cover image Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion

Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion

W.K. Stratton. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-101430-9

In this deftly written biography, sports writer Stratton examines one of the most complex fighters ever to wear the heavyweight crown. Raised in the Brooklyn ghetto of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Floyd Patterson struggled with family poverty and his own intense awkwardness. A series of arrests landed him in a progressive reform school. At Witwyck, Patterson started boxing and soon afterward caught the eye of trainer Cus D’Amato, the paranoid Svengali of the New York City fight scene. Under D’Amato’s guidance, Patterson won a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, and went on to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history (and later, the first heavyweight champion to regain the title). Patterson was a true eccentric—he’d help his opponents up after knocking them down, and when KO’d by Sonny Liston in Chicago, he left the arena wearing a fake beard and mustache. By focusing on historical context, Stratton clarifies how Patterson could be trumpeted as a hero of the civil rights movement, then labeled an “Uncle Tom” a few years later. For the most part, this is familiar territory, but Stratton is a knowledgeable and pleasant guide. Patterson’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by those of Muhammad Ali, who defeated the smaller man twice. Stratton reminds us of Floyd Patterson’s remarkable talent, morality, and determination. (July)