They say that you always remember your first. Floyd Patterson, who passed away today, was the first heavyweight champion I remember. Although not a great champion, he was an excellent boxer who defeated pretty much all of the top heavyweights of his era (plus a great light heavyweight, the immortal Archie Moore) except Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali.
Patterson was also a gentleman, polite to a fault. Watch his three classic fights with Ingemar Johansson on ESPN Classic. In addition to an incredibly determined fighter, you will see in his post-fight behavior and interviews after his two victories a true sportsman. After one interview, he asks Howard Cosell (the amiable Patterson calls him “Howie”) if it would be okay to cut the interview short so he can check on Johansson’s condition.
Since Patterson’s time as champion, most heavyweight champions have been either surly, flamboyant or both, and the public seems to prefer it that way. Patterson was neither, and that’s the way I preferred it.
JOHN adds: Patterson was my first heavyweight champ too, but I didn’t appreciate him until long after the fact. A lot could be said about the impact of televised boxing in the 50s and 60s; I touched on it here, in connection with the welterweight title bout in which Emile Griffith killed Benny (the Kid) Paret, which was the subject of a recent movie. This is a topic we should return to when we have time.