Fellow Champ Torres Remembers Floyd Patterson

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Fellow boxing champion Jose Torres reflects on the life of his friend Floyd Patterson. Patterson died Thursday at 71. He suffered from Alzheimer's. Torres notes that family history might have more to do with Patterson's illness than the effects of boxing.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, between the Earth and the stars, stretching the bond between mother and child.

But first, Floyd Patterson died this week at the age of 71. He was the youngest boxer ever to win the heavyweight championship of the world, at the age of 21, and the first to win it back after losing. In his prime, no one had faster hands than Floyd Patterson. But after he lost his championship for the second time to Sonny Liston in the early 1960s, Floyd Patterson became known as the ranking gentleman of the heavyweight division, soft spoken, encouraging and thoughtful. He took young fighters into his home in New Paltz, New York, and schooled them in life as much as boxing.

Jose Torres was a good friend of Floyd Patterson's. They both trained under the late Cus D'Amato. Mr. Torres is the former light-heavyweight and middleweight champion of the world, and New York State's former boxing commissioner, and President of the World Boxing Organization.

Mr. Torres, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. JOSE TORRES (President, World Boxing Organization): It's a pleasure to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And help us remember this week, when he was 21, 22, 25, what made Floyd Patterson the champion of the world?

Mr. TORRES: Well, Floyd Patterson, first of all, was one of the smartest fighters I ever met in my life. And he had the physical ability to be very fast. He never threw one punch at a time. He threw combination of punches all of the time.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRES: And he was one of Cus D'Amato's best students. That made him, you know, almost a perfect champion.

SIMON: You knew him for so long. What was he like in person?

Mr. TORRES: He had a wonderful personality. He was quiet. He was never show-off because he was the champion of the world. He act completely normally. You know, he knew that he was a good fighter, but he never spoke about it. And if he was champion, he had to know that he was the best.

SIMON: He had this unexpected, I think it's fair to say, friendship over the years with the fighter who first defeated him, Ingemar Johansson.

Mr. TORRES: Yes, you know, as a matter of fact and coincidentally, I was there.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRES: And I fought a semi-final of that fight. And when I finished fighting, I just put my robe on, and I stayed there with the newspaper people sitting in the first row, to watch Floyd beat Johansson.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRES: But then I was surprised when Johansson beat him. And I was so disappointed when he went down so many times. I think seven times. On the third time, I got up and I started walking away. I didn't want to look.

SIMON: And of course, Floyd Patterson won the rematch. And they really did become friends. Didn't they?

Mr. TORRES: Oh, yes. Yes. It was amazing. That's true. They became friends after that.

SIMON: Floyd Patterson wasn't so friendly with a man you wrote a book about, Mohammed Ali. What happened?

Mr. TORRES: Well, you know, the thing is that Mohammed Ali was the type of guy who liked to make fun of everybody. But he made fun in a funny way.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRES: You know?

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. TORRES: And I think that Floyd did not like that personality. And also, they were competing all the time.

SIMON: I have to ask a difficult question, Mr. Torres, because I think it's on the minds of people. There are questions, you know, as to whether or not his career in the ring hastened his death.

Mr. TORRES: I'm glad that you ask me that question, because I'm going to give you information that very few people are aware of. Both mother and father die of Alzheimer's. And they were not boxers.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. TORRES: I must remember, you know, visiting Floyd when he was sick, I didn't understand much about the condition.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRES: And I went there with my wife, and he did not recognize neither of us. He was suffering with prostate cancer.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. TORRES: You know, that I wasn't even -- I didn't even know. I found out much later. And now, and of course, his death also caught me by surprise.

SIMON: Former middleweight and light-heavyweight champion of the world, Jose Torres. Thank you.

Mr. TORRES: Thank you.

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