Floyd Patterson, by W K Stratton


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The Independent Culture

He was an Olympic champion, the youngest boxer to win the world heavyweight title, the first to lose then regain it, and Muhammad Ali called him "the most skilled as a boxer" of all Ali's opponents. Yet history has not been kind to Floyd Patterson.

W K Stratton calls him "Boxing's Invisible Champion", which is pitching things a bit strong, but his shy, introverted nature, self-doubt and instinctive chivalry – more than once he helped up an opponent after flooring him – confused people, some of whom thought him just too nice to be a true champion. Yet, blessed with blistering hand speed and a great left hook, at his best he was brilliantly dangerous, as 40 knockouts in 55 victories testify.

Stratton also argues that Patterson's record as a civil rights supporter has been undervalued. A loyal member of the NAACP, America's oldest civil rights organisation, he travelled to support Martin Luther King in the 1963 Alabama protests at significant personal risk. But he also described himself as a patriot, and his later support for the Vietnam War and rejection of the separatist views of the Black Muslims and Malcolm X led Ali and others to castigate him, unfairly, as an Uncle Tom.

Patterson died aged 71 in 2006 suffering from dementia, which was probably a by-product of the punishment he suffered during a 20-year professional career. But in Stratton he has an author worthy to champion his cause for posterity.

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £16.99