He kept his opponents so busy defending themselves that they were rarely able to mount a counteroffensive. In truth, Patterson's overwhelming offense was his defense. When he became a more painstaking fighter he had need of defensive skills that he had never developed.
Since the Harris fight the only occasion on which Patterson returned to his original style was in the second Johansson fight. "I hated him," Floyd said. "It got so when I looked at the meat on my plate, I saw his face gazing up at me. Still, with all my anger I had poise. But it's wrong. A fighter must be a killer? If winning means inflicting a degree of danger, injuring an eye or something, then I don't want to win."
Although Patterson seems to be tolerant of, or bemused by Clay, his camp doesn't buy it. Patterson steams when Clay touches him, as he did the other day in an unscheduled confrontation at The Mint, in downtown Las Vegas. "Come here, sucker," said Clay. "Yes, you, chump. I've got something for you." While the two entourages glared at each other, Clay touched Patterson. Patterson brushed aside his hands and said, in his quiet way, "I've got something for you, too, baby."