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"I think that is my only problem," former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson says, and a few feet away Mickey Alan, his brother-in-law, turns his face away to hide a grin. Alan has one of the oddest jobs in boxing: keeping Patterson from throwing in the towel every time Tracy Juan Harris Patterson, Floyd's adopted son and the WBC super bantamweight champion, gets knocked down in the ring.
Not that it happens often. Alan has been called upon only twice, once when Tracy was knocked down during a 10-round loss to Stevie Cruz in 1989 and last December when Patterson got up from the floor to retain his title with a 12-round draw against Daniel Zaragoza.
Alan's talents were not needed last Saturday as Patterson, 28, scored a 12-round decision over Jesse Benavides in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Benavides rocked the champ several times during the middle rounds but could not put him down. At such dangerous moments Floyd merely shades his eyes with his right hand and stares at the floor.
"When Tracy gets hurt, I get scared," says Patterson the elder. "In the two fights that he was knocked down, I had the towel and was getting ready to throw it in. Both times Mickey stopped me. He kept saying, 'Don't. Don't. Don't."
During his career, Floyd Patterson knew what it was like to be knocked off his feet. Many men put him on the floor, but only Sonny Liston kept him there. Twice. Patterson's chin was porcelain, but he had the heart of a lion. In 1959, in the first of his three fights with Ingemar Johansson, he was knocked down seven times and lost the heavyweight title he had won three years before. That is the fight he remembers whenever Tracy hits the canvas.
The first time Johansson hammered Patterson to the floor, he did not even know he was off his feet. "I could hear the referee saying, 'Go to a neutral corner,' and I thought he was talking to me," Floyd says. "The second time I looked out into the crowd and saw John Wayne. My face was on the floor, and I wondered why I was seeing him sideways. That's what scares me. I don't want Tracy to get up and, not knowing he is hurt, to get hurt worse."
When Floyd first encountered Tracy 17 years ago, it was a bit like looking in the mirror. Floyd remembered being 13, one of 11 children, and running away from home. Gus D'Amato took him in and taught him to be a fighter. In much the same way, Floyd took in Tracy, who first came to Floyd's gym in New Paltz, N.Y., across the Hudson from Poughkeepsie, when he was 11. Floyd trained him and eventually adopted him. Predictably there is much of Floyd in Tracy's boxing style, although the old champion's peekaboo defense has been somewhat modified. "I taught him how to hold his hands, how to place his feet," Floyd says. "Then he developed his own style, and I taught him how to throw combinations with that style."
As an amateur, Tracy won 97 of 104 bouts and two New York Golden Gloves titles. He turned professional in 1985 after graduating from New Paltz High. Fittingly his pro debut was a four-round decision over Ray Doughty, who had defeated him as an amateur. "Tracy is not one to hang his head after a loss," says Floyd, who had difficulty handling defeat. "He just thinks about getting even."
Floyd brought his son along slowly. Before knocking out Thierry Jacob for the title last June, Tracy had won 43 of 45 pro bouts, most of them against guys who weren't even household names in their own neighborhoods. His biggest purse was $10,000. "When he fights for a title, he will be ready," Floyd has said. "When he wins a championship, he wants to be good enough to hold it for a few years." All they have to do is keep Mickey Alan in the corner.