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Heavyweight Floyd Patterson's Boxing Legacy

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Heavyweight Floyd Patterson's Boxing Legacy

Remembrances

Heavyweight Floyd Patterson's Boxing Legacy

Heavyweight Floyd Patterson's Boxing Legacy

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Ed Gordon remembers boxer Floyd Patterson, who died Thursday at his home in New Paltz, N.Y., after years of battling Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer. He was 71. Though never considered one of history's greatest heavyweight fighters, Patterson left an imprint on boxing history that still endures.

ED GORDON, host:

Before the world heard of Muhammad Ali, there was Floyd Patterson. Patterson left an imprint on boxing history by becoming the youngest heavyweight champ ever. He died yesterday at his home in New Paltz, New York, after years of battling Alzheimer's and prostate cancer. He was 71.

(Soundbite of boxing match)

Unidentified Announcer: He's down, flat on his back. He's up on his haunches, but champion Patterson is down in five, six, seven, eight, nine - he's barely back up on nine. Johansson right on top of him. Johansson backs away…

GORDON: Patterson reigned as Heavyweight Champion from 1956 until his most famous fight on June 26, 1959, with Swedish boxer Ingemar Johnasson at Yankee Stadium.

(Soundbite of boxing match)

Unidentified Announcer: The fight is over!

GORDON: Patterson later described it as an embarrassing loss, but he got his revenge the next year in a famous rematch that ended in round five.

(Soundbite of boxing match)

Unidentified Announcer: (Unintelligible)...five, six, seven. We have a brand new champion. Nine, ten. It's all over. It's all over. Floyd Patterson has knocked him unconscious.

GORDON: But Patterson's victorious, unprecedented comeback was overshadowed in the 1960s with losses to Sonny Liston and most famously to Muhammad Ali in 1965. If Ali, during the time, was considered a champion of the Black Power Movement, Patterson was widely viewed as his antithesis; a sympathetic figure who was embraced by white sportswriters and the establishment. Ali reportedly called the former Heavyweight Champ an Uncle Tom when Patterson refused to call him by his adopted name, Muhammad Ali.

Patterson retired from boxing in 1972, after being hammered by Ali in a non-title match at Madison Square Garden. But Patterson's influence in the sport continued. In 1985, the American Medical Association called for a ban on boxing, citing incidents of brain damage. Floyd Patterson came to boxing's defense.

Speaking with NPR in January of that year, he criticized outsiders and said the sport had changed his life for the better.

(Soundbite of Floyd Patterson interview)

Mr. FLOYD PATTERSON (Former Boxing Heavyweight Champion): Don't you see? You're asking someone who has been in boxing. You're not asking doctors sitting on the beach who's - obviously from wealthy family's - never even seen the slums, much less lived in it.

Unidentified Reporter: Does that make them wrong?

Mr. PATTERSON: When you make a decision, walk in the shoes of the individual that you're making it for.

GORDON: Patterson spoke from experience. He was born into poverty in Waco, North Carolina. He spent part of his youth in a detention home for troubled boys. After his release at age 14, he took up boxing; winning a New York Golden Gloves Championship, and later an Olympic Gold Medal.

Floyd Patterson served as Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission until the mid-1990s when his health began to decline. He lived out the rest of his life on his farm.

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