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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Boxing in 1972 – Former champs Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson meet again

Boxing in 1972 – Former champs Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson meet again

Publish Date: 12/07/2023
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

When you get older, the tendency (at least for me) is to wax nostalgic.

I’m thinking about 1972. Fighters fought more than once a year in those days. The best fought the best. Were the fights always golden? No, but one could expect a level of activity and skill.

Bob Foster ruled the light heavies. Jose Napoles was the king of the welterweights. Carlos Zarate scored 20 knockouts in a row. Alexis Arguello was moving up the rankings. The explosive thin man would fight for a title in two years against another legend.

Carlos Monzon made four successful defenses of his middleweight title. Roberto Duran won his first title by controversial stoppage over Ken Bucannon. He’d end the year with his first loss against Esteban de Jesus and wait over two years to exact his revenge.

The heavyweights: Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali in the unforgettable “Fight of the Century” the year before. Ali, ranked number one, wanted a rematch. George Foreman, 37-0, 34 knockouts, engaged in five fights, scoring five knockouts. He had a date with Frazier in early 1973. Jimmy Ellis followed Foreman, as did the explosive Ron Lyle.

In the number five slot sat former two-time heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Respect for Patterson, the first heavyweight to regain the title,  was sometimes lacking. Sonny Liston stopped him twice. Floyd was done, several sports writers said.

No, he wasn’t.

He was victorious in his next six fights, including wins over contenders Eddie Machen and Iron Man George Chuvalo in 1964 and 65.

He challenged heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, losing by stoppage after 12 torturous rounds. Patterson took a knee in round five. His back ached, but he never stopped trying, even as Ali attacked him physically and verbally.

Patterson said before the fight, “The image of a Black Muslim as the World Heavyweight Champion disgraces the sport and the nation.”

Ali made him pay for those words.

Patterson didn’t box for a year. He returned in 1966 to fight former British heavyweight champion Henry Cooper.

Both fighters had recently lost to Ali. Cooper was 32, Paterson 31. It was sink or swim time.

Patterson’s movement and hand speed were too much for Cooper. He floored the Brit twice and knocked him out in round four. Patterson fought fellow contender Jerry Quarry the following year to a draw in a fight most thought he won. A rematch went down four months later, with Quarry edging Patterson by a majority decision. Patterson was down twice.

“I’m a slow starter,” said Patterson after the fight. “Those knockdowns were a matter of formality – but they hurt.” Patterson lost another unpopular decision a year later, this one to Ellis.

His career appeared over – though Patterson said nothing. He returned in 1970, stopping Charly Green, though the victory was hardly impressive. He fought in places like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon, the sentimental favorite on an oldies tour.

Patterson loved it. He dreamed of fighting Ali again but needed a springboard.

Enter Oscar Bonavena. The son of Italian immigrants, Bonavena had given Frazier and Ali hell in three combined bouts. He didn’t win any of them but floored Frazier twice in their first fight. Bonavena stunned Ali in round nine at Madison Square Graden in 1970 before being stopped in the last heat. He was tough, durable, and entertaining.

Patterson and Bonavena met on February 11, 1972. Patterson hit the canvas in round four.

“I’ve been down before, more than any other man who held the championship,” Patterson said after the fight. “I consider it a compliment that I keep getting up.”

He got up and worked his way to a decision victory. Bonavena didn’t like it. No matter, Patterson would get his chance for revenge against Ali.

Ali had been in the ring two months before against Alvin Lewis in Dublin, Ireland. He won by stoppage. The fight against Patterson would be his fifth of six bouts in 1972. His anger with Patterson had ceased. The man needed a payday. Ali was happy to help.

Patterson was sharp and competitive. His hands were still fast. He caught a daydreaming Ali with jarring hooks and a few right hands – waking up Ali after round five. It was time to get to work.

An Ali right opened up a cut over Patterson’s left eye in round six. The eye closed soon after. The fight was over.

“Patterson is a great, great fighter,” Ali said. “I thought he’d be nothing, but he surprised me.”

Pride is a great motivator.

1972 was another fabulous year in boxing.

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