IT’S not often that the heavyweight champion of the world goes into a fight the betting underdog, especially when fighting a challenger entering his first ever title bout. But when Floyd Patterson entered Comiskey Park in Chicago, on September 25, 1962, with the belt around his waist, he was facing a huge mismatch that would be quickly exposed. His opponent, the formidable Sonny Liston, held a 25 pound weight advantage with Patterson entering at 189 lb, making him an undersized cruiserweight by today’s weight classifications. Liston also enjoyed the benefit of a 13 inch longer reach; two factors which would have significant influence during the course of their two back-to-back fights.
Going into their first encounter Patterson was well renowned for being the youngest ever heavyweight champion and the first person to successfully regain his title, after avenging his defeat to Ingemar Johansson two years previously. Liston was feared for his unparalleled strength, as well his jab – one of the best in the business.
At 33-1, the fighter out of Philly had amassed 21 knockouts in his last 25 fights, all of which had ended with his hand raised as the victor. In the build up to the fight there was much controversy over the troubled past of Liston, who had found boxing whilst incarcerated. Patterson was advised not to fight him due to his alleged links to organised crime. The two eventually met after a two year delay after Liston had become the number one contender. It was a fight between two future hall of fame fighters, but the result was emphatically one-sided.
A crowd of 18,894 witnessed a short, but important fight in the course of heavyweight history. Showcasing his typical style, Patterson came out looking to duck underneath the long jab of his opponent, coming forward with his patented lunging left hooks. Missing often, Patterson instead settled for clinching on the inside, opening himself up to repeated right hooks to the body.
Whilst at times managing to neatly slip under the protruding left, Patterson displayed little of the skills that had made him the world champion, failing to land anything of note and being caught in range by Liston. As Floyd moved in, Liston found success with a big uppercut that easily found its way through an open guard, and followed it with two short hooks to the head. As the two tied each other up, Liston turned Patterson onto the ropes with an accurately-executed combination of lefts, one to the body followed by two to the head – the latter of which did serious damage, with Patterson only managing to stay up by clinging to the ropes.
Seeking the quick stoppage, Liston landed three heavy blows which collapsed Patterson. Somehow managing to get to his knees, Patterson was counted out and Liston was declared the heavyweight champion of the world, just two minutes and six seconds into his debut title fight.
In the immediate rematch, as demanded by a clause in the initial contract, Patterson’s smaller size and low-bobbing style was exposed again. Liston landed hooks and uppercuts at will and dispatched his opponent for the second time in round one, putting him on the canvas three times. Both knockouts would take their toll on Patterson, who would only fight for the world title twice more, coming up short on both occasions against Muhammad Ali in 1965 and Jimmy Ellis in 1969. Liston didn’t fare much better, immediately losing his title in his next outing – the first of two iconic fights with Ali.