Chapter one excerpts from David Remnick's much praised book.

           Chapter One - UNDERGROUND MAN, Sept 25, 1962

On the morning of the fight, the heavyweight champion of the world packed a
loser's suitcase. Floyd Patterson, for all his hand speed, for all the hours
he put in at the gym, was the most doubt-addled titleholder in the history of
the division. There were always losers, professional opponents, set-'em-ups,
unknowns who suffered as he did, men who took no pleasure in winning except as
the periodic escape from loss and humiliation. But he was champion, the
youngest man ever to win the title.

In the last weeks of training, Patterson lay on his bed at night, out in a
cabin in the Illinois countryside, half asleep, listening to his recording of
"Music for Lovers Only," and, if he was lucky, he saw himself winning, he saw
himself leaping out of a crouch and striking Sonny Liston with his famous
"kangaroo punch," a flying left hook delivered with so much vaulting thrust
and ambition that there was always a chance that Patterson would go sailing
past his target and through the ropes and into the flannel laps of press row.
If the punch landed, as it had against so many, Patterson was golden. He might
wait a while to take such risks, at least a few rounds until Liston started to
feel the fatigue, but he would leap soon enough. Then he'd follow up,
relentless, dropping the bigger man with a right uppercut, a cross, another
hook. Patterson could not count on the power of a single punch, not against
Liston, whose countenance suggested the strength of iron. He would rely on his
gift, his speed.

Patterson knew he had to beware: Liston's left jab was as powerful as another
man's cross; in one fight, Liston had beaten a plodding contender named Wayne
Bethea so badly with his jab that at the end of the bout Bethea's cornermen
dragged their fighter to the dressing room and removed seven teeth from his
mouthpiece. Blood was dripping from his ear. The fight had lasted fifty-eight
seconds. So Patterson would have to keep his head. He would box, he would duck
inside Liston's jab and beat the body.

"I really thought I could beat Liston," Patterson told me nearly forty years
later. "I think about it even now and I figure I'll find a way to win. That's
funny, isn't it?"

But the odds were against Patterson. Cus D'Amato, his mentor since he began
boxing at fourteen, had spent years avoiding this fight, preferring instead to
set Patterson up with softer opponents. D'Amato, who looked like a cross
between the emperor Hadrian and Jimmy Cagney, used his authority and standing
among the columnists to deliver righteous pronouncements about Liston's
connections to the Mafia, and, like someone from the department of social
welfare, he spoke of the need for rehabilitation, for Sonny to prove himself
civilized and stay that way if he wanted a chance at the title. But Patterson
knew perfectly well that D'Amato thought he had little chance against Liston.
And in this, D'Amato was not alone.

Some of Patterson's predecessors as champion, Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis
among them, arrived in Chicago for the fight, and no sooner had they stepped
off the plane than they began telling reporters that the challenger was too
strong, too mean, to lose to Patterson.

Almost everyone, of course, was backing Floyd, rooting for him, but this
support was purely sentimental: the writers liked Patterson because he was
always so cooperative, he was so open and polite; the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People was behind Patterson because he was a civil
rights man, an integrationist, a reform-minded gentleman, while Liston, the
excon, projected what one newspaper after another called "a poor example for
the youth of America." Jackie Robinson's prediction that Patterson would
"demolish" Liston had more to do with political hopes than boxing smarts.

Patterson was determined, as always, to be fair, to accommodate, to do the
right thing. Liston had been ranked the top contender for a long time. He had
been to jail for armed robbery, true enough, but he had served his time, he
deserved a chance. Patterson was doing his bit for the cause of social
mobility. "Liston paid for his crimes," he said. "Should he be able to win the
championship, these qualities will rise to the surface. I think you'd see a
completely new and changed Liston."

At least for the time being, Liston did not wish to betray any appreciation.
"I'd like to run him over with a truck," he said.

And so, with losing on his mind, Floyd made arrangements. He carefully stuffed
his bag and an attache case with clothes, food, and a disguise--a custom-made
beard and mustache. If he won, of course, he'd meet the press and head back to
the hotel for a victory party. If not, he would leave Comiskey Park in his
false whiskers and drive through the night to his training camp in upstate New

That was always the way it was with Floyd. Fear, especially the fear of
losing, ate at him. He was entitled to call himself the toughest man on the
planet, yet he didn't much believe it. He was champion in the sense that
Chester A. Arthur had been president. "I'm not a great champion," he would
say, "I'm just a champion." There were those who wondered if Floyd was beyond
sensitive, if he was a neurotic in shorts. Some of the reporters from England
took to calling him Freud Patterson.

He had ample reason to doubt himself. Until now, Patterson had been a lucky
man, winning the title in November 1956 against Archie Moore. Moore was the
craftiest of fighters, but like Patterson, he was small for a heavyweight,
and, by the time of his fight with Floyd, a geriatric case in his early
forties. Once Patterson won the title, he never projected the arrogance of a
heavyweight champion. He never had the proper disdain. His eyes were sad and
vulnerable, the dreamy eyes of a jilted teenager, and his physique was sinewy,
the body of a road laborer, an utterly plausible body, but one that did not
convey invincibility.

At best, Patterson was a fine light heavyweight, bulked up for the marquee
division. At fight time, Liston would outweigh Patterson 214 to 189. In
boxing, if both men are equally skilled, more or less, the rules of physics
usually obtain, and, as in the straight-on collision of two vehicles, the
greater power goes to the greater force, to the bigger man, to the truck.
Patterson's natural inclination was to get even smaller. "If we put him on a
diet," his trainer, Dan Florio, said, "we'd soon have a middleweight on our

Patterson had never defended his title against a fighter even remotely as
powerful as Liston. D'Amato set him up with the likes of Pete Rademacher, an
Olympian fighting for the first time as a professional, and Brian London, one
of those knobby Englishmen who bleed rivers on a pale chest. Perhaps the most
notable of Patterson's opponents before Liston was one Roy Harris of Cut and
Shoot, Texas. As the papers were happy to point out (happy, because the fight
itself didn't promise much except cornpone exotica), Harris grew up wrestling
alligators in a swamp around his house known as the Big Thicket. He was also
kin to an Uncle Cleve and cousins Hominy, Coon, and Armadillo. In short,
Harris was a PR setup, and still it took Floyd thirteen rounds to end it.
Liston destroyed Harris in one.

So, as much as he played out the winning scenario in his head, as much as he
trained, Patterson was fully prepared to lose. Mentally or physically, he had
no great advantage he could call his own. He had lost to lesser men than
Liston, certainly--first to Joey Maxim in 1954, and then, as champion, to
Ingemar Johansson in 1959. He reacted not with fury, as most heavyweights did,
but with depression, prolonged withdrawal. After the Maxim defeat--a
controversial decision--Floyd locked himself in his apartment and stayed there
for several days. Against Johansson, the humiliation was far deeper because
the stage was so much more visible. Defending his title at Yankee Stadium, he
had been knocked to the floor, over and over, as in a particularly merciless
alley fight. Patterson was a speed fighter, but against Johansson he never
made his move. He froze, and Johansson, a burly Swede of modest talent,
unloosed what his camp called, so annoyingly, his "toonder and lightning."
After the first knockdown, Floyd got off the canvas and began walking dreamily
toward his corner. Leaving the neutral corner, Johansson came in from
Patterson's blind side and struck him down again; the assault looked less like
boxing than an angry drunk splitting open another man's skull with a beer
bottle. By around the fourth knockdown, as Patterson crawled around the
canvas, staring through the ropes, his eyes locked on John Wayne, who was
sitting at ringside, and, as he stared at the actor, Floyd felt embarrassed.
Embarrassment was Patterson's signature emotion, and never more so than now.

The fight was not even over before he started to wonder if everything he had
fought for--his title, his belonging to a world greater than the one he grew
up in--if all that was now at risk. Had he ever deserved any recognition, any
belonging in the first place? What would John Wayne think of him? The referee,
Ruby Goldstein, stopped the fight after Patterson had gone down for the
seventh time.

Floyd wanted to hide, but there was no hole deep enough. He had no disguise,
so he borrowed a cornerman's hat and tugged at the brim as if to disappear
inside it. He let his friends and family hug him, console him, but he hated
their pity. He could not wait to be alone. And when they all went away, the
family and the friends and the reporters, Floyd went home to New York. Day
after day, he sat in his living room with the curtains drawn. "I thought my
life was over," Patterson told me. He was one step away from where he started,
one step from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the slum of his childhood. It was as if he
expected the repo man to trot up his walk at any minute and start stacking the
television and the oven and the couch outside in the front yard, and all the
neighbors, his white neighbors, would see that he was nobody now.

Floyd could not sleep, or, at least, not for long. Later that night, as he
recounts in his autobiography, he climbed out of bed and headed down to the
den. After a while, just before dawn, Sandra found him there.

"Floyd," she said, "Floyd, what good will it do sitting down here in the dark

"Will it do more good lying up there in the dark?"

When he woke, he looked up from the couch to see his three-year-old daughter,
Jeannie, staring at him. His face was still covered with welts, and so he held
Jeannie close, trying not to scare her. Later, Sandra persuaded him to come
upstairs and get some real sleep. But after a while, she looked down at her
husband and was terrified.

"What's wrong with your ear?" she said.

Patterson's pillow was covered with blood. Johansson's punches had ruptured
his eardrum.
His depression deepened. He sat alone for days, not reading, not talking,
pushing everyone away. In three weeks, he left the house twice. He was, he
said later, mourning his own death as champion. "Daddy's sick," Jeannie kept
saying. "Daddy's sick." Patterson's depression lasted nearly a year.

Fighters, Floyd was convinced, are always afraid, all of them, especially
fighters at the top level. "We are not afraid of getting hurt but we are
afraid of losing. Losing in the ring is like losing nowhere else," he said
once. "A prizefighter who gets knocked out or is badly outclassed suffers in a
way he will never forget. He is beaten under the bright lights in front of
thousands of witnesses who curse him and spit at him, and he knows that he is
being watched, too, by many thousands more on television and in the movies,
and he knows that the tax agents will soon visit him--they always try to get
their share before he winds up flat broke--and the fighter cannot shift the
blame for his defeat onto his trainers or managers or anybody else, although
if he won you can be sure that the trainers and managers would be taking bows.
The losing fighter loses more than just his pride and the fight; he loses part
of his future, he is one step closer to the slum he came from."

There had never been a heavyweight champion as sensitive, and as honest about
his fears, as Floyd Patterson. He was the first professional athlete to
receive what would become the modern treatment, a form of Freudian
sportswriting that went beyond the ring and into the psyche. Victory Over
Myself, Patterson's autobiography, as dictated to Milton Gross, a columnist at
the New York Post, as well as his confessions to Gay Talese in The New York
Times and later in Esquire magazine, had about them at least an echo of
Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground" and Ralph Ellison's Invisible

Patterson was surely not the first fighter to know fear, but he was the first
to talk about it so freely in public. He was brought up that way in the gym.
Cus D'Amato trained Patterson not only in the jab and the peekaboo defense,
but also in introspection. D'Amato was the only modern psychoanalyst who
carried a spit bucket in his hand and a Q-Tip in his teeth. In his lectures to
his fighters, D'Amato taught that all things being relatively equal, the
fighter who understands his own fears, manipulates them, uses them to his
advantage, would always win; he taught young men like Patterson and Jose
Torres, the brilliant light heavyweight from Puerto Rico, to understand their
fights as psychodramas, as contests of will more than of gristle.

Patterson grew up in a series of cold-water flats in Brooklyn's Bedford-
Stuyvesant, a crumbling landscape of galling poverty. His father worked as a
longshoreman, on construction gangs, as a laborer at the Fulton Fish Market.
At night, Floyd's father came home so tired that he often forgot to eat and
fell asleep in his clothes. Floyd would quietly take off his father's shoes
and polish them, and wash his father's swollen feet. When Floyd's mother was
not working at home, she was making a few dollars as a maid and working at a
bottling plant. There were eleven children to feed. Floyd shared a bed with
two of his brothers, Frank and Billy. Very early on, Floyd came to despise
himself. He hated that he could do so little to help his father and mother. He
felt stupid, powerless. "All I wanted to do was help my parents," Patterson
told me, "and all I did was ending up in failure and making matters worse." He
used to point at a photograph of himself at two years old and tell his mother,
over and over again, "I don't like that boy!" When he was nine, he took down
the picture and scratched a series of X's over his face. He had nightmares.
More than once, neighbors found him out on the street, in the middle of the
night, sleepwalking. He was a child who wanted to hide all the time, who
sought the dark. Floyd prowled the alleyways, the dark corners, not because he
was looking for trouble, but because he wanted to lose himself. He went to the
movies in the morning and stayed through the last show. He rode the A train,
back and forth, east to Lefferts Boulevard in the far reaches of Queens, back
through Brooklyn, across the East River and up Manhattan to Washington
Heights, and back again. From the time Floyd was nine, he would often stop his
journeying at the High Street station in Brooklyn. He discovered there the
ultimate hiding place. He walked through the tunnel to a semi-hidden tool shed
the subway workmen used. He climbed up the metal ladder and locked himself
into the darkness. This was his hideaway from the world. "I'd spread papers on
the floor and I'd go to sleep and find peace."

During the day, he began to steal, little things, a quart of milk, a piece of
fruit, something he could bring home to his mother. By the time he was a
teenager, Floyd was in court all the time--for truancy, for stealing, for
running away. He went to court, he guessed, thirty or forty times.
Finally, when Floyd was ten, a judge who had seen enough of him sent him to
the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a farm for troubled youngsters upstate in
Esopus, New York. It was September 1945 when Floyd went off to Wiltwyck. He
thought he was being sent to jail, and he was furious with his mother, who had
greeted the news with relief. It turned out to be the best thing that had ever
happened to him. Wiltwyck was 350 acres of farmland, an old estate that had
been owned by the Whitney family. There were no fences or bars. There were
chickens and cows, a decent gym, a creek to swim and fish in. There were
teachers on the staff, as well as psychiatric social workers and therapists.
The children were never beaten or locked in their rooms. Slowly, Floyd began
to learn to read, to speak with a little more ease, to get over his permanent
sense of shame. When he became champion, Patterson dedicated his autobiography
to the school, "which started me in the right direction." Wiltwyck was
precisely the kind of break that Sonny Liston would never have.

The two years at Wiltwyck turned Floyd around. He was never a good student,
but at least now he could function in the world. Back in New York, Floyd
entered P.S. 614, one of the city's "600" schools for troubled kids, and later
he went for a year to the Alexander Hamilton Vocational High School. By the
time Patterson got back to the city, two of his brothers were working out at
the Gramercy Gym on East Fourteenth Street. Cus D'Amato owned the gym and
slept in the back room. His dog was his only companion. D'Amato was a boxing
ascetic. He made his living from boxing, but he despised money, gave it away.
Money, he said, "was for throwing off the back of trains." When Patterson won
the title, D'Amato took most of his share of the take, more than thirty
thousand dollars, and used it to order up a bejeweled championship belt as a
gift for his fighter. "Cus was crazy about everything in life except boxing,"
Jose Torres said. D'Amato was a well-informed paranoid. Fear ruled him. He was
especially fearful of the Mafia, which ran boxing in his time--and he slept
with a gun under his bed. He would never ride the subways, for fear of being
pushed onto the tracks. He feared snipers. He feared unfamiliar food and
drink. He told people that he never married for fear of being duped by

"I must keep my enemies confused," he once said. "When they are confused, then
I can do a job for my fighters."

As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, D'Amato starved himself for days, the
better to withstand the pain when someone tried to take food from him. He was
probably the youngest fatalist in the borough. He used to watch funeral
processions outside his building and say, "The sooner death the better."
D'Amato was a street kid and a street fighter. One day another kid slammed him
in the head with a stick, and he lost the vision in his left eye. D'Amato,
however, believed in the regeneration of optic tissue, and throughout his life
he made an effort to heal himself, closing his good eye so as to "force" the
left eye to see once more. When he became a trainer, D'Amato told his fighters
that security, financial and otherwise, would be the death of them. Security
dulled the senses, and pleasure--pleasure was worse. "The more pleasures you
get out of living," D'Amato said, "the more fear you have of dying."

Compared to most fight trainers and managers, who ritually described what the
fighter ate for breakfast, how many miles he ran, and other such pabulum,
D'Amato, with his sweat-scented philosophies and his strange habits, made for
great copy, and writers came to his Gramercy Gym counting on a good story.
D'Amato read, of all things, military history and Nietzsche, and out of that
came a philosophy of pain and endurance. Norman Mailer began coming to the gym
not long after his success with The Naked and the Dead. Young newspaper
reporters--Gay Talese, Pete Hamill, Jack Newfield--came even when they had no
story in mind. D'Amato, for them, was the moralist in Babylon, the one fight
manager of importance who talked up against the gangsters who ran nearly every
fighter and arena in the country. They wrote about him, sometimes idealized
him, as a figure of authenticity, the decent cornerman in the film noir world
of fifties boxing. D'Amato, Mailer once wrote, "had the enthusiastic manner of
a saint who is all works and no contemplation.... He reminded me of a certain
sort of very tough Italian kid one used to find in Brooklyn. They were sweet
kids, and rarely mean, and they were fearless, at least by the measure of
their actions they were fearless. They would fight anybody."

Patterson was fourteen when he walked up the two flights of wooden stairs to
the Gramercy Gym. D'Amato always liked to see how kids came up the stairs for
the first time. He watched their expressions, and then he'd wait and see how
they came in the next day--if they came at all. Cus did not wait long to
unleash his philosophy. He wanted Floyd, and the others, to begin digging into
their own heads almost as soon as they hit their first heavy bag. For other
managers, self-doubt was unthinkable; for D'Amato, a fighter had to understand
himself or he would lose. A fighter isn't merely knocked out, he would say, he
wants to be knocked out, his will fails him. "Fear is natural, it is normal,"
he said. "Fear is your friend. When a deer walks through the forest, it has
fear. This is nature's way of keeping the deer alert because there may be a
tiger in the trees. Without fear, we would not survive."

Patterson proved to be a quick fighter, with a good left hook. He could sneak
inside his opponent's jab and, with a combination, take him out. As a
middleweight, he won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Red Smith,
writing for the New York Herald Tribune, was impressed. Patterson, he wrote,
"has faster paws than a subway pickpocket and they cause more suffering." That
same year, Floyd went pro, and fighting in New York he got a lot of attention
beating, in succession, Eddie Godbold, Sammy Walker, Lester Johnson, and Lalu
Sabotin. For all his fears, Patterson had learned enough discipline and ring
sense to take out all the top club fighters of his day, all the hard young men
who fought at Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and St. Nick's on the West Side.
Floyd's older brother Frank told Lester Bromberg, the fight writer at the New
York World Telegram & Sun, "I'd like to say that I always knew it was in
Floyd, but I have to be honest about it. I can't get used to my kid brother
being a name fighter. I remember him as the boy who would cry if you hit him
too hard when we boxed in the gym and as the green kid who would blow up if I
pressed him."

Floyd showed an unusual concern for his opponents. When he was training for a
bout to be shown on television's Wednesday Night Fights against a Chicagoan
named Chester Mieszala, D'Amato suggested that in the week before the bout
Patterson work out at the same Chicago gym where Mieszala trained. Patterson
refused. He said he didn't want to take "unfair advantage." In the fight
itself, Patterson knocked out Mieszala's mouthpiece, and Mieszala, in a daze,
went looking for it. Instead of stepping in and belting Mieszala, Floyd bent
over and helped him. Eventually, Patterson went back to work, finishing
Mieszala with a TKO in the fifth round. Even in a title fight, Floyd was
capable of kindness. Against Tommy "Hurricane" Jackson, he kept trying to get
referee Ruby Goldstein to step in and save the challenger from unnecessary
punishment. Goldstein, touched to the core, complied.

Patterson's emotional makeup contained not one ounce of schadenfreude. Even on
the sweetest night of Patterson's career, the night at the Polo Grounds in
March 1961 when he came back to avenge his humiliating seven-knockdown loss to
Johansson, he derived no great enjoyment from his opponent's pain. Going into
the fight, Patterson felt rage for the first time. He hated the way Johansson
had bragged after taking his title, and he wanted back what had been taken
away. In the fifth round, Floyd clubbed Johansson with two terrifying hooks,
dropping him to one knee for a nine-count. When Johansson got up, Patterson
was right there with one of his great leaping punches, and the champion went
down like a dropped board. Johansson lay on the canvas, blood trickling out of
his mouth and his left foot vibrating, like a man in a grand mal seizure. For
a moment, Patterson betrayed a smile as he faced the crowd, but when he turned
to see Johansson, still out cold, his foot twitching, he was repulsed,
terrified that he had killed a man. Patterson ripped himself out of the
jubilant grasp of one of his cornermen, knelt on the canvas, and cradled
Johansson in the crook of his arm. Patterson kissed Johansson on the cheek and
promised him another chance, a third fight.

Later, Patterson admitted he had come to the arena with his beard and
mustache, just in case. "He lacks the killer instinct," D'Amato said. "He's
too tame, too nice to his opponents. I've been trying all the psychology I can
think of to anger his blood up, but he just doesn't have the zest for
viciousness. I have a big job on my hands."

(to be continued in The BAWLI Papers No. 21)

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