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Savant Sundays: Dissecting the pugilism of Floyd Patterson

A look back at Floyd Patterson and four of the legendary heavyweight’s fights.

Floyd Patterson was one of the great heavyweights of all time
Floyd Patterson was one of the great heavyweights of all time
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Floyd Patterson was a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division. Fighting from the ripe age of 17 in 1952, up until the seasoned age of 37 in 1972, “The Gentleman of Boxing” was anything but that once the bell sounded.

Patterson was first adorned with the then-NBA (now WBA), NYSAC, and The Ring Heavyweight titles after a triumphant victory over Archie Moore on Nov. 30, 1956. After losing his belts three years later to Ingemar Johansson, he became the first heavyweight in history to reclaim the championship spot, twice avenging his defeat against the Swede.

Patterson was not a complex fighter, and fought a very conventional style. Contrary to his otherwise mild-mannered personality, he brought aggression along with his finesse and talent in the ring. Patterson, while legendary and exceptional at what he did, did have some weaknesses to his fighting style that was exploited on occasion.

Before dissecting his major victories and defeats, let’s first examine Patterson’s traits. The Waco, North Carolina, native stood 5’11”, on the shorter end for a heavyweight, even in that epoch of heavyweight greats. He sported a very “brolic” appearance, with notable back and shoulder muscles.

Speaking of shoulders, you know how Draymond Green has become a meme for his shooting form in the NBA, as it likens to someone shooting a basketball with a book-bag on? Perhaps if social media was around in his era, Patterson would’ve been the meme-equivalent forerunner to such jokes. He fought with his shoulders squared and slightly up, giving off the same appearance.

Floyd also fought with his gloves high, the first of our examined boxers on Savant Sundays to do so. He’d keep them close to his temples or his chin. As for his stance, he fought out of the orthodox position.

Now his talent was off the charts. His lateral quickness and timing on defense was superb. His hand speed was motorboat, machine gun, rapid fire type-quick, especially when throwing to the sides of the body.

Contrastingly, unlike his contemporaries and predecessors examined before him, Patterson was not a fighter heavy on the jab. He threw it of course, but not as much as you’d expect from a champion. Patterson loved throwing hooks and shots to the body. Those were his strongest suits. He was deceptively quick with his right hand, whether straight or hooked.

When dodging punches, there were several instances in the fights of focus — against Archie Moore, Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, Muhammad Ali, and Jerry Quarry — where he looked like the true antecedent to Mike Tyson.

One punch he was weak at dodging however, was the jab. He was much better with his timing against the hook, which we will now delve deeper into.

Floyd Patterson vs Archie Moore (1956)


In his first taste of championship action, Patterson came out looking spry. Both fighters showcased their jab and defended well. Moore started with diagonal arm positioning, quasi-Philly shell style, and was aggressive with his combos.

Midway through round two, Patterson put on a display of four bobs and weaves so clean you’d want him to teach it at your local boxing gym. He retaliated with two shots to the body that landed on Moore. Archie’s defense was akin to George Foreman’s crossed arm defense in Foreman’s second stint of boxing. Moore showed great head and upper body movement when against the ropes.

Again in round two, Patterson’s defense was so optically pleasing to see, as he got low and dipped on two straight punches that Moore would’ve hit, if he had a conjoined twin. As round three drew on, Patterson was not very aggressive when toe to toe.

From round four onward, Moore continued to work his jab, and throw uppercuts, some of which landed, others of which missed. Patterson’s jab defense was good, but left something to be desired for a world class champion of his stature. Patterson did away with Moore with a vicious right uppercut, and later a left hook, exploding upward, that sent Moore spiraling to the canvas for a knockout.

Floyd Patterson vs Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson 2 (1957)


In round one, Patterson demonstrated poor jab defense, but great movement and ducking against hooks. Jackson was able to land good uppercuts to the body early. Patterson decked Jackson flush with a short right hook, and shortly after, made him whiff an uppercut, and caught him like a fish on a hook with a straight left and right hook that sounded like Boxing ASMR.

Seconds later, he hit Jackson with a double uppercut with the same hand — very rarely seen in boxing — followed by a right hook and left hand which all connected. Patterson showed tell-your-friend speed and sharp decisiveness. Jackson was saved by the bell after getting knocked down to end the round.

In round two, after running in place and wooing the crowd prior to the bell, Jackson came out like a man on a mission, throwing close to a dozen straight — and very long I might add — uppercuts in unorthodox fashion and appearance. It was to little avail, as Patterson knocked him down again with a remorseless right hand.

At the start of the following round, Jackson started implementing shots to the body — something he should’ve led with, and stuck with, as the fight drew on. As he threw, his arms showed the viewers just how long and advantageous they were. He found success with those body shots, too, landing many.

Midway through the round the announcer said, “I don’t know how the man can stand it,” after the champion pummeled “Hurricane” with two short punches that moved his head around like a pinball. Beautiful combos from Patterson were thrown, although he threw less than in the first two and missed some.

Tommy Jackson was a fighter with great heart, great reach, and great stamina. His movement, on the contrary, was less worthy of praise. The man just didn’t move enough; nearly at all, at that. He soon became an easy punching bag for Patterson, who made a habit of quite literally moving Jackson’s outstretched arm aside with his glove before scoring more points.

As the later minutes drew on, Patterson became more aggressive in close, knowing he was the superior fighter. Resulting from his well-rounded approach was a knockdown in the ninth, and a night-ender in the 10th, thrown so fast even Branch Rickey might’ve done a double take and offered him a contract.

Floyd Patterson vs Muhammad Ali 1 (1965)

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Let’s just call a spade a spade — this was a one-sided affair from bell to bell. When going against the greatest pugilist to lace them up, in his prime, even the greatest championship boxer could look underwhelming by comparison.

Ali was doing Ali things early, tirelessly dancing around the ring for the entirety of round one. He also didn’t throw a single punch in the opening round, a telltale sign of his lofty assuredness in his capabilities.

Good work to the body by Patterson in the second was met with constant jabs from Ali. The man known at the time as Cassius Clay became more stationary while Patterson lunged forward with hooks that were blocked.

By the time the fifth round came, Ali busted out dancing once more and shuffling his feet, smooth like a butterfly, absolutely vexing Patterson and prompting him to stay still until Ali fought by his rules. Big mistake — Patterson’s wide stance was his best defense, as Ali brought the fight to him alright.

15 minutes in, Patterson had no answer for one of the most beautiful 1-2 punches you’ll ever see in this life, or the next. Floyd was able to catch Ali with an overhand right that sent him bouncing off the ropes for his best punch of the night. Additionally, he made Ali miss a 1-2 and masterfully countered it with a left hook to the body. The two started really going at it and Floyd hit Ali with a straight left to the moneymaker.

Right when you would thought Floyd was on the precipice of winning the round, Ali peppered him with jab after jab, combo after combo, in a spectacle to behold. You’d be hard-pressed to find another one-minute stretch in any boxing match ever, where more jabs connected.

Even though the fight continued into round 12, there’s no need to continue on micro-analyzing, as Ali did what he was supposed to do, and looked unbelievable doing it. Patterson took the loss, and really didn’t throw many punches throughout much of the fight, most likely because doing so might’ve cost him his jaw, or worse.

Floyd Patterson vs Jerry Quarry 1 (1967)

Patterson vs Quarry, this photo from their second fight, also in 1967
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“Irish” Jerry Quarry was a warrior. He exemplified that gladiator spirit as the aggressor early on and catching Patterson with shots in the first, and scored two knockdowns on Patterson in the second. Patterson wasn’t ready early on for Quarry’s model counterpunching. The last time Patterson had been knocked down in a non-title bout was in the third contest of his career, so this was momentous.

For the first time in all four fights examined, Patterson took it to his opponent in the third while toe-to-toe, hitting Quarry with a body shot on each side, then clubbing him with a right hand that landed awkwardly. Once again he displayed great defense against the hook and clocked “The Bellflower Bomber” with a mean right hook that made him look to his 3 o’clock.

In the middle rounds, Patterson showed great resilience, opening a cut over Quarry’s left eye in the midst of a combo. Both fighters demonstrated marvelous hand speed. Patterson favored pushing Quarry to the ropes in these rounds. In the sixth round, Patterson was deceptive with a right hand that thudded off of Quarry’s cranium.

Floyd turned up the heat and dominated from rounds three through eight, before Quarry captured the fight’s final two frames. This bout was the best we’ve seen Patterson in all four bouts fighting in close, remarkable in his combinations.

While these books scored the fight six rounds to four Patterson, the decision was a majority draw.

Floyd Patterson was one of the most gifted fighters in many areas of boxing. You’d be challenged to find someone who could time opponents hooks and uppercuts better than him and move out of the way. You could put him up against any heavyweight in the realm of hand speed and power.

His lack of aggression toe-to-toe might’ve worked to his detriment, and his jab defense was the only real hole in his defensive repertoire. He wasn’t the best against dancers, but who is, really? Patterson will forever be remembered as the first heavyweight to lose then reclaim that top spot in the boxing world, and up against any legend not named Ali (or possibly Larry Holmes), would give them a good battle.

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